Search Results: "apo"

1 March 2021

Russ Allbery: Review: Architects of Memory

Review: Architects of Memory, by Karen Osborne
Series: Memory War #1
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: 2020
ISBN: 1-250-21546-3
Format: Kindle
Pages: 350
Ash is an Aurora Company indenture working as a salvage pilot in the wreckage of the Battle of Tribulation. She's been on the crew of the Twenty-Five and indentured to Aurora for about a year. Before that, she was an indenture in the mines of Bittersweet, where her fianc died in an attack from the alien Vai and where she contracted the celestium poisoning that's slowly killing her. Her only hope for treatment is to work off her indenture and become a corporate citizen, a hope that is doomed if Aurora discovers her illness. Oh, and she's in love with the citizen captain of the Twenty-Five, a relationship that's a bad idea for multiple reasons and which the captain has already cut off. This is the hopeful, optimistic part of the book, before things start getting grim. The setting of Architects of Memory is a horrifying future of corporate slavery and caste systems that has run head-long into aliens. The Vai released mysterious and beautiful weapons that kill humans horribly and were wreaking havoc on the corporate ships, but then the Vai retreated in the midst of their victory. The Twenty-Five is salvaging useful equipment and undetonated Vai ordnance off the dead hulk of the Aurora ship London when corporate tells them that the London may be hiding a more potent secret: a captured Vai weapon that may be the reason the Vai fled. I was tempted into reading this because the plot is full of elements I usually like: a tight-knit spaceship crew, alien first contact full of mysterious discoveries, corporate skulduggery, and anti-corporate protagonists. However, I like those plot elements when they support a story about overthrowing oppression and improving the universe. This book, instead, is one escalating nightmare after another. Ash starts the book sick but functional and spends much of the book developing multiple forms of brain damage. She's not alone; the same fate awaits several other likable characters. The secret weapon has horrible effects while also being something more terrible than a weapon. The corporations have an iron and apparently inescapable grip on humanity, with no sign of even the possibility of rebellion, and force indentures to cooperate with their slavery in ways that even the protagonists can't shake. And I haven't even mentioned the organ harvesting and medical experiments. The plot is a spiral between humans doing awful things to aliens and then doing even more awful things to other humans. I don't want to spoil the ending, but I will say that it was far less emotionally satisfying than I needed. I'm not sure this was intentional; there are some indications that Osborne meant for it to be partly cathartic for the characters. But not only didn't it work for me at all, it emphasized my feelings about the hopelessness and futility of the setting. If a book is going to put me through that amount of character pain and fear, I need a correspondingly significant triumph at the end. If that doesn't bother you as much as it does me, this book does have merits. The descriptions of salvage on a disabled starship are vivid and memorable and a nice change of pace from the normal military or scientific space stories. Salvage involves being careful, methodical, and precise in the face of tense situations; combined with the eerie feeling of battlefield remnants, it's an evocative scene. The Vai devices are satisfyingly alien, hitting a good balance between sinister and exotically beautiful. The Vai themselves, once we finally learn something about them, are even better: a truly alien form of life at the very edge of mutual understanding. There was the right amount of inter-corporate skulduggery, with enough factions for some tense complexity and double-crossing, but not so many that I lost track. And there is some enjoyably tense drama near the climax. Unfortunately, the unremitting horrors were too much for me. They're also too much for the characters, who oscillate between desperate action and psychological meltdowns that become more frequent and more urgently described as one gets farther into the book. Osborne starts the book with the characters already so miserable that this constant raising of the stakes became overwrought and exhausting for me. By the end of the book, the descriptions of the mental state of the characters felt like an endless, incoherent scream of pain. Combine that with a lot of body horror, physical and mental illness, carefully-described war crimes, and gruesome death, and I hit mental overload. This is not the type of science fiction novel (thankfully getting rarer) in which the author thinks any of these things are okay. Osborne is clearly on the side of her characters and considers the events of this story as horrible as I do. I think her goal was to tell a story about ethics and courage in the face of atrocities and overwhelming odds, and maybe another reader would find that. For me, it was lost in the darkness. Architects of Memory reaches a definite conclusion but doesn't resolve some major plot elements. It's followed by Engines of Oblivion, which might, based on the back-cover text, be more optimistic? I don't think I have it in me to find out, though. Rating: 4 out of 10

28 February 2021

Enrico Zini: Links about privilege

A reality check about the myth of starting from nothing and becoming successful: Evocative scientific research: On the other side of privilege: On reality and representation of reality: Will they stop at nothing? What are they going to want from us next, our blood? Maybe. How old are you?

27 February 2021

Russell Coker: Links February 2021

Elestic Search gets a new license to deal with AWS not paying them [1]. Of course AWS will fork the products in question. We need some anti-trust action against Amazon. Big Think has an interesting article about what appears to be ritualistic behaviour in chompanzees [2]. The next issue is that if they are developing a stone-age culture does that mean we should treat them differently from other less developed animals? Last Week in AWS has an informative article about Parler s new serverless architecture [3]. They explain why it s not easy to move away from a cloud platform even for a service that s designed to not be dependent on it. The moral of the story is that running a service so horrible that none of the major cloud providers will touch it doesn t scale. Patheos has an insightful article about people who spread the most easily disproved lies for their religion [4]. A lot of political commentary nowadays is like that. Indi Samarajiva wrote an insightful article comparing terrorism in Sri Lanka with the right-wing terrorism in the US [5]. The conclusion is that it s only just starting in the US. Belling Cat has an interesting article about the FSB attempt to murder Russian presidential candidate Alexey Navalny [6]. Russ Allbery wrote an interesting review of Anti-Social, a book about the work of an anti-social behavior officer in the UK [7]. The book (and Russ s review) has some good insights into how crime can be reduced. Of course a large part of that is allowing people who want to use drugs to do so in an affordable way. Informative post from Electrical Engineering Materials about the difference between KVW and KW [8]. KVA is bigger than KW, sometimes a lot bigger. Arstechnica has an interesting but not surprising article about a supply chain attack on software development [9]. Exploiting the way npm and similar tools resolve dependencies to make them download hostile code. There is no possibility of automatic downloads being OK for security unless they are from known good sites that don t allow random people to upload. Any sort of system that allows automatic download from sites like the Node or Python repositories, Github, etc is ripe for abuse. I think the correct solution is to have dependencies installed manually or automatically from a distribution like Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, etc where there have been checks on the source of the source. Devon Price wrote an insightful Medium article Laziness Does Not Exist about the psychological factors which can lead to poor results that many people interpret as laziness [10]. Everyone who supervises other people s work should read this.

21 February 2021

Russ Allbery: Review: The Fated Sky

Review: The Fated Sky, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Series: Lady Astronaut #2
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: August 2018
ISBN: 0-7653-9893-1
Format: Kindle
Pages: 380
The Fated Sky is a sequel to The Calculating Stars, but you could start with this book if you wanted to. It would be obvious you'd missed a previous book in the series, and some of the relationships would begin in medias res, but the story is sufficiently self-contained that one could puzzle through. Mild spoilers follow for The Calculating Stars, although only to the extent of confirming that book didn't take an unexpected turn, and nothing that wouldn't already be spoiled if you had read the short story "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" that kicked this series off. (The short story takes place well after all of the books.) Also some minor spoilers for the first section of the book, since I have to talk about its outcome in broad strokes in order to describe the primary shape of the novel. In the aftermath of worsening weather conditions caused by the Meteor, humans have established a permanent base on the Moon and are preparing a mission to Mars. Elma is not involved in the latter at the start of the book; she's working as a shuttle pilot on the Moon, rotating periodically back to Earth. But the political situation on Earth is becoming more tense as the refugee crisis escalates and the weather worsens, and the Mars mission is in danger of having its funding pulled in favor of other priorities. Elma's success in public outreach for the space program as the Lady Astronaut, enhanced by her navigation of a hostage situation when an Earth re-entry goes off course and is met by armed terrorists, may be the political edge supporters of the mission need. The first part of this book is the hostage situation and other ground-side politics, but the meat of this story is the tense drama of experimental, pre-computer space flight. For those who aren't familiar with the previous book, this series is an alternate history in which a huge meteorite hit the Atlantic seaboard in 1952, potentially setting off runaway global warming and accelerating the space program by more than a decade. The Calculating Stars was primarily about the politics surrounding the space program. In The Fated Sky, we see far more of the technical details: the triumphs, the planning, and the accidents and other emergencies that each could be fatal in an experimental spaceship headed towards Mars. If what you were missing from the first book was more technological challenge and realistic detail, The Fated Sky delivers. It's edge-of-your-seat suspenseful and almost impossible to put down. I have more complicated feelings about the secondary plot. In The Calculating Stars, the heart of the book was an incredibly well-told story of Elma learning to deal with her social anxiety. That's still a theme here but a lesser one; Elma has better coping mechanisms now. What The Fated Sky tackles instead is pervasive sexism and racism, and how Elma navigates that (not always well) as a white Jewish woman. The centrality of sexism is about the same in both books. Elma's public outreach is tied closely to her gender and starts as a sort of publicity stunt. The space program remains incredibly sexist in The Fated Stars, something that Elma has to cope with but can't truly fix. If you found the sexism in the first book irritating, you're likely to feel the same about this installment. Racism is more central this time, though. In The Calculating Stars, Elma was able to help make things somewhat better for Black colleagues. She has a much different experience in The Fated Stars: she ends up in a privileged position that hurts her non-white colleagues, including one of her best friends. The merits of taking a stand on principle are ambiguous, and she chooses not to. When she later tries to help Black astronauts, she does so in a way that's focused on her perceptions rather than theirs and is therefore more irritating than helpful. The opportunities she gets, in large part because she's seen as white, unfairly hurt other people, and she has to sit with that. It's a thoughtful and uncomfortable look at how difficult it is for a white person to live with discomfort they can't fix and to not make it worse by trying to wave it away or point out their own problems. That was the positive side of this plot, although I'm still a bit wary and would like to read a review by a Black reviewer to see how well this plot works from their perspective. There are some other choices that I thought landed oddly. One is that the most racist crew member, the one who sparks the most direct conflict with the Black members of the international crew, is a white man from South Africa, which I thought let the United States off the hook too much and externalized the racism a bit too neatly. Another is that the three ships of the expedition are the Ni a, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, and no one in the book comments on this. Given the thoughtful racial themes of the book, I can't imagine this is an accident, and it is in character for United States of this novel to pick those names, but it was an odd intrusion of an unremarked colonial symbol. This may be part of Kowal's attempt to show that Elma is embedded in a racist and sexist world, has limited room to maneuver, and can't solve most of the problems, which is certainly a theme of the series. But it left me unsettled on whether this book was up to fully handling the fraught themes Kowal is invoking. The other part of the book I found a bit frustrating is that it never seriously engaged with the political argument against Mars colonization, instead treating most of the opponents of space travel as either deluded conspiracy believers or cynical villains. Science fiction is still arguing with William Proxmire even though he's been dead for fifteen years and out of office for thirty. The strong argument against a Mars colony in Elma's world is not funding priorities; it's that even if it's successful, only a tiny fraction of well-connected elites will escape the planet to Mars. This argument is made in the book and Elma dismisses it as a risk she's trying to prevent, but it is correct. There is no conceivable technological future that leads to evacuating the Earth to Mars, but The Fated Sky declines to grapple with the implications of that fact. There's more that I haven't remarked on, including an ongoing excellent portrayal of the complicated and loving relationship between Elma and her husband, and a surprising development in her antagonistic semi-friendship with the sexist test pilot who becomes the mission captain. I liked how Kowal balanced technical problems with social problems on the long Mars flight; both are serious concerns and they interact with each other in complicated ways. The details of the perils and joys of manned space flight are excellent, at least so far as I can tell without having done the research that Kowal did. If you want a fictionalized Apollo 13 with higher stakes and less ground support, look no further; this is engrossing stuff. The interpersonal politics and sociology were also fascinating and gripping, but unsettling, in both good ways and bad. I like the challenge that Kowal presents to a white reader, although I'm not sure she was completely in control of it. Cautiously recommended, although be aware that you'll need to grapple with a sexist and racist society while reading it. Also a content note for somewhat graphic gastrointestinal problems. Followed by The Relentless Moon. Rating: 8 out of 10

14 February 2021

Chris Lamb: The Silence of the Lambs: 30 Years On

No doubt it was someone's idea of a joke to release Silence of the Lambs on Valentine's Day, thirty years ago today. Although it references Valentines at one point and hints at a deeper relationship between Starling and Lecter, it was clearly too tempting to jeopardise so many date nights. After all, how many couples were going to enjoy their ribeyes medium-rare after watching this? Given the muted success of Manhunter (1986), Silence of the Lambs was our first real introduction to Dr. Lecter. Indeed, many of the best scenes in this film are introductions: Starling's first encounter with Lecter is probably the best introduction in the whole of cinema, but our preceding introduction to the asylum's factotum carries a lot of cultural weight too, if only because the camera's measured pan around the environment before alighting on Barney has been emulated by so many first-person video games since.
We first see Buffalo Bill at the thirty-two minute mark. (Or, more tellingly, he sees us.) Delaying the viewer's introduction to the film's villain is the mark of a secure and confident screenplay, even if it was popularised by the budget-restricted Jaws (1975) which hides the eponymous shark for one hour and 21 minutes.
It is no mistake that the first thing we see of Starling do is, quite literally, pull herself up out of the unknown. With all of the focus on the Starling Lecter repartee, the viewer's first introduction to Starling is as underappreciated as she herself is to the FBI. Indeed, even before Starling tells Lecter her innermost dreams, we learn almost everything we need to about Starling in the first few minutes: we see her training on an obstacle course in the forest, the unused rope telling us that she is here entirely voluntarily. And we can surely guess why; the passing grade for a woman in the FBI is to top of the class, and Starling's not going to let an early February in Virginia get in the way of that. We need to wait a full three minutes before we get our first line of dialogue, and in just eight words ("Crawford wants to see you in his office...") we get our confirmation about the FBI too. With no other information other than he can send a messenger out into the cold, we can intuit that Crawford tends to get what Crawford wants. It's just plain "Crawford" too; everyone knows his actual title, his power, "his" office. The opening minutes also introduce us to the film's use of visual hierarchy. Our Hermes towers above Starling throughout the brief exchange (she must push herself even to stay within the camera's frame). Later, Starling always descends to meet her demons: to the asylum's basement to visit Lecter and down the stairs to meet Buffalo Bill. Conversely, she feels safe enough to reveal her innermost self to Lecter on the fifth floor of the courthouse. (Bong Joon-ho's Parasite (2019) uses elevation in an analogous way, although a little more subtly.)
The messenger turns to watch Starling run off to Crawford. Are his eyes involuntarily following the movement or he is impressed by Starling's gumption? Or, almost two decades after John Berger's male gaze, is he simply checking her out? The film, thankfully, leaves it to us.
Crawford is our next real introduction, and our glimpse into the film's sympathetic treatment of law enforcement. Note that the first thing that the head of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit does is to lie to Starling about the reason to interview Lecter, despite it being coded as justified within the film's logic. We learn in the book that even Barney deceives Starling, recording her conversations with Lecter and selling her out to the press. (Buffalo Bill always lies to Starling, of course, but I think we can forgive him for that.) Crawford's quasi-compliment of "You grilled me pretty hard on the Bureau's civil rights record in the Hoover years..." then encourages the viewer to conclude that the FBI's has been a paragon of virtue since 1972... All this (as well as her stellar academic record, Crawford's wielding of Starling's fragile femininity at the funeral home and the cool reception she receives from a power-suited Senator Ruth Martin), Starling must be constantly asking herself what it must take for anyone to take her seriously. Indeed, it would be unsurprising if she takes unnecessary risks to make that happen.
The cold open of Hannibal (2001) makes for a worthy comparison. The audience remembers they loved the dialogue between Starling and Lecter, so it is clumsily mentioned. We remember Barney too, so he is shoehorned in as well. Lacking the confidence to introduce new signifiers to its universe, Red Dragon (2002) aside, the hollow, 'clip show' feel of Hannibal is a taste of the zero-calorie sequels to come in the next two decades.
The film is not perfect, and likely never was. Much has been written on the fairly transparent transphobia in Buffalo Bill's desire to wear a suit made out of women's skin, but the film then doubles down on its unflattering portrayal by trying to have it both ways. Starling tells the camera that "there's no correlation between transsexualism and violence," and Lecter (the film's psychoanalytic authority, remember) assures us that Buffalo Bill is "not a real transsexual" anyway. Yet despite those caveats, we are continually shown a TERFy cartoon of a man in a wig tucking his "precious" between his legs and an absurdly phallic gun. And, just we didn't quite get the message, a decent collection of Nazi memorabilia. The film's director repeated the novel's contention that Buffalo Bill is not actually transgender, but someone so damaged that they are seeking some kind of transformation. This, for a brief moment, almost sounds true, and the film's deranged depiction of what it might be like to be transgender combined with its ambivalence feels distinctly disingenuous to me, especially given that on an audience and Oscar-adjusted basis Silence of the Lambs may very well be the most transphobic film to come out of Hollywood. Still, I remain torn on the death of the author, especially when I discover that Jonathan Demme went on to direct Philadelphia (1993), likely the most positive film about homophobia and HIV.

Nevertheless, as an adaption of Thomas Harris' original novel, the movie is almost flawless. The screenplay excises red herrings and tuns down the volume on some secondary characters. Crucially for the format, it amplifies Lecter's genius by not revealing that he knew everything all along and cuts Buffalo Bill's origin story for good measure too good horror, after all, does not achieve its effect on the screen, but in the mind of the viewer. The added benefit of removing material from the original means that the film has time to slowly ratchet up the tension, and can remain patient and respectful of the viewer's intelligence throughout: it is, you could almost say, "Ready when you are, Sgt. Pembury". Otherwise, the film does not deviate too far from the original, taking the most liberty when it interleaves two narratives for the famous 'two doorbells' feint.
Dr. Lecter's upright stance when we meet him reminds me of the third act of Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious (1946), another picture freighted with meaningful stairs. Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956) began the now-shopworn trope of concealing a weapon in a flower box.
Two other points of deviation from the novel might be worthy of mention. In the book, a great deal is made of Dr. Lecter's penchant for Bach's Goldberg Variations, inducing a cultural resonance with other cinematic villains who have a taste for high art. It is also stressed in the book that it is the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould's recording too, although this is likely an attempt by Harris to demonstrate his own refined sensibilities Lecter would surely have prefered a more historically-informed performance on the harpsichord. Yet it is glaringly obvious that it isn't Gould playing in the film at all; Gould's hypercanonical 1955 recording is faster and focused, whilst his 1981 release is much slower and contemplative. No doubt tedious issues around rights prevented the use of either recording, but I like to imagine that Gould himself nixed the idea. The second change revolves around the film's most iconic quote. Deep underground, Dr. Lecter tries to spook Starling:
A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
The novel has this as "some fava beans and a big Amarone". No doubt the movie-going audience could not be trusted to know what an Amarone was, just as they were not to capable of recognising a philosopher. Nevertheless, substituting Chianti works better here as it cleverly foreshadows Tuscany (we discover that Lecter is living in Florence in the sequel), and it avoids the un-Lecterian tautology of 'big' Amarone's, I am reliably informed, are big-bodied wines. Like Buffalo Bill's victims. Yet that's not all. "The audience", according to TV Tropes:
... believe Lecter is merely confessing to one of his crimes. What most people would not know is that a common treatment for Lecter's "brand of crazy" is to use drugs of a class known as MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors). There are several things one must not eat when taking MAOIs, as they can case fatally low blood pressure, and as a physician and psychiatrist himself, Dr. Lecter would be well aware of this. These things include liver, fava beans, and red wine. In short, Lecter was telling Clarice that he was off his medication.
I could write more, but as they say, I'm having an old friend for dinner. The starling may be a common bird, but The Silence of the Lambs is that extremely rara avis indeed the film that's better than the book. Ta ta...

7 February 2021

Chris Lamb: Favourite books of 2020

I won't reveal precisely how many books I read in 2020, but it was definitely an improvement on 74 in 2019, 53 in 2018 and 50 in 2017. But not only did I read more in a quantitative sense, the quality seemed higher as well. There were certainly fewer disappointments: given its cultural resonance, I was nonplussed by Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch and whilst Ian Fleming's The Man with the Golden Gun was a little thin (again, given the obvious influence of the Bond franchise) the booked lacked 'thinness' in a way that made it interesting to critique. The weakest novel I read this year was probably J. M. Berger's Optimal, but even this hybrid of Ready Player One late-period Black Mirror wasn't that cringeworthy, all things considered. Alas, graphic novels continue to not quite be my thing, I'm afraid. I perhaps experienced more disappointments in the non-fiction section. Paul Bloom's Against Empathy was frustrating, particularly in that it expended unnecessary energy battling its misleading title and accepted terminology, and it could so easily have been an 20-minute video essay instead). (Elsewhere in the social sciences, David and Goliath will likely be the last Malcolm Gladwell book I voluntarily read.) After so many positive citations, I was also more than a little underwhelmed by Shoshana Zuboff's The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, and after Ryan Holiday's many engaging reboots of Stoic philosophy, his Conspiracy (on Peter Thiel and Hulk Hogan taking on Gawker) was slightly wide of the mark for me. Anyway, here follows a selection of my favourites from 2020, in no particular order:

Fiction Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies & The Mirror and the Light Hilary Mantel During the early weeks of 2020, I re-read the first two parts of Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell trilogy in time for the March release of The Mirror and the Light. I had actually spent the last few years eagerly following any news of the final instalment, feigning outrage whenever Mantel appeared to be spending time on other projects. Wolf Hall turned out to be an even better book than I remembered, and when The Mirror and the Light finally landed at midnight on 5th March, I began in earnest the next morning. Note that date carefully; this was early 2020, and the book swiftly became something of a heavy-handed allegory about the world at the time. That is to say and without claiming that I am Monsieur Cromuel in any meaningful sense it was an uneasy experience to be reading about a man whose confident grasp on his world, friends and life was slipping beyond his control, and at least in Cromwell's case, was heading inexorably towards its denouement. The final instalment in Mantel's trilogy is not perfect, and despite my love of her writing I would concur with the judges who decided against awarding her a third Booker Prize. For instance, there is something of the longueur that readers dislike in the second novel, although this might not be entirely Mantel's fault after all, the rise of the "ugly" Anne of Cleves and laborious trade negotiations for an uninspiring mineral (this is no Herbertian 'spice') will never match the court intrigues of Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour and that man for all seasons, Thomas More. Still, I am already looking forward to returning to the verbal sparring between King Henry and Cromwell when I read the entire trilogy once again, tentatively planned for 2022.

The Fault in Our Stars John Green I came across John Green's The Fault in Our Stars via a fantastic video by Lindsay Ellis discussing Roland Barthes famous 1967 essay on authorial intent. However, I might have eventually come across The Fault in Our Stars regardless, not because of Green's status as an internet celebrity of sorts but because I'm a complete sucker for this kind of emotionally-manipulative bildungsroman, likely due to reading Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials a few too many times in my teens. Although its title is taken from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, The Fault in Our Stars is actually more Romeo & Juliet. Hazel, a 16-year-old cancer patient falls in love with Gus, an equally ill teen from her cancer support group. Hazel and Gus share the same acerbic (and distinctly unteenage) wit and a love of books, centred around Hazel's obsession of An Imperial Affliction, a novel by the meta-fictional author Peter Van Houten. Through a kind of American version of Jim'll Fix It, Gus and Hazel go and visit Van Houten in Amsterdam. I'm afraid it's even cheesier than I'm describing it. Yet just as there is a time and a place for Michelin stars and Haribo Starmix, there's surely a place for this kind of well-constructed but altogether maudlin literature. One test for emotionally manipulative works like this is how well it can mask its internal contradictions while Green's story focuses on the universalities of love, fate and the shortness of life (as do almost all of his works, it seems), The Fault in Our Stars manages to hide, for example, that this is an exceedingly favourable treatment of terminal illness that is only possible for the better off. The 2014 film adaptation does somewhat worse in peddling this fantasy (and has a much weaker treatment of the relationship between the teens' parents too, an underappreciated subtlety of the book). The novel, however, is pretty slick stuff, and it is difficult to fault it for what it is. For some comparison, I later read Green's Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns which, as I mention, tug at many of the same strings, but they don't come together nearly as well as The Fault in Our Stars. James Joyce claimed that "sentimentality is unearned emotion", and in this respect, The Fault in Our Stars really does earn it.

The Plague Albert Camus P. D. James' The Children of Men, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon ... dystopian fiction was already a theme of my reading in 2020, so given world events it was an inevitability that I would end up with Camus's novel about a plague that swept through the Algerian city of Oran. Is The Plague an allegory about the Nazi occupation of France during World War Two? Where are all the female characters? Where are the Arab ones? Since its original publication in 1947, there's been so much written about The Plague that it's hard to say anything new today. Nevertheless, I was taken aback by how well it captured so much of the nuance of 2020. Whilst we were saying just how 'unprecedented' these times were, it was eerie how a novel written in the 1940s could accurately how many of us were feeling well over seventy years on later: the attitudes of the people; the confident declarations from the institutions; the misaligned conversations that led to accidental misunderstandings. The disconnected lovers. The only thing that perhaps did not work for me in The Plague was the 'character' of the church. Although I could appreciate most of the allusion and metaphor, it was difficult for me to relate to the significance of Father Paneloux, particularly regarding his change of view on the doctrinal implications of the virus, and spoiler alert that he finally died of a "doubtful case" of the disease, beyond the idea that Paneloux's beliefs are in themselves "doubtful". Answers on a postcard, perhaps. The Plague even seemed to predict how we, at least speaking of the UK, would react when the waves of the virus waxed and waned as well:
The disease stiffened and carried off three or four patients who were expected to recover. These were the unfortunates of the plague, those whom it killed when hope was high
It somehow captured the nostalgic yearning for high-definition videos of cities and public transport; one character even visits the completely deserted railway station in Oman simply to read the timetables on the wall.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy John le Carr There's absolutely none of the Mad Men glamour of James Bond in John le Carr 's icy world of Cold War spies:
Small, podgy, and at best middle-aged, Smiley was by appearance one of London's meek who do not inherit the earth. His legs were short, his gait anything but agile, his dress costly, ill-fitting, and extremely wet.
Almost a direct rebuttal to Ian Fleming's 007, Tinker, Tailor has broken-down cars, bad clothes, women with their own internal and external lives (!), pathetically primitive gadgets, and (contra Mad Men) hangovers that significantly longer than ten minutes. In fact, the main aspect that the mostly excellent 2011 film adaption doesn't really capture is the smoggy and run-down nature of 1970s London this is not your proto-Cool Britannia of Austin Powers or GTA:1969, the city is truly 'gritty' in the sense there is a thin film of dirt and grime on every surface imaginable. Another angle that the film cannot capture well is just how purposefully the novel does not mention the United States. Despite the US obviously being the dominant power, the British vacillate between pretending it doesn't exist or implying its irrelevance to the matter at hand. This is no mistake on Le Carr 's part, as careful readers are rewarded by finding this denial of US hegemony in metaphor throughout --pace Ian Fleming, there is no obvious Felix Leiter to loudly throw money at the problem or a Sheriff Pepper to serve as cartoon racist for the Brits to feel superior about. By contrast, I recall that a clever allusion to "dusty teabags" is subtly mirrored a few paragraphs later with a reference to the installation of a coffee machine in the office, likely symbolic of the omnipresent and unavoidable influence of America. (The officer class convince themselves that coffee is a European import.) Indeed, Le Carr communicates a feeling of being surrounded on all sides by the peeling wallpaper of Empire. Oftentimes, the writing style matches the graceless and inelegance of the world it depicts. The sentences are dense and you find your brain performing a fair amount of mid-flight sentence reconstruction, reparsing clauses, commas and conjunctions to interpret Le Carr 's intended meaning. In fact, in his eulogy-cum-analysis of Le Carr 's writing style, William Boyd, himself a ventrioquilist of Ian Fleming, named this intentional technique 'staccato'. Like the musical term, I suspect the effect of this literary staccato is as much about the impact it makes on a sentence as the imperceptible space it generates after it. Lastly, the large cast in this sprawling novel is completely believable, all the way from the Russian spymaster Karla to minor schoolboy Roach the latter possibly a stand-in for Le Carr himself. I got through the 500-odd pages in just a few days, somehow managing to hold the almost-absurdly complicated plot in my head. This is one of those classic books of the genre that made me wonder why I had not got around to it before.

The Nickel Boys Colson Whitehead According to the judges who awarded it the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Nickel Boys is "a devastating exploration of abuse at a reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida" that serves as a "powerful tale of human perseverance, dignity and redemption". But whilst there is plenty of this perseverance and dignity on display, I found little redemption in this deeply cynical novel. It could almost be read as a follow-up book to Whitehead's popular The Underground Railroad, which itself won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017. Indeed, each book focuses on a young protagonist who might be euphemistically referred to as 'downtrodden'. But The Nickel Boys is not only far darker in tone, it feels much closer and more connected to us today. Perhaps this is unsurprising, given that it is based on the story of the Dozier School in northern Florida which operated for over a century before its long history of institutional abuse and racism was exposed a 2012 investigation. Nevertheless, if you liked the social commentary in The Underground Railroad, then there is much more of that in The Nickel Boys:
Perhaps his life might have veered elsewhere if the US government had opened the country to colored advancement like they opened the army. But it was one thing to allow someone to kill for you and another to let him live next door.
Sardonic aper us of this kind are pretty relentless throughout the book, but it never tips its hand too far into on nihilism, especially when some of the visual metaphors are often first-rate: "An American flag sighed on a pole" is one I can easily recall from memory. In general though, The Nickel Boys is not only more world-weary in tenor than his previous novel, the United States it describes seems almost too beaten down to have the energy conjure up the Swiftian magical realism that prevented The Underground Railroad from being overly lachrymose. Indeed, even we Whitehead transports us a present-day New York City, we can't indulge in another kind of fantasy, the one where America has solved its problems:
The Daily News review described the [Manhattan restaurant] as nouveau Southern, "down-home plates with a twist." What was the twist that it was soul food made by white people?
It might be overly reductionist to connect Whitehead's tonal downshift with the racial justice movements of the past few years, but whatever the reason, we've ended up with a hard-hitting, crushing and frankly excellent book.

True Grit & No Country for Old Men Charles Portis & Cormac McCarthy It's one of the most tedious cliches to claim the book is better than the film, but these two books are of such high quality that even the Coen Brothers at their best cannot transcend them. I'm grouping these books together here though, not because their respective adaptations will exemplify some of the best cinema of the 21st century, but because of their superb treatment of language. Take the use of dialogue. Cormac McCarthy famously does not use any punctuation "I believe in periods, in capitals, in the occasional comma, and that's it" but the conversations in No Country for Old Men together feel familiar and commonplace, despite being relayed through this unconventional technique. In lesser hands, McCarthy's written-out Texan drawl would be the novelistic equivalent of white rap or Jar Jar Binks, but not only is the effect entirely gripping, it helps you to believe you are physically present in the many intimate and domestic conversations that hold this book together. Perhaps the cinematic familiarity helps, as you can almost hear Tommy Lee Jones' voice as Sheriff Bell from the opening page to the last. Charles Portis' True Grit excels in its dialogue too, but in this book it is not so much in how it flows (although that is delightful in its own way) but in how forthright and sardonic Maddie Ross is:
"Earlier tonight I gave some thought to stealing a kiss from you, though you are very young, and sick and unattractive to boot, but now I am of a mind to give you five or six good licks with my belt." "One would be as unpleasant as the other."
Perhaps this should be unsurprising. Maddie, a fourteen-year-old girl from Yell County, Arkansas, can barely fire her father's heavy pistol, so she can only has words to wield as her weapon. Anyway, it's not just me who treasures this book. In her encomium that presages most modern editions, Donna Tartt of The Secret History fame traces the novels origins through Huckleberry Finn, praising its elegance and economy: "The plot of True Grit is uncomplicated and as pure in its way as one of the Canterbury Tales". I've read any Chaucer, but I am inclined to agree. Tartt also recalls that True Grit vanished almost entirely from the public eye after the release of John Wayne's flimsy cinematic vehicle in 1969 this earlier film was, Tartt believes, "good enough, but doesn't do the book justice". As it happens, reading a book with its big screen adaptation as a chaser has been a minor theme of my 2020, including P. D. James' The Children of Men, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, Patricia Highsmith's Strangers on a Train, James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia, John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, John le Carr 's Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy and even a staged production of Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol streamed from The Old Vic. For an autodidact with no academic background in literature or cinema, I've been finding this an effective and enjoyable means of getting closer to these fine books and films it is precisely where they deviate (or perhaps where they are deficient) that offers a means by which one can see how they were constructed. I've also found that adaptations can also tell you a lot about the culture in which they were made: take the 'straightwashing' in the film version of Strangers on a Train (1951) compared to the original novel, for example. It is certainly true that adaptions rarely (as Tartt put it) "do the book justice", but she might be also right to alight on a legal metaphor, for as the saying goes, to judge a movie in comparison to the book is to do both a disservice.

The Glass Hotel Emily St. John Mandel In The Glass Hotel, Mandel somehow pulls off the impossible; writing a loose roman- -clef on Bernie Madoff, a Ponzi scheme and the ephemeral nature of finance capital that is tranquil and shimmeringly beautiful. Indeed, don't get the wrong idea about the subject matter; this is no over over-caffeinated The Big Short, as The Glass Hotel is less about a Madoff or coked-up financebros but the fragile unreality of the late 2010s, a time which was, as we indeed discovered in 2020, one event away from almost shattering completely. Mandel's prose has that translucent, phantom quality to it where the chapters slip through your fingers when you try to grasp at them, and the plot is like a ghost ship that that slips silently, like the Mary Celeste, onto the Canadian water next to which the eponymous 'Glass Hotel' resides. Indeed, not unlike The Overlook Hotel, the novel so overflows with symbolism so that even the title needs to evoke the idea of impermanence permanently living in a hotel might serve as a house, but it won't provide a home. It's risky to generalise about such things post-2016, but the whole story sits in that the infinitesimally small distance between perception and reality, a self-constructed culture that is not so much 'post truth' but between them. There's something to consider in almost every character too. Take the stand-in for Bernie Madoff: no caricature of Wall Street out of a 1920s political cartoon or Brechtian satire, Jonathan Alkaitis has none of the oleaginous sleaze of a Dominic Strauss-Kahn, the cold sociopathy of a Marcus Halberstam nor the well-exercised sinuses of, say, Jordan Belford. Alkaitis is dare I say it? eminently likeable, and the book is all the better for it. Even the C-level characters have something to say: Enrico, trivially escaping from the regulators (who are pathetically late to the fraud without Mandel ever telling us explicitly), is daydreaming about the girlfriend he abandoned in New York: "He wished he'd realised he loved her before he left". What was in his previous life that prevented him from doing so? Perhaps he was never in love at all, or is love itself just as transient as the imaginary money in all those bank accounts? Maybe he fell in love just as he crossed safely into Mexico? When, precisely, do we fall in love anyway? I went on to read Mandel's Last Night in Montreal, an early work where you can feel her reaching for that other-worldly quality that she so masterfully achieves in The Glass Hotel. Her f ted Station Eleven is on my must-read list for 2021. "What is truth?" asked Pontius Pilate. Not even Mandel cannot give us the answer, but this will certainly do for now.

Running the Light Sam Tallent Although it trades in all of the clich s and stereotypes of the stand-up comedian (the triumvirate of drink, drugs and divorce), Sam Tallent's debut novel depicts an extremely convincing fictional account of a touring road comic. The comedian Doug Stanhope (who himself released a fairly decent No Encore for the Donkey memoir in 2020) hyped Sam's book relentlessly on his podcast during lockdown... and justifiably so. I ripped through Running the Light in a few short hours, the only disappointment being that I can't seem to find videos online of Sam that come anywhere close to match up to his writing style. If you liked the rollercoaster energy of Paul Beatty's The Sellout, the cynicism of George Carlin and the car-crash invertibility of final season Breaking Bad, check this great book out.

Non-fiction Inside Story Martin Amis This was my first introduction to Martin Amis's work after hearing that his "novelised autobiography" contained a fair amount about Christopher Hitchens, an author with whom I had a one of those rather clich d parasocial relationship with in the early days of YouTube. (Hey, it could have been much worse.) Amis calls his book a "novelised autobiography", and just as much has been made of its quasi-fictional nature as the many diversions into didactic writing advice that betwixt each chapter: "Not content with being a novel, this book also wants to tell you how to write novels", complained Tim Adams in The Guardian. I suspect that reviewers who grew up with Martin since his debut book in 1973 rolled their eyes at yet another demonstration of his manifest cleverness, but as my first exposure to Amis's gift of observation, I confess that I was thought it was actually kinda clever. Try, for example, "it remains a maddening truth that both sexual success and sexual failure are steeply self-perpetuating" or "a hospital gym is a contradiction like a young Conservative", etc. Then again, perhaps I was experiencing a form of nostalgia for a pre-Gamergate YouTube, when everything in the world was a lot simpler... or at least things could be solved by articulate gentlemen who honed their art of rhetoric at the Oxford Union. I went on to read Martin's first novel, The Rachel Papers (is it 'arrogance' if you are, indeed, that confident?), as well as his 1997 Night Train. I plan to read more of him in the future.

The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters: Volume 1 & Volume 2 & Volume 3 & Volume 4 George Orwell These deceptively bulky four volumes contain all of George Orwell's essays, reviews and correspondence, from his teenage letters sent to local newspapers to notes to his literary executor on his deathbed in 1950. Reading this was part of a larger, multi-year project of mine to cover the entirety of his output. By including this here, however, I'm not recommending that you read everything that came out of Orwell's typewriter. The letters to friends and publishers will only be interesting to biographers or hardcore fans (although I would recommend Dorian Lynskey's The Ministry of Truth: A Biography of George Orwell's 1984 first). Furthermore, many of his book reviews will be of little interest today. Still, some insights can be gleaned; if there is any inconsistency in this huge corpus is that his best work is almost 'too' good and too impactful, making his merely-average writing appear like hackwork. There are some gems that don't make the usual essay collections too, and some of Orwell's most astute social commentary came out of series of articles he wrote for the left-leaning newspaper Tribune, related in many ways to the US Jacobin. You can also see some of his most famous ideas start to take shape years if not decades before they appear in his novels in these prototype blog posts. I also read Dennis Glover's novelised account of the writing of Nineteen-Eighty Four called The Last Man in Europe, and I plan to re-read some of Orwell's earlier novels during 2021 too, including A Clergyman's Daughter and his 'antebellum' Coming Up for Air that he wrote just before the Second World War; his most under-rated novel in my estimation. As it happens, and with the exception of the US and Spain, copyright in the works published in his lifetime ends on 1st January 2021. Make of that what you will.

Capitalist Realism & Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class Mark Fisher & Owen Jones These two books are not natural companions to one another and there is likely much that Jones and Fisher would vehemently disagree on, but I am pairing these books together here because they represent the best of the 'political' books I read in 2020. Mark Fisher was a dedicated leftist whose first book, Capitalist Realism, marked an important contribution to political philosophy in the UK. However, since his suicide in early 2017, the currency of his writing has markedly risen, and Fisher is now frequently referenced due to his belief that the prevalence of mental health conditions in modern life is a side-effect of various material conditions, rather than a natural or unalterable fact "like weather". (Of course, our 'weather' is being increasingly determined by a combination of politics, economics and petrochemistry than pure randomness.) Still, Fisher wrote on all manner of topics, from the 2012 London Olympics and "weird and eerie" electronic music that yearns for a lost future that will never arrive, possibly prefiguring or influencing the Fallout video game series. Saying that, I suspect Fisher will resonate better with a UK audience more than one across the Atlantic, not necessarily because he was minded to write about the parochial politics and culture of Britain, but because his writing often carries some exasperation at the suppression of class in favour of identity-oriented politics, a viewpoint not entirely prevalent in the United States outside of, say, Tour F. Reed or the late Michael Brooks. (Indeed, Fisher is likely best known in the US as the author of his controversial 2013 essay, Exiting the Vampire Castle, but that does not figure greatly in this book). Regardless, Capitalist Realism is an insightful, damning and deeply unoptimistic book, best enjoyed in the warm sunshine I found it an ironic compliment that I had quoted so many paragraphs that my Kindle's copy protection routines prevented me from clipping any further. Owen Jones needs no introduction to anyone who regularly reads a British newspaper, especially since 2015 where he unofficially served as a proxy and punching bag for expressing frustrations with the then-Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. However, as the subtitle of Jones' 2012 book suggests, Chavs attempts to reveal the "demonisation of the working class" in post-financial crisis Britain. Indeed, the timing of the book is central to Jones' analysis, specifically that the stereotype of the "chav" is used by government and the media as a convenient figleaf to avoid meaningful engagement with economic and social problems on an austerity ridden island. (I'm not quite sure what the US equivalent to 'chav' might be. Perhaps Florida Man without the implications of mental health.) Anyway, Jones certainly has a point. From Vicky Pollard to the attacks on Jade Goody, there is an ignorance and prejudice at the heart of the 'chav' backlash, and that would be bad enough even if it was not being co-opted or criminalised for ideological ends. Elsewhere in political science, I also caught Michael Brooks' Against the Web and David Graeber's Bullshit Jobs, although they are not quite methodical enough to recommend here. However, Graeber's award-winning Debt: The First 5000 Years will be read in 2021. Matt Taibbi's Hate Inc: Why Today's Media Makes Us Despise One Another is worth a brief mention here though, but its sprawling nature felt very much like I was reading a set of Substack articles loosely edited together. And, indeed, I was.

The Golden Thread: The Story of Writing Ewan Clayton A recommendation from a dear friend, Ewan Clayton's The Golden Thread is a journey through the long history of the writing from the Dawn of Man to present day. Whether you are a linguist, a graphic designer, a visual artist, a typographer, an archaeologist or 'just' a reader, there is probably something in here for you. I was already dipping my quill into calligraphy this year so I suspect I would have liked this book in any case, but highlights would definitely include the changing role of writing due to the influence of textual forms in the workplace as well as digression on ergonomic desks employed by monks and scribes in the Middle Ages. A lot of books by otherwise-sensible authors overstretch themselves when they write about computers or other technology from the Information Age, at best resulting in bizarre non-sequiturs and dangerously Panglossian viewpoints at worst. But Clayton surprised me by writing extremely cogently and accurate on the role of text in this new and unpredictable era. After finishing it I realised why for a number of years, Clayton was a consultant for the legendary Xerox PARC where he worked in a group focusing on documents and contemporary communications whilst his colleagues were busy inventing the graphical user interface, laser printing, text editors and the computer mouse.

New Dark Age & Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life James Bridle & Adam Greenfield I struggled to describe these two books to friends, so I doubt I will suddenly do a better job here. Allow me to quote from Will Self's review of James Bridle's New Dark Age in the Guardian:
We're accustomed to worrying about AI systems being built that will either "go rogue" and attack us, or succeed us in a bizarre evolution of, um, evolution what we didn't reckon on is the sheer inscrutability of these manufactured minds. And minds is not a misnomer. How else should we think about the neural network Google has built so its translator can model the interrelation of all words in all languages, in a kind of three-dimensional "semantic space"?
New Dark Age also turns its attention to the weird, algorithmically-derived products offered for sale on Amazon as well as the disturbing and abusive videos that are automatically uploaded by bots to YouTube. It should, by rights, be a mess of disparate ideas and concerns, but Bridle has a flair for introducing topics which reveals he comes to computer science from another discipline altogether; indeed, on a four-part series he made for Radio 4, he's primarily referred to as "an artist". Whilst New Dark Age has rather abstract section topics, Adam Greenfield's Radical Technologies is a rather different book altogether. Each chapter dissects one of the so-called 'radical' technologies that condition the choices available to us, asking how do they work, what challenges do they present to us and who ultimately benefits from their adoption. Greenfield takes his scalpel to smartphones, machine learning, cryptocurrencies, artificial intelligence, etc., and I don't think it would be unfair to say that starts and ends with a cynical point of view. He is no reactionary Luddite, though, and this is both informed and extremely well-explained, and it also lacks the lazy, affected and Private Eye-like cynicism of, say, Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain. The books aren't a natural pair, for Bridle's writing contains quite a bit of air in places, ironically mimics the very 'clouds' he inveighs against. Greenfield's book, by contrast, as little air and much lower pH value. Still, it was more than refreshing to read two technology books that do not limit themselves to platitudinal booleans, be those dangerously naive (e.g. Kevin Kelly's The Inevitable) or relentlessly nihilistic (Shoshana Zuboff's The Age of Surveillance Capitalism). Sure, they are both anti-technology screeds, but they tend to make arguments about systems of power rather than specific companies and avoid being too anti-'Big Tech' through a narrower, Silicon Valley obsessed lens for that (dipping into some other 2020 reading of mine) I might suggest Wendy Liu's Abolish Silicon Valley or Scott Galloway's The Four. Still, both books are superlatively written. In fact, Adam Greenfield has some of the best non-fiction writing around, both in terms of how he can explain complicated concepts (particularly the smart contract mechanism of the Ethereum cryptocurrency) as well as in the extremely finely-crafted sentences I often felt that the writing style almost had no need to be that poetic, and I particularly enjoyed his fictional scenarios at the end of the book.

The Algebra of Happiness & Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life Scott Galloway & Nir Eyal A cocktail of insight, informality and abrasiveness makes NYU Professor Scott Galloway uncannily appealing to guys around my age. Although Galloway definitely has his own wisdom and experience, similar to Joe Rogan I suspect that a crucial part of Galloway's appeal is that you feel you are learning right alongside him. Thankfully, 'Prof G' is far less err problematic than Rogan (Galloway is more of a well-meaning, spirited centrist), although he, too, has some pretty awful takes at time. This is a shame, because removed from the whirlwind of social media he can be really quite considered, such as in this long-form interview with Stephanie Ruhle. In fact, it is this kind of sentiment that he captured in his 2019 Algebra of Happiness. When I look over my highlighted sections, it's clear that it's rather schmaltzy out of context ("Things you hate become just inconveniences in the presence of people you love..."), but his one-two punch of cynicism and saccharine ("Ask somebody who purchased a home in 2007 if their 'American Dream' came true...") is weirdly effective, especially when he uses his own family experiences as part of his story:
A better proxy for your life isn't your first home, but your last. Where you draw your last breath is more meaningful, as it's a reflection of your success and, more important, the number of people who care about your well-being. Your first house signals the meaningful your future and possibility. Your last home signals the profound the people who love you. Where you die, and who is around you at the end, is a strong signal of your success or failure in life.
Nir Eyal's Indistractable, however, is a totally different kind of 'self-help' book. The important background story is that Eyal was the author of the widely-read Hooked which turned into a secular Bible of so-called 'addictive design'. (If you've ever been cornered by a techbro wielding a Wikipedia-thin knowledge of B. F. Skinner's behaviourist psychology and how it can get you to click 'Like' more often, it ultimately came from Hooked.) However, Eyal's latest effort is actually an extended mea culpa for his previous sin and he offers both high and low-level palliative advice on how to avoid falling for the tricks he so studiously espoused before. I suppose we should be thankful to capitalism for selling both cause and cure. Speaking of markets, there appears to be a growing appetite for books in this 'anti-distraction' category, and whilst I cannot claim to have done an exhausting study of this nascent field, Indistractable argues its points well without relying on accurate-but-dry "studies show..." or, worse, Gladwellian gotchas. My main criticism, however, would be that Eyal doesn't acknowledge the limits of a self-help approach to this problem; it seems that many of the issues he outlines are an inescapable part of the alienation in modern Western society, and the only way one can really avoid distraction is to move up the income ladder or move out to a 500-acre ranch.

1 February 2021

Utkarsh Gupta: FOSS Activites in January 2021

Here s my (sixteenth) monthly update about the activities I ve done in the F/L/OSS world.

Debian
This was my 25th month of contributing to Debian. I became a DM in late March 2019 and a DD on Christmas 19! \o/ This month was bat-shit crazy. Why? We ll come to it later, probably 15th of this month?
Anyway, besides being crazy, hectic, adventerous, and the first of 2021, this month I was super-insanely busy. With what? Hm, more about this later this month! ^_^ However, I still did some Debian stuff here and there. Here are the following things I worked on:

Uploads and bug fixes:

Other $things:
  • Attended the Debian Ruby team meeting.
  • Mentoring for newcomers.
  • Moderation of -project mailing list.
  • Sponsored golang-github-gorilla-css for Fedrico.

Debian (E)LTS
Debian Long Term Support (LTS) is a project to extend the lifetime of all Debian stable releases to (at least) 5 years. Debian LTS is not handled by the Debian security team, but by a separate group of volunteers and companies interested in making it a success. And Debian Extended LTS (ELTS) is its sister project, extending support to the Jessie release (+2 years after LTS support). This was my sixteenth month as a Debian LTS and seventh month as a Debian ELTS paid contributor.
I was assigned 26.00 hours for LTS and 36.75 hours for ELTS and worked on the following things:
(however, I worked extra for 9 hours for LTS and 9 hours for ELTS this month, which I intend to balance from the next month!)

LTS CVE Fixes and Announcements:

ELTS CVE Fixes and Announcements:

Other (E)LTS Work:
  • Front-desk duty from 28-12 until 03-01 and from 25-01 until 31-01 for both LTS and ELTS.
  • Triaged dropbear, gst-plugins-bad1.0, phpmyadmin, qemu, firefox-esr, thunderbird, openldap, libdatetime-timezone-perl, tzdata, jasper, ckeditor, liblivemedia, wavpack, and ruby-redcarpet.
  • Marked CVE-2019-12953/dropbear as postponed for jessie.
  • Marked CVE-2019-12953/dropbear as postponed for stretch.
  • Marked CVE-2018-19841/wavpack as not-affected for jessie.
  • Marked CVE-2019-1010315/wavpack as not-affected for jessie.
  • Marked CVE-2019-1010317/wavpack as not-affected for jessie.
  • Marked CVE-2021-21252/phpmyadmin as no-dsa for stretch.
  • Marked CVE-2021-20196/qemu as postponed for stretch.
  • Marked CVE-2021-21252/phpmyadmin as no-dsa for jessie.
  • Marked CVE-2021-20196/qemu as postponed for jessie.
  • Marked CVE-2020-11947/qemu as postponed for jessie.
  • Marked CVE-2021-3326/glibc as no-dsa for jessie.
  • Marked CVE-2021-3326/glibc as no-dsa for stretch.
  • Marked CVE-2020-35517/qemu as not-affected instead of postponed for jessie.
  • Marked CVE-2021-2627 1,2 /ckeditor as postponed for jessie.
  • Marked CVE-2020-24027/liblivemedia as no-dsa for stretch.
  • Marked CVE-2021-2627 1,2 /ckeditor as postponed for stretch.
  • Auto EOL ed csync2, firefox-esr, linux, thunderbird, collabtive, activemq, and xen for jessie.
  • Got my first ever CVE assigned - CVE-2021-3181 for mutt. Weeeehooooo! \o/
  • Attended the monthly LTS meeting. Logs here.
  • General discussion on LTS private and public mailing list.

Interesting Bits!
  • This January, on 23rd and 24th, we had Mini DebConf India 2021 online.
    I had a talk as well, titled, Why Point Releases are important and how you can help prepare them?". It was a fun and a very short talk, where I just list out the reasons and ways to help in the preparation of point releases . I did some experimentation with this talk, figuring out what works for the audience and what doesn t and where can I improve for the next time I talk about this topic! \o/
    You can listen to the talk here and let me know if you have any feedback! Anyway, the conference lasted for 2 days and I also did some volunteering (talk director, talk miester) in Hindi and English, both! It was all so fun and new. Anyway, here s the picture we took:
  • In another exciting news, I got my first CVE assigned!!! \o/
    No, it is not something that I found, it was discovered by Tavis Ormandy. I just assigned this a CVE ID, CVE-2021-3181.
    This is my first, so I am very excited about this! ^_^
  • Besides, there s something more that is in the pipelines. Can t talk about it now, shh. But hopefully very sooooooon!

Other $things! \o/ This month was tiresome, with most of the time being spent on the Debian stuff, I did very little work outside it, really. The issues and patches that I sent are:
  • Issue #700 for redcarpet, asking for a reproducer for CVE-2020-26298 and some additional patch related queries.
  • Issue #7 for in-parallel, asking them to not use relative paths for tests.
  • Issue #8 for in-parallel, reporting a test failure for the library.
  • Issue #2 for rake-ant, asking them to bump their dependencies to a newer version.
  • PR #3 for rake-ant, bumping the dependencies to a newer version, fixing the above issue, heh.
  • Issue #4 for rake-ant, requesting to drop git from their gemspec.
  • PR #5 for rake-ant, dropping git from gemspec, fixing the above issue, heh.
  • Issue #95 for WavPack, asking for a review of past security vulnerabilites wrt v4.70.0.
  • Reviewed PR #128 for ruby-openid, addressing the past regression with CVE fix merge.
  • Reviewed PR #63 for cocoapods-acknowledgements, updating redcarpet to v3.5.1, as a safety measure due to recently discovered vulnerability.
  • Issue #1331 for bottle, asking for relevant commits for CVE-2020-28473 and clarifying other things.
  • Issue #5 for em-redis, reporting test failures on IPv6-only build machines.
  • Issue #939 for eventmachine, reporting test failures for em-redis on IPv6-only build machines.

Until next time.
:wq for today.

27 January 2021

Jonathan Dowland: 2020 in Fiction

Cover for Susanna Clarke's Piranesi
Cover for Emily St. John Mandel's Station 11
I managed to read 31 "books" in 2020. I'm happy with that. I thought the Pandemic would prevent me reaching my goal (30), since I did most of my reading on the commute to the Newcastle office, pre-pandemic. Somehow I've managed to compensate. I started setting a goal for books read per year in 2012 when I started to use goodreads. Doing so started to influence the type of reading I do (which is the reason I stopped my Interzone subscription in 2014, although I resumed it again sometime afterwards). Once I realised that I've been a bit more careful to ensure setting a goal was a worthwhile thing to do and not just another source of stress in my life. Two books I read were published in 2020. The first was Robert Galbraith's (a.k.a. J K Rowling's) Troubled Blood, the fifth (and largest) in the series of crime novels featuring Cormoran Strike (and the equally important Robin Ellacott). Nowadays Rowling is a controversial figure, but I'm not writing about that today, or the book itself, in much detail: briefly, it exceeded expectations, and my wife and I really enjoyed it. The other was Susanna Clarke's Piranesi: an utterly fantastic modern-fantasy story, quite short, completely different to her successful debut novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I really loved this book, partly because it appeals to my love of fantasy geography, but also because it is very well put together, with a strong sense of the value of people's lives. A couple of the other books I read were quite Pandemic-appropriate. I tore through Josh Malerman's Bird Box, a fast-paced post-apocalyptic style horror/suspense story. The appeal was mostly in the construction and delivery: the story itself was strong enough to support the book at the length that it is, but I don't really feel it could have lasted much longer, and so I've no idea how the new sequel (Malorie) will work. The other was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This was a story about a group of travelling musicians in a post-apocalyptic (post-pandemic) North America. A cast of characters all revolve around their relationship (or six degrees of separation) to an actor who died just prior to the Pandemic. The world-building in this book was really strong, and I felt sufficiently invested in the characters that I would love to read more about them in another book. However, I think that (although I'm largely just guessing here), in common with Bird Box, the setting was there to support the novel and the ideas that the author wanted to get across, and so I (sadly) doubt she will return to it. Finally I read a lot of short fiction. I'll write more about that in a separate blog post.

23 January 2021

Reproducible Builds (diffoscope): diffoscope 165 released

The diffoscope maintainers are pleased to announce the release of diffoscope version 165. This version includes the following changes:
[ Dimitrios Apostolou ]
* Introduce the --no-acl and --no-xattr arguments [later collapsed to
  --extended-filesystem-attributes] to improve performance.
* Avoid calling the external stat command.
[ Chris Lamb ]
* Collapse --acl and --xattr into --extended-filesystem-attributes to cover
  all of these extended attributes, defaulting the new option to false (ie.
  to not check these very expensive external calls).
[ Mattia Rizzolo ]
* Override several lintian warnings regarding prebuilt binaries in the
* source.
* Add a pytest.ini file to explicitly use Junit's xunit2 format.
* Ignore the Python DeprecationWarning message regarding the  imp  module
  deprecation as it comes from a third-party library.
* debian/rules: filter the content of the d/*.substvars files
You find out more by visiting the project homepage.

17 January 2021

Enrico Zini: OpenStreetMap maps links

Some interesting renderings of OpenStreetMap data: If you want to print out local maps, MyOSMatic is a service to generate maps of cities using OpenStreetMap data. The generated maps are available in PNG, PDF and SVG formats and are ready to be printed. On a terminal? Sure: MapSCII is a Braille & ASCII world map renderer for the console: telnet mapscii.me and explore the map with the mouse, keyboard arrows, and a and z to zoom, c to switch to block character mode, q to quit. Alternatively you can fly over it, and you might have to dodge the rare map editing bug, or have fun landing on it: A typo created a 212-story monolith in Microsoft Flight Simulator

13 January 2021

Antoine Beaupr : New phone: Pixel 4a

I'm sorry to announce that I gave up on the Fairphone series and switched to a Google Phone (Pixel 4a) running CalyxOS.

Problems in fairy land My fairphone2, even if it is less than two years old, is having major problems:
  • from time to time, the screen flickers and loses "touch" until I squeeze it back together
  • the camera similarly disconnects regularly
  • even when it works, the camera is... pretty bad: low light is basically unusable, it's slow and grainy
  • the battery can barely keep up for one day
  • the cellular coverage is very poor, in Canada: I lose signal at the grocery store and in the middle of my house...
Some of those problems are known: the Fairphone 2 is old now. It was probably old even when I got it. But I can't help but feel a little sad to let it go: the entire point of that device was to make it easy to fix. But alas, because it's sold only in Europe, local stores don't carry replacement parts. To be fair, Fairphone did offer to fix the device, but with a 2 weeks turnaround, I had to get another phone anyways. I did actually try to buy a fairphone3, from Clove. But they did some crazy validation routine. By email, they asked me to provide a photo copy of a driver's license and the credit card, arguing they need to do this to combat fraud. I found that totally unacceptable and asked them to cancel my order. And because I'm not sure the FP3 will fix the coverage issues, I decided to just give up on Fairphone until they officially ship to the Americas.

Do no evil, do not pass go, do not collect 200$ So I got a Google phone, specifically a Pixel 4a. It's a nice device, all small and shiny, but it's "plasticky" - I would have prefered metal, but it seems you need to pay much, much more to get that (in the Pixel 5). In any case, it's certainly a better form factor than the Fairphone 2: even though the screen is bigger, the device itself is actually smaller and thinner, which feels great. The OLED screen is beautiful, awesome contrast and everything, and preliminary tests show that the camera is much better than the one on the Fairphone 2. (The be fair, again, that is another thing the FP3 improved significantly. And that is with the stock Camera app from CalyxOS/AOSP, so not as good as the Google Camera app, which does AI stuff.)

CalyxOS: success The Pixel 4a not not supported by LineageOS: it seems every time I pick a device in that list, I manage to miss the right device by one (I bought a Samsung S9 before, which is also unsupported, even though the S8 is). But thankfully, it is supported by CalyxOS. That install was a breeze: I was hesitant in playing again with installing a custom Android firmware on a phone after fighting with this quite a bit in the past (e.g. htc-one-s, lg-g3-d852). But it turns out their install instructions, mostly using a AOSP alliance device-flasher works absolutely great. It assumes you know about the commandline, and it does require to basically curl sudo (because you need to download their binary and run it as root), but it Just. Works. It reminded me of how great it was to get the Fairphone with TWRP preinstalled... Oh, and kudos to the people in #calyxos on Freenode: awesome tech support, super nice folks. An amazing improvement over the ambiance in #lineageos! :)

Migrating data Unfortunately, migrating the data was the usual pain in the back. This should improve the next time I do this: CalyxOS ships with seedvault, a secure backup system for Android 10 (or 9?) and later which backs up everything (including settings!) with encryption. Apparently it works great, and CalyxOS is also working on a migration system to switch phones. But, obviously, I couldn't use that on the Fairphone 2 running Android 7... So I had to, again, improvised. The first step was to install Syncthing, to have an easy way to copy data around. That's easily done through F-Droid, already bundled with CalyxOS (including the privileged extension!). Pair the devices and boom, a magic portal to copy stuff over. The other early step I took was to copy apps over using the F-Droid "find nearby" functionality. It's a bit quirky, but really helps in copying a bunch of APKs over. Then I setup a temporary keepassxc password vault on the Syncthing share so that I could easily copy-paste passwords into apps. I used to do this in a text file in Syncthing, but copy-pasting in the text file is much harder than in KeePassDX. (I just picked one, maybe KeePassDroid is better? I don't know.) Do keep a copy of the URL of the service to reduce typing as well. Then the following apps required special tweaks:
  • AntennaPod has an import/export feature: export on one end, into the Syncthing share, then import on the other. then go to the queue and select all episodes and download
  • the Signal "chat backup" does copy the secret key around, so you don't get the "security number change" warning (even if it prompts you to re-register) - external devices need to be relinked though
  • AnkiDroid, DSub, Nextcloud, and Wallabag required copy-pasting passwords
I tried to sync contacts with DAVx5 but that didn't work so well: the account was setup correctly, but contacts didn't show up. There's probably just this one thing I need to do to fix this, but since I don't really need sync'd contact, it was easier to export a VCF file to Syncthing and import again.

Known problems One problem with CalyxOS I found is that the fragile little microg tweaks didn't seem to work well enough for Signal. That was unexpected so they encouraged me to file that as a bug. The other "issue" is that the bootloader is locked, which makes it impossible to have "root" on the device. That's rather unfortunate: I often need root to debug things on Android. In particular, it made it difficult to restore data from OSMand (see below). But I guess that most things just work out of the box now, so I don't really need it and appreciate the extra security. Locking the bootloader means full cryptographic verification of the phone, so that's a good feature to have! OSMand still doesn't have a good import/export story. I ended up sharing the Android/data/net.osmand.plus/files directory and importing waypoints, favorites and tracks by hand. Even though maps are actually in there, it's not possible for Syncthing to write directly to the same directory on the new phone, "thanks" to the new permission system in Android which forbids this kind of inter-app messing around. Tracks are particularly a problem: my older OSMand setup had all those folders neatly sorting those tracks by month. This makes it really annoying to track every file manually and copy it over. I have mostly given up on that for now, unfortunately. And I'll still need to reconfigure profiles and maps and everything by hand. Sigh. I guess that's a good clearinghouse for my old tracks I never use... Update: turns out setting storage to "shared" fixed the issue, see comments below!

Conclusion Overall, CalyxOS seems like a good Android firmware. The install is smooth and the resulting install seems solid. The above problems are mostly annoyances and I'm very happy with the experience so far, although I've only been using it for a few hours so this is very preliminary.

9 January 2021

Louis-Philippe V ronneau: puppetserver 6: a Debian packaging post-mortem

I have been a Puppet user for a couple of years now, first at work, and eventually for my personal servers and computers. Although it can have a steep learning curve, I find Puppet both nimble and very powerful. I also prefer it to Ansible for its speed and the agent-server model it uses. Sadly, Puppet Labs hasn't been the most supportive upstream and tends to move pretty fast. Major versions rarely last for a whole Debian Stable release and the upstream .deb packages are full of vendored libraries.1 Since 2017, Apollon Oikonomopoulos has been the one doing most of the work on Puppet in Debian. Sadly, he's had less time for that lately and with Puppet 5 being deprecated in January 2021, Thomas Goirand, Utkarsh Gupta and I have been trying to package Puppet 6 in Debian for the last 6 months. With Puppet 6, the old ruby Puppet server using Passenger is not supported anymore and has been replaced by puppetserver, written in Clojure and running on the JVM. That's quite a large change and although puppetserver does reuse some of the Clojure libraries puppetdb (already in Debian) uses, packaging it meant quite a lot of work. Work in the Clojure team As part of my efforts to package puppetserver, I had the pleasure to join the Clojure team and learn a lot about the Clojure ecosystem. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of the Clojure dependencies needed for puppetserver were already in the archive. Unfortunately, when Apollon Oikonomopoulos packaged them, the leiningen build tool hadn't been packaged yet. This meant I had to rebuild a lot of packages, on top of packaging some new ones. Since then, thanks to the efforts of Elana Hashman, leiningen has been packaged and lets us run the upstream testsuites and create .jar artifacts closer to those upstream releases. During my work on puppetserver, I worked on the following packages:
List of packages
  • backport9
  • bidi-clojure
  • clj-digest-clojure
  • clj-helper
  • clj-time-clojure
  • clj-yaml-clojure
  • cljx-clojure
  • core-async-clojure
  • core-cache-clojure
  • core-match-clojure
  • cpath-clojure
  • crypto-equality-clojure
  • crypto-random-clojure
  • data-csv-clojure
  • data-json-clojure
  • data-priority-map-clojure
  • java-classpath-clojure
  • jnr-constants
  • jnr-enxio
  • jruby
  • jruby-utils-clojure
  • kitchensink-clojure
  • lazymap-clojure
  • liberator-clojure
  • ordered-clojure
  • pathetic-clojure
  • potemkin-clojure
  • prismatic-plumbing-clojure
  • prismatic-schema-clojure
  • puppetlabs-http-client-clojure
  • puppetlabs-i18n-clojure
  • puppetlabs-ring-middleware-clojure
  • puppetserver
  • raynes-fs-clojure
  • riddley-clojure
  • ring-basic-authentication-clojure
  • ring-clojure
  • ring-codec-clojure
  • shell-utils-clojure
  • ssl-utils-clojure
  • test-check-clojure
  • tools-analyzer-clojure
  • tools-analyzer-jvm-clojure
  • tools-cli-clojure
  • tools-reader-clojure
  • trapperkeeper-authorization-clojure
  • trapperkeeper-clojure
  • trapperkeeper-filesystem-watcher-clojure
  • trapperkeeper-metrics-clojure
  • trapperkeeper-scheduler-clojure
  • trapperkeeper-webserver-jetty9-clojure
  • url-clojure
  • useful-clojure
  • watchtower-clojure
If you want to learn more about packaging Clojure libraries and applications, I rewrote the Debian Clojure packaging tutorial and added a section about the quirks of using leiningen without a dedicated dh_lein tool. Work left to get puppetserver 6 in the archive Unfortunately, I was not able to finish the puppetserver 6 packaging work. It is thus unlikely it will make it in Debian Bullseye. If the issues described below are fixed, it would be possible to to package puppetserver in bullseye-backports though. So what's left? jruby Although I tried my best (kudos to Utkarsh Gupta and Thomas Goirand for the help), jruby in Debian is still broken. It does build properly, but the testsuite fails with multiple errors: jruby testsuite failures aside, I have not been able to use the jruby.deb the package currently builds in jruby-utils-clojure (testsuite failure). I had the same exact failure with the (more broken) jruby version that is currently in the archive, which leads me to think this is a LOAD_PATH issue in jruby-utils-clojure. More on that below. To try to bypass these issues, I tried to vendor jruby into jruby-utils-clojure. At first I understood vendoring meant including upstream pre-built artifacts (jruby-complete.jar) and shipping them directly. After talking with people on the #debian-mentors and #debian-ftp IRC channels, I now understand why this isn't a good idea (and why it's not permitted in Debian). Many thanks to the people who were patient and kind enough to discuss this with me and give me alternatives. As far as I now understand it, vendoring in Debian means "to have an embedded copy of the source code in another package". Code shipped that way still needs to be built from source. This means we need to build jruby ourselves, one way or another. Vendoring jruby in another package thus isn't terribly helpful. If fixing jruby the proper way isn't possible, I would suggest trying to build the package using embedded code copies of the external libraries jruby needs to build, instead of trying to use the Debian libraries.2 This should make it easier to replicate what upstream does and to have a final .jar that can be used. jruby-utils-clojure This package is a first-level dependency for puppetserver and is the glue between jruby and puppetserver. It builds fine, but the testsuite fails when using the Debian jruby package. I think the problem is caused by a jruby LOAD_PATH issue. The Debian jruby package plays with the LOAD_PATH a little to try use Debian packages instead of downloading gems from the web, as upstream jruby does. This seems to clash with the gem-home, gem-path, and jruby-load-path variables in the jruby-utils-clojure package. The testsuite plays around with these variables and some Ruby libraries can't be found. I tried to fix this, but failed. Using the upstream jruby-complete.jar instead of the Debian jruby package, the testsuite passes fine. This package could clearly be uploaded to NEW right now by ignoring the testsuite failures (we're just packaging static .clj source files in the proper location in a .jar). puppetserver jruby issues aside, packaging puppetserver itself is 80% done. Using the upstream jruby-complete.jar artifact, the testsuite fails with a weird Clojure error I'm not sure I understand, but I haven't debugged it for very long. Upstream uses git submodules to vendor puppet (agent), hiera (3), facter and puppet-resource-api for the testsuite to run properly. I haven't touched that, but I believe we can either: Without the testsuite actually running, it's hard to know what files are needed in those packages. What now Puppet 5 is now deprecated. If you or your organisation cares about Puppet in Debian,3 puppetserver really isn't far away from making it in the archive. Very talented Debian Developers are always eager to work on these issues and can be contracted for very reasonable rates. If you're interested in contracting someone to help iron out the last issues, don't hesitate to reach out via one of the following: As for I, I'm happy to say I got a new contract and will go back to teaching Economics for the Winter 2021 session. I might help out with some general Debian packaging work from time to time, but it'll be as a hobby instead of a job. Thanks The work I did during the last 6 weeks would be not have been possible without the support of the Wikimedia Foundation, who were gracious enough to contract me. My particular thanks to Faidon Liambotis, Moritz M hlenhoff and John Bond. Many, many thanks to Rob Browning, Thomas Goirand, Elana Hashman, Utkarsh Gupta and Apollon Oikonomopoulos for their direct and indirect help, without which all of this wouldn't have been possible.

  1. For example, the upstream package for the Puppet Agent vendors OpenSSL.
  2. One of the problems of using Ruby libraries already packaged in Debian is that jruby currently only supports Ruby 2.5. Ruby libraries in Debian are currently expected to work with Ruby 2.7, with the transition to Ruby 3.0 planned after the Bullseye release.
  3. If you run Puppet, you clearly should care: the .deb packages upstream publishes really aren't great and I would not recommend using them.

8 January 2021

Reproducible Builds (diffoscope): diffoscope 164 released

The diffoscope maintainers are pleased to announce the release of diffoscope version 164. This version includes the following changes:
[ Chris Lamb ]
* Truncate jsondiff differences at 512 bytes lest they consume the entire page.
* Wrap our external call to cmp(1) with a profile (to match the internal
  profiling).
* Add a note regarding the specific ordering of the new
  all_tools_are_listed test.
[ Dimitrios Apostolou ]
* Performance improvements:
  - Improve speed of has_same_content by spawning cmp(1) less frequently.
  - Log whenever the external cmp(1) command is spawn.ed
  - Avoid invoking external diff for identical, short outputs.
* Rework handling of temporary files:
  - Clean up temporary directories as we go along, instead of at the end.
  - Delete FIFO files when the FIFO feeder's context manager exits.
[ Mattia Rizzolo ]
* Fix a number of potential crashes in --list-debian-substvars, including
  explicitly listing lipo and otool as external tools.
 - Remove redundant code and let object destructors clean up after themselves.
[ Conrad Ratschan ]
* Add a comparator for Flattened Image Trees (FIT) files, a boot image format
  used by U-Boot.
You find out more by visiting the project homepage.

4 January 2021

Russ Allbery: Review: The Once and Future Witches

Review: The Once and Future Witches, by Alix E. Harrow
Publisher: Redhook Books
Copyright: October 2020
ISBN: 0-316-42202-9
Format: Kindle
Pages: 515
Once upon a time there were three sisters. They were born in a forgotten kingdom that smelled of honeysuckle and mud, where the Big Sandy ran wide and the sycamores shone white as knuckle-bones on the banks. The sisters had no mother and a no-good father, but they had each other; it might have been enough. But the sisters were banished from their kingdom, broken and scattered.
The Once and Future Witches opens with Juniper, the youngest, arriving in the city of New Salem. The year is 1893, but not in our world, not quite; Juniper has witch-ways in her pocket and a few words of power. That's lucky for her because the wanted posters arrived before she did. Unbeknownst to her or to each other, her sisters, Agnes and Bella, are already in New Salem. Agnes works in a cotton mill after having her heart broken one too many times; the mill is safer because you can't love a cotton mill. Bella is a junior librarian, meek and nervous and uncertain but still fascinated by witch-tales and magic. It's Bella who casts the spell, partly by accident, partly out of wild hope, but it was Juniper arriving in the city who provided the final component that made it almost work. Not quite, not completely, but briefly the lost tower of Avalon appears in St. George's Square. And, more importantly, the three sisters are reunited. The world of the Eastwood sisters has magic, but the people in charge of that world aren't happy about it. Magic is a female thing, contrary to science and, more importantly, God. History has followed a similar course to our world in part because magic has been ruthlessly suppressed. Inquisitors are a recent memory and the cemetery has a witch-yard, where witches are buried unnamed and their ashes sown with salt. The city of New Salem is called New Salem because Old Salem, that stronghold of witchcraft, was burned to the ground and left abandoned, fit only for tourists to gawk at the supposedly haunted ruins. The women's suffrage movement is very careful to separate itself from any hint of witchcraft or scandal, making its appeals solely within the acceptable bounds of the church. Juniper is the one who starts to up-end all of that in New Salem. Juniper was never good at doing what she was told. This is an angry book that feels like something out of another era, closer in tone to a Sheri S. Tepper or Joanna Russ novel than the way feminism is handled in recent work. Some of that is the era of the setting, before women even had the right to vote. But primarily it's because Harrow, like those earlier works, is entirely uninterested in making excuses or apologies for male behavior. She takes an already-heated societal conflict and gives the underdogs magic, which turns it into a war. There is likely a better direct analogy from the suffrage movement, but the comparison that came to my mind was if Martin Luther King, Jr. proved ineffective or had not existed, and instead Malcolm X or the Black Panthers became the face of the Civil Rights movement. It's also an emotionally exhausting book. The protagonists are hurt and lost and shattered. Their moments of victory are viciously destroyed. There is torture and a lot of despair. It works thematically; all the external solutions and mythical saviors fail, but in the process the sisters build their own strength and their own community and rescue themselves. But it's hard reading at times if you're emotionally invested in the characters (and I was very invested). Harrow does try to balance the losses with triumphs and that becomes more effective and easier to read in the back half of the book, but I struggled with the grimness at the start. One particular problem for me was that the sisters start the book suspicious and distrustful of each other because of lies and misunderstandings. This is obvious to the reader, but they don't work through it until halfway through the book. I can't argue with this as a piece of characterization it made sense to me that they would have reacted to their past the way that they did. But it was still immensely frustrating to read, since in the meantime awful things were happening and I wanted them to band together to fight. They also worry over the moral implications of the fate of their father, whereas I thought the only problem was that the man couldn't die more than once. There too, it makes sense given the moral framework the sisters were coerced into, but it is not my moral framework and it was infuriating to see them stay trapped in it for so long. The other thing that I found troubling thematically is that Harrow personalizes evil. I thought the more interesting moral challenge posed in this book is a society that systematically abuses women and suppresses their power, but Harrow gradually supplants that systemic conflict with a villain who has an identity and a backstory. It provides a more straightforward and satisfying climax, and she does avoid the trap of letting triumph over one character solve all the broader social problems, but it still felt too easy. Worse, the motives of the villain turn out to be at right angles to the structure of the social oppression. It's just a tool he's using, and while that's also believable, it means the transfer of the narrative conflict from the societal to the personal feels like a shying away from a sharper political point. Harrow lets the inhabitants of New Salem off too easily by giving them the excuse of being manipulated by an evil mastermind. What I thought Harrow did handle well was race, and it feels rare to be able to say this about a book written by and about white women. There are black women in New Salem as well, and they have their own ways and their own fight. They are suspicious of the Eastwood sisters because they're worried white women will stir up trouble and then run away and leave the consequences to fall on black women... and they're right. An alliance only forms once the white women show willingness to stay for the hard parts. Black women are essential to the eventual success of the protagonists, but the opposite is not necessarily true; they have their own networks, power, and protections, and would have survived no matter what the Eastwoods did. The book is the Eastwoods' story, so it's mostly concerned with white society, but I thought Harrow avoided both making black women too magical or making white women too central. They instead operate in parallel worlds that can form the occasional alliance of mutual understanding. It helps that Cleopatra Quinn is one of the best characters of the book. This was hard, emotional reading. It's the sort of book where everything has a price, even the ending. But I'm very glad I read it. Each of the three sisters gets their own, very different character arc, and all three of those arcs are wonderful. Even Agnes, who was the hardest character for me to like at the start of the book and who I think has the trickiest story to tell, becomes so much stronger and more vivid by the end of the book. Sometimes the descriptions are trying a bit too hard and sometimes the writing is not quite up to the intended goal, but some of the descriptions are beautiful and memorable, and Harrow's way of weaving the mythic and the personal together worked for me. This is a more ambitious book than The Ten Thousand Doors of January, and while I think the ambition exceeded Harrow's grasp in a few places and she took a few thematic short-cuts, most of it works. The characters felt like living and changing people, which is not easy given how heavily the story structure leans on maiden, mother, and crone archetypes. It's an uncompromising and furious book that turns the anger of 1970s feminist SF onto themes that are very relevant in 2021. You will have to brace yourself for heartbreak and loss, but I think it's fantasy worth reading. Recommended. Rating: 8 out of 10

31 December 2020

Shirish Agarwal: Pandemic, Informal economy and Khau Galli.

Formal sector issues Just today it was published that output from eight formal sectors of the economy who make the bulk of the Indian economy were down on a month to month basis . This means all those apologists for the Government who said that it was ok that the Govt. didn t give the 20 lakh crore package which was announced. In fact, a businessman from my own city, a certain Prafull Sarda had asked via RTI what happened to the 20 lakh crore package which was announced? The answers were in all media as well as newspapers but on the inside pages. You can see one of the article sharing the details here. No wonder Vivek Kaul also shared his take on the way things will hopefully go for the next quarter which seems to be a tad optimistic from where we are atm.
Eight Sectors declining in Indian Economy month-on-month CNBC TV 18
The Informal economy The informal economy has been strangulated by the current party in power since it came into power. And this has resulted many small businesses which informal are and were part of culture of cities and towns. I share an article from 2018 which only shows how good and on the mark it has aged in the last two years. The damage is all to real to ignore as I would share more of an anecdotes and experiences because sadly there never has been any interest shown especially by GOI to seek any stats. about informal economy. Although CMIE has done some good work in that even though they majorly look at formal, usually blue-collar work where again there is not good data. Sharing an anecdote and a learning from these small businesses which probably an MBA guy wouldn t know and in all honesty wouldn t even care. Khau galli Few years back, circa 2014 and on wards, when the present Govt. came into power, it did come with lot of promises. One of which was that lot of informal businesses would be encouraged to grow their businesses and in time hopefully, they become part of the formal economy. Or at least that was the story that all of us were told. Due to that they did lot of promises and also named quite a few places where street food was in abundance. Such lanes were named Khau galli for those who are from North India, it was be easily known and understood. This was just saying that here are some places where you could get a variety of food without paying obscene prices as you would have to vis-a-vis a restaurant. Slowly, they raised the rates of inputs (food grains), gas cylinder etc. which we know of as food inflation and via GST made sure that the restaurants were able to absorb some of the increased inputs (input credit) while still being more than competitive to the street food person/s. The restaurant F&B model is pretty well known so not going there at all. It is however, important to point out that they didn t make any new khau gallis or such, most or all the places existed for years and even decades before that. They also didn t take any extra effort either in marketing the khau gallis or get them with chefs or marketing folks so that the traditional can marry to the anew. They just named them, that was the only gain to be seen on the ground. In its heyday, the khau galli near my home used to have anywhere between 20-30 Thelas or food carts. Most of the food carts would be of wood and having very limited steel. Such food carts would cost anywhere around INR 15-20k instead of the food cart you see here. The only reason I shared that link is to show how a somewhat typical thela or food cart looks in India. Of course YouTube or any other media platform would show many. On top of it, you need and needed permission from the municipality a license for the same which would be auctioned. Now that license could well run from thousands into lakhs depending on various factors or you gave something to the Municipal worker when he did his rounds/beat much like a constable every day or week. Apart from those, you also have raw material expenditure which could easily run into few thousands depending upon what sort of food you are vending. You also would typically have 2-3 workers so a typical Thela would feed not only its customers but also 2-3 families who are the laborer families as well as surrounding businesses. As I used to be loyal and usually go to few whom I found to be either tasty or somehow they were good for me. In either case, a relationship was formed. As I have been never fond of crowds, I usually used to in their off-beat hours either when they are close to packing up of when I know they usually have a lull. That way I knew I would get complete attention of the vendor/s. Many a times I used to see money change hands between the vendors themselves and used to see both camaraderie as well as competition between them. This is years ago, once while sharing a chai (tea) with one of the street vendors I casually asked I have often seen you guys exchanging money with each other and most of the time quite a bit of the money is also given to the guy who didn t make that much sales or any sales at all. The vendor replied sharing practical symbiotic knowledge. All of us are bound by a single thing called poverty. All of us are struggle. Do you know why so many people come here, because they know that there would be a variety of food to be had. Now if we stopped helping each other, the number of people who would make the effort would be also less, we know we are not the only game in town. Also whatever we give, sooner or later it gets adjusted. Also if one of us has good days, he knows hardship days are not far. Why, simply because people change tastes or want variety. So irrespective of good or bad the skills of the vendor is, she or he is bound to make some sales. The vendor either shares the food with us or whatever. Somehow these things just work out. And that doesn t mean we don t have our fights, we do have our fights, but we also understand this. Now you see this and you understand that these guys have and had a community. Even if they changed places due to one reason or the other, they kept themselves connected. Unlike many of us, who even find a hard time keeping up with friends let alone relatives. Now cut to 2020, and where there used to be 20-30 thelas near my home, there are only 4-5. Of course, multiple reasons, but one of the biggest was of course demonetization. That was a huge shock to which many of thela walas succumbed. Their entire savings and capital were turned to dust. Many of their customers will turn up with either a INR 500 or INR 2000/- Re note where at the most a dish costed INR 100/- most times half or even 1/3rd of that amount. How and from where the thela walas could get that kind of cash. These are people who only if they earn, they and their family will have bread at night. Most of the loose change was tied up at middle to higher tier restaurants where they were giving between INR 20/- 30/- for every INR 100/- change of rupees and coins. Quite a few bankers made money by that as well as other means where the thela walas just could not compete. These guys also didn t have any black money even though they were and are part of the black/informal economy. Sadly, till date no economist or even sociologist as far as I know has attempted or done any work from what I know on this industry. If you want to formalize such businesses then at the very least understand their problems and devise solutions. And I suspect, what is and has happened near my house has also happened everywhere else, at least within the geographical confines of the Indian state. Whether it was the 2016 demonetization or the pandemic, the results and effects have been similar the same all over. Some states did do well and still do, the suffering still continues. With the hope that the new year brings cheer to you as well some more ideas to remain in business by the thela walas, I bid you adieu and see you in new year

30 December 2020

Russ Allbery: Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea

Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea, by TJ Klune
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: March 2020
ISBN: 1-250-21732-6
Format: Kindle
Pages: 398
Linus Baker is a case worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. His job is to evaluate the orphanages to which children with magical powers are sent and ensure those children are treated properly. This must be done properly, with professional care and detachment and careful documentation so that his superiors can make the correct choices. Linus has no ambition or desire to be anything other than a case worker. He does his job meticulously by the book, namely the DICOMY Rules and Regulations, which he studies religiously. Linus is therefore caught entirely by surprise when he is summoned without explanation to the offices of Extremely Upper Management on the intimidating 5th floor. That summons turns out to be a new assignment for which Extremely Upper Management believes Linus to be ideal: an orphanage on an island far from the city, home to some highly unusual (and, in one case, disturbing) children and a headmaster who is as odd as his charges. Management is correct about Linus up to a point. He is a bureaucrat and a stickler for rules. However, Extremely Upper Management did not account for the possibility that Linus does the work that he does because he cares deeply about children, or that, if the two come into conflict, the children might matter more than the rules. The House in the Cerulean Sea is the sort of book that tells you exactly what it's doing, assures you that you'll enjoy it anyway, and then you actually do. The plot developments are obvious well in advance, the tugs on the heart-strings are telegraphed and obvious, and there are very few surprises. But the story is told with such charm and feeling that I at least didn't mind at all, and indeed would have been furious at the author if he hadn't delivered the expected ending. This is not the book to read if you want to delve deep into the implications of the world-building. It follows children's book logic in several important places: intentions matter more than institutional structure, sincerity is persuasive, and courage is rewarded. A few reviews compare it to Nineteen Eighty-Four, but this is wildly misleading beyond a few trappings of the setting. The internal logic of the book is closer to a cross between Good Omens and Dr. Seuss. It's a "good people are rewarded" sort of book and wears that on its sleeve. One of the things that Klune does extremely well is subtlety of characterization despite the relative lack of subtlety in the plot. Linus starts the book as a caricature whose life is nearly a blank canvas, and by the end of the book he feels like someone you know. Klune pulls this off less by filling in the canvas than by making careful use of all that negative space to put emotional weight and depth behind a few telling details like Linus's pyjamas, records, and cat. He also does an exceptional job with the mannerisms and habits of speech of both Linus and the headmaster of the orphanage. To say much more would be a spoiler; suffice it to say that Klune captures an interaction style that I have rarely seen in novels and certainly not in a fantasy novel of this type, and does it so well that I was strongly reminded of people I've known. Anyone who knows me is unlikely to be surprised that my favorite character in the book is Zoe, the sarcastic and fiercely protective sprite who owns the island on which the orphanage is located, but almost all of the characters are wonderful. One or two of the children are a bit one-note, but the group dynamics make up for that, and the suspicious, thoughtful, and respectful interplay between the three adults is beautifully done. My only real complaints on the characterization front are that some of the confrontations in the nearby village felt a bit strained, and I think Helen got short shrift and could have been fleshed out some more. I will say that the motives of the villains never made much sense, but they didn't have to; they're essentially monsters in Linus's story, and they do enough to serve that purpose. I now want to read the story of how Zoe and the headmaster met, although I'm not sure Klune is the right person to write it, and I'm not sure he left enough emotional space for another novel. Sometimes I want to read a positive, hopeful book in which people learn and grow and good things happen to good people, one where the author is unapologetically manipulating my emotions and I don't care because I want these people to be happy. If you feel the same way, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's lovely. Rating: 9 out of 10

27 December 2020

John Goerzen: Asynchronous Email: Exim over NNCP (or UUCP)

Following up to yesterday s article about how NNCP rehabilitates asynchronous communication with modern encryption and onion routing, here is the first of my posts showing how to put it into action. Email is a natural fit for async; in fact, much of early email was carried by UUCP. It is useful for an airgapped machine to be able to send back messages; errors from cron, results of handling incoming data, disk space alerts, etc. (Of course, this would apply to a non-airgapped machine also). The NNCP documentation already describes how to do this for Postfix. Here I will show how to do it for Exim. A quick detour to UUCP land When you encounter a system such as email that has instructions for doing something via UUCP, that should be an alert to you that here is some very relevant information for doing this same thing via NNCP. The syntax is different, but broadly, here s a table of similar NNCP commands:
Purpose UUCP NNCP
Connect to remote system uucico -s, uupoll nncp-call, nncp-caller
Receive connection (pipe, daemon, etc) uucico (-l or similar) nncp-daemon
Request remote execution, stdin piped in uux nncp-exec
Copy file to remote machine uucp nncp-file
Copy file from remote machine uucp nncp-freq
Process received requests uuxqt nncp-toss
Move outbound requests to dir (for USB stick, airgap, etc) N/A nncp-xfer
Create streaming package of outbound requests N/A nncp-bundle
If you used UUCP back in the day, you surely remember bang paths. I will not be using those here. NNCP handles routing itself, rather than making the MTA be aware of the network topology, so this simplifies things considerably. Sending from Exim to a smarthost One common use for async email is from a satellite system: one that doesn t receive mail, or have local mailboxes, but just needs to get email out to the Internet. This is a common situation even for conventionally-connected systems; in Exim speak, this is a satellite system that routes mail via a smarthost. That is, every outbound message goes to a specific target, which then is responsible for eventual delivery (over the Internet, LAN, whatever). This is fairly simple in Exim. We actually have two choices for how to do this: bsmtp or rmail mode. bsmtp (batch SMTP) is the more modern way, and is essentially a derivative of SMTP that explicitly can be queued asynchronously. Basically it s a set of SMTP commands that can be saved in a file. The alternative is rmail (which is just an alias for sendmail these days), where the data is piped to rmail/sendmail with the recipients given on the command line. Both can work with Exim and NNCP, but because we re doing shiny new things, we ll use bsmtp. These instructions are loosely based on the Using outgoing BSMTP with Exim HOWTO. Some of these may assume Debianness in the configuration, but should be easily enough extrapolated to other configs as well. First, configure Exim to use satellite mode with minimal DNS lookups (assuming that you may not have working DNS anyhow). Then, in the Exim primary router section for smarthost (router/200_exim4-config_primary in Debian split configurations), just change transport = remote_smtp_smarthost to transport = nncp. Now, define the NNCP transport. If you are on Debian, you might name this transports/40_exim4-config_local_nncp:
nncp:
  debug_print = "T: nncp transport for $local_part@$domain"
  driver = pipe
  user = nncp
  batch_max = 100
  use_bsmtp
  command = /usr/local/nncp/bin/nncp-exec -noprogress -quiet hostname_goes_here rsmtp
.ifdef REMOTE_SMTP_HEADERS_REWRITE
  headers_rewrite = REMOTE_SMTP_HEADERS_REWRITE
.endif
.ifdef REMOTE_SMTP_RETURN_PATH
  return_path = REMOTE_SMTP_RETURN_PATH
.endif
This is pretty straightforward. We pipe to nncp-exec, run it as the nncp user. nncp-exec sends it to a target node and runs whatever that node has called rsmtp (the command to receive bsmtp data). When the target node processes the request, it will run the configured command and pipe the data in to it. More complicated: Routing to various NNCP nodes Perhaps you would like to be able to send mail directly to various NNCP nodes. There are a lot of ways to do that. Fundamentally, you will need a setup similar to the UUCP example in Exim s manualroute manual, which lets you define how to reach various hosts via UUCP/NNCP. Perhaps you have a star topology (every NNCP node exchanges email with a central hub). In the NNCP world, you have two choices of how you do this. You could, at the Exim level, make the central hub the smarthost for all the side nodes, and let it redistribute mail. That would work, but requires decrypting messages at the hub to let Exim process. The other alternative is to configure NNCP to just send to the destinations via the central hub; that takes advantage of onion routing and doesn t require any Exim processing at the central hub at all. Receiving mail from NNCP On the receiving side, first you need to configure NNCP to authorize the execution of a mail program. In the section of your receiving host where you set the permissions for the client, include something like this:
      exec:  
        rsmtp: ["/usr/sbin/sendmail", "-bS"]
       
The -bS option is what tells Exim to receive BSMTP on stdin. Now, you need to tell Exim that nncp is a trusted user (able to set From headers arbitrarily). Assuming you are running NNCP as the nncp user, then add MAIN_TRUSTED_USERS = nncp to a file such as /etc/exim4/conf.d/main/01_exim4-config_local-nncp. That s it! Some hosts, of course, both send and receive mail via NNCP and will need configurations for both.

23 December 2020

Sven Hoexter: Jenkins dynamically parameterized pipelins for terraform execution

Jenkins in the Ops space is in general already painful. Lately the deprecation of the multiple-scms plugin caused some headache, becaue we relied heavily on it to generate pipelines in a Seedjob based on structure inside secondary repositories. We kind of started from scratch now and ship parameterized pipelines defined in Jenkinsfiles in those secondary repositories. Basically that is the way it should be, you store the pipeline definition along with code you'd like to execute. In our case that is mostly terraform and ansible. Problem Directory structure is roughly "stage" -> "project" -> "service". We'd like to have one job pipeline per project, which dynamically reads all service folder names and offers those as available parameters. A service folder is the smallest entity we manage with terraform in a separate state file. Now Jenkins pipelines are by intention limited, but you can add some groovy at will if you whitelist the usage in Jenkins. You have to click through some security though to make it work. Jenkinsfile This is basically a commented version of the Jenkinsfile we copy now around as a template, to be manually adjusted per project.
// Syntax: https://jenkins.io/doc/book/pipeline/syntax/
// project name as we use it in the folder structure and job name
def TfProject = "myproject-I-dev"
// directory relative to the repo checkout inside the jenkins workspace
def jobDirectory = "terraform/dev/$ TfProject "
// informational string to describe the stage or project
def stageEnvDescription = "DEV"
/* Attention please if you rebuild the Jenkins instance consider the following:
- You've to run this job at least *thrice*. It first has to checkout the
repository, then you've to add permisions for the groovy part, and on
the third run you can gather the list of available terraform folder.
- As a safeguard the first first folder name is always the invalid string
"choose-one". That prevents accidential execution of a random project.
- If you add new terraform folder you've to run the "choose-one" dummy rollout so
the dynamic parameters pick up the new folder. */
/* Here we hardcode the path to the correct job workspace on the jenkins host, and
   discover the service folder list. We have to filter it slightly to avoid temporary folders created by Jenkins (like @tmp folders). */
List tffolder = new File("/var/lib/jenkins/jobs/terraform $ TfProject /workspace/$ jobDirectory ").listFiles().findAll   it.isDirectory() && it.name ==~ /(?i)[a-z0-9_-]+/  .sort()
/* ensure the "choose-one" dummy entry is always the first in the list, otherwise
   initial executions might execute something. By default the first parameter is
   used if none is selected */
tffolder.add(0,"choose-one")
pipeline  
    agent any
    /* Show a choice parameter with the service directory list we stored
       above in the variable tffolder */
    parameters  
        choice(name: "TFFOLDER", choices: tffolder)
     
    // Configure logrotation and coloring.
    options  
        buildDiscarder(logRotator(daysToKeepStr: "30", numToKeepStr: "100"))
        ansiColor("xterm")
     
    // Set some variables for terraform to pick up the right service account.
    environment  
        GOOGLE_CLOUD_KEYFILE_JSON = '/var/lib/jenkins/cicd.json'
        GOOGLE_APPLICATION_CREDENTIALS = '/var/lib/jenkins/cicd.json'
     
stages  
    stage('TF Plan')  
    /* Make sure on every stage that we only execute if the
       choice parameter is not the dummy one. Ensures we
       can run the pipeline smoothly for re-reading the
       service directories. */
    when   expression   params.TFFOLDER != "choose-one"    
    steps  
        /* Initialize terraform and generate a plan in the selected
           service folder. */
        dir("$ params.TFFOLDER ")  
        sh 'terraform init -no-color -upgrade=true'
        sh 'terraform plan -no-color -out myplan'
         
        // Read in the repo name we act on for informational output.
        script  
            remoteRepo = sh(returnStdout: true, script: 'git remote get-url origin').trim()
         
        echo "INFO: job *$ JOB_NAME * in *$ params.TFFOLDER * on branch *$ GIT_BRANCH * of repo *$ remoteRepo *"
     
     
    stage('TF Apply')  
    /* Run terraform apply only after manual acknowledgement, we have to
       make sure that the when     condition is actually evaluated before
       the input. Default is input before when. */
    when  
        beforeInput true
        expression   params.TFFOLDER != "choose-one"  
     
    input  
        message "Cowboy would you really like to run **$ JOB_NAME ** in **$ params.TFFOLDER **"
        ok "Apply $ JOB_NAME  to $ stageEnvDescription "
     
    steps  
        dir("$ params.TFFOLDER ")  
        sh 'terraform apply -no-color -input=false myplan'
         
     
     
 
    post  
            failure  
                // You can also alert to noisy chat platforms on failures if you like.
                echo "job failed"
             
         
job-dsl side of the story Having all those when conditions in the pipeline stages above allows us to create a dependency between successful Seedjob executions and just let that trigger the execution of the pipeline jobs. This is important because the Seedjob execution itself will reset all pipeline jobs, so your dynamic parameters are gone. By making sure we can re-execute the job, and doing that automatically, we still have up to date parameterized pipelines, whenever the Seedjob ran successfully. The job-dsl script looks like this:
import javaposse.jobdsl.dsl.DslScriptLoader;
import javaposse.jobdsl.plugin.JenkinsJobManagement;
import javaposse.jobdsl.plugin.ExecuteDslScripts;
def params = [
    // Defaults are repo: mycorp/admin, branch: master, jenkinsFilename: Jenkinsfile
    pipelineJobs: [
        [name: 'terraform myproject-I-dev', jenkinsFilename: 'terraform/dev/myproject-I-dev/Jenkinsfile', upstream: 'Seedjob'],
        [name: 'terraform myproject-I-prod', jenkinsFilename: 'terraform/prod/myproject-I-prod/Jenkinsfile', upstream: 'Seedjob'],
    ],
]
params.pipelineJobs.each   job ->
    pipelineJob(job.name)  
        definition  
            cpsScm  
                // assume admin and branch master as a default, look for Jenkinsfile
                def repo = job.repo ?: 'mycorp/admin'
                def branch = job.branch ?: 'master'
                def jenkinsFilename = job.jenkinsFilename ?: 'Jenkinsfile'
                scm  
                    git("ssh://git@github.com/$ repo .git", branch)
                 
                scriptPath(jenkinsFilename)
             
         
        properties  
            pipelineTriggers  
                triggers  
                    if(job.upstream)  
                        upstream  
                            upstreamProjects("$ job.upstream ")
                            threshold('SUCCESS')
                         
                     
                 
             
         
     
 
Disadvantages There are still a bunch of disadvantages you've to consider Jenkins Rebuilds are Painful In general we rebuild our Jenkins instances quite frequently. With the approach outlined here in place, you've to allow the groovy script execution after the first Seedjob execution, and then go through at least another round of run the job, allow permissions, run the job, until it's finally all up and running. Copy around Jenkinsfile Whenever you create a new project you've to copy around Jenkinsfiles for each and every stage and modify the variables at the top accordingly. Keep the Seedjob definitions and Jenkinsfile in Sync You not only have to copy the Jenkinsfile around, but you also have to keep the variables and names in sync with what you define for the Seedjob. Sadly the pipeline env-vars are not available outside of the pipeline when we execute the groovy parts. Kudos This setup was crafted with a lot of help by Michael and Eric.

20 December 2020

Russ Allbery: Review: Can't Even

Review: Can't Even, by Anne Helen Petersen
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Copyright: 2020
ISBN: 0-358-31659-6
Format: Kindle
Pages: 230
Like many other people, I first became aware of Anne Helen Petersen's journalism when her Buzzfeed article "How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation" went viral. Can't Even is the much-awaited (at least by me) book-length expansion of that thesis: The United States is, as a society, burning out, and that burnout is falling on millennials the hardest. We're not recognizing the symptoms because we think burnout looks like something dramatic and flashy. But for most people burnout looks less like a nervous breakdown and more like constant background anxiety and lack of energy.
Laura, who lives in Chicago and works as a special ed teacher, never wants to see her friends, or date, or cook she's so tired, she just wants to melt into the couch. "But then I can't focus on what I'm watching, and end up unfocused again, and not completely relaxing," she explained. "Here I am telling you I don't even relax right! I feel bad about feeling bad! But by the time I have leisure time, I just want to be alone!"
Petersen explores this idea across childhood, education, work, family, and parenting, but the core of her thesis is the precise opposite of the pervasive myth that millennials are entitled and lazy (a persistent generational critique that Petersen points out was also leveled at their Baby Boomer parents in the 1960s and 1970s). Millennials aren't slackers; they're workaholics from childhood, for whom everything has become a hustle and a second (or third or fourth) job. The struggle with "adulting" is a symptom of the burnout on the other side of exhaustion, the mental failures that happen when you've forced yourself to keep going on empty so many times that it's left lingering damage. Petersen is a synthesizing writer who draws together the threads of other books rather than going deep on a novel concept, so if you've been reading about work, psychology, stress, and productivity, many of the ideas here will be familiar. But she's been reading the same authors that I've been reading (Tressie McMillan Cottom, Emily Guendelsberger, Brigid Schulte, and even Cal Newport), and this was the book that helped me pull those analyses together into a coherent picture. That picture starts with the shift of risk in the 1970s and 1980s from previously stable corporations with long-lasting jobs and retirement pensions onto individual employees. The corresponding rise in precarity and therefore fear led to a concerted effort to re-establish a feeling of control. Baby Boomers doubled down on personal responsibility and personal capability, replacing unstructured childhood for their kids with planned activities and academic achievement. That generation, in turn, internalized the need for constant improvement, constant grading, and constant achievement, accepting an implied bargain that if they worked very hard, got good grades, got into good schools, and got a good degree, it would pay off in a good life and financial security. They were betrayed. The payoff never happened; many millennials graduated into the Great Recession and the worst economy since World War II. In response, millennials doubled down on the only path to success they were taught. They took on more debt, got more education, moved back in with their parents to cut expenses, and tried even harder.
Even after watching our parents get shut out, fall from, or simply struggle anxiously to maintain the American Dream, we didn't reject it. We tried to work harder, and better, more efficiently, with more credentials, to achieve it.
Once one has this framework in mind, it's startling how pervasive the "just try harder" message is and how deeply we've internalized it. It is at the center of the time management literature: Getting Things Done focuses almost entirely on individual efficiency. Later time management work has become more aware of the importance of pruning the to-do list and doing fewer things, but addresses that through techniques for individual prioritization. Cal Newport is more aware than most that constant busyness and multitasking interacts poorly with the human brain, and has taken a few tentative steps towards treating the problem as systemic rather than individual, but his focus is still primarily on individual choices. Even when tackling a problem that is clearly societal, such as the monetization of fear and outrage on social media, the solutions are all individual: recognize that those platforms are bad for you, make an individual determination that your attention is being exploited, and quit social media through your personal force of will. And this isn't just productivity systems. Most of public discussion of environmentalism in the United States is about personal energy consumption, your individual carbon footprint, household recycling, and whether you personally should eat meat. Discussions of monopoly and monopsony become debates over whether you personally should buy from Amazon. Concerns about personal privacy turn into advocacy for using an ad blocker or shaming people for using Google products. Articles about the growth of right-wing extremism become exhortations to take responsibility for the right-wing extremist in your life and argue them out of their beliefs over the dinner table. Every major systemic issue facing society becomes yet another personal obligation, another place we are failing as individuals, something else that requires trying harder, learning more, caring more, doing more. This advice is well-meaning (mostly; sometimes it is an intentional and cynical diversion), and can even be effective with specific problems. But it's also a trap. If you're feeling miserable, you just haven't found the right combination of time-block scheduling, kanban, and bullet journaling yet. If you're upset at corporate greed and the destruction of the environment, the change starts with you and your household. The solution is in your personal hands; you just have try a little harder, work a little harder, make better decisions, and spend money more ethically (generally by buying more expensive products). And therefore, when we're already burned out, every topic becomes another failure, increasing our already excessive guilt and anxiety. Believing that we're in control, even when we're not, does have psychological value. That's part of what makes it such a beguiling trap. While drafting this review, I listened to Ezra Klein's interview with Robert Sapolsky on poverty and stress, and one of the points he made is that, when mildly or moderately bad things happen, believing you have control is empowering. It lets you recast the setback as a larger disaster that you were able to prevent and avoid a sense of futility. But when something major goes wrong, believing you have control is actively harmful to your mental health. The tragedy is now also a personal failure, leading to guilt and internal recrimination on top of the effects of the tragedy itself. This is why often the most comforting thing we can say to someone else after a personal disaster is "there's nothing you could have done." Believing we can improve our lives if we just try a little harder does work, until it doesn't. And because it does work for smaller things, it's hard to abandon; in the short term, believing we're at the mercy of forces outside our control feels even worse. So we double down on self-improvement, giving ourselves even more things to attempt to do and thus burning out even more. Petersen is having none of this, and her anger is both satisfying and clarifying.
In writing that article, and this book, I haven't cured anyone's burnout, including my own. But one thing did become incredibly clear. This isn't a personal problem. It's a societal one and it will not be cured by productivity apps, or a bullet journal, or face mask skin treatments, or overnight fucking oats. We gravitate toward those personal cures because they seem tenable, and promise that our lives can be recentered, and regrounded, with just a bit more discipline, a new app, a better email organization strategy, or a new approach to meal planning. But these are all merely Band-Aids on an open wound. They might temporarily stop the bleeding, but when they fall off, and we fail at our new-found discipline, we just feel worse.
Structurally, Can't Even is half summaries of other books and essays put into this overall structure and half short profiles and quotes from millennials that illustrate her point. This is Petersen's typical journalistic style if you're familiar with her other work. It gains a lot from the voices of individuals, but it can also feel like argument from anecdote. If there's a epistemic flaw in this book, it's that Petersen defends her arguments more with examples than with scientific study. I've read enough of the other books she cites, many of which do go into the underlying studies and statistics, to know that her argument is well-grounded, but I think Can't Even works better as a roadmap and synthesis than as a primary source of convincing data. The other flaw that I'll mention is that although Petersen tries very hard to incorporate poorer and non-white millennials, I don't think the effort was successful, and I'm not sure it was possible within the structure of this book. She frequently makes a statement that's accurate and insightful for millennials from white, middle-class families, acknowledges that it doesn't entirely apply to, for example, racial minorities, and then moves on without truly reconciling those two perspectives. I think this is a deep structural problem: One's experience of American life is very different depending on race and class, and the phenomenon that Petersen is speaking to is to an extent specific to those social classes who had a more comfortable and relaxing life and are losing it. One way to see the story of the modern economy is that white people are becoming as precarious as everyone else already was, and are reacting by making the lives of non-white people yet more miserable. Petersen is accurately pointing to significant changes in relationships with employers, productivity, family, and the ideology of individualism, but experiencing that as a change is more applicable to white people than non-white people. That means there are, in a way, two books here: one about the slow collapse of the white middle class into constant burnout, and a different book about the much longer-standing burnout of being non-white in the United States and our systemic failure to address the causes of it. Petersen tries to gesture at the second book, but she's not the person to write it and those two books cannot comfortably live between the same covers. The gestures therefore feel awkward and forced, and while the discomfort itself serves some purpose, it lacks the insight that Petersen brings to the rest of the book. Those critiques aside, I found Can't Even immensely clarifying. It's the first book that explained to me in a way I understood what's so demoralizing and harmful about Instagram and its allure of cosplaying as a successful person. It helped me understand how productivity and individual political choices fit into a system that emphasizes individual action as an excuse to not address collective problems. And it also gave me a strange form of hope, because if something can't go on forever, it will, at some point, stop.
Millennials have been denigrated and mischaracterized, blamed for struggling in situations that set us up to fail. But if we have the endurance and aptitude and wherewithal to work ourselves this deeply into the ground, we also have the strength to fight. We have little savings and less stability. Our anger is barely contained. We're a pile of ashes smoldering, a bad memory of our best selves. Underestimate us at your peril: We have so little left to lose.
Nothing will change without individual people making different decisions and taking different actions than they are today. But we have gone much too far down the path of individual, atomized actions that may produce feelings of personal virtue but that are a path to ineffectiveness and burnout when faced with systemic problems. We need to make different choices, yes, but choices towards solidarity and movement politics rather than personal optimization. There is a backlash coming. If we let it ground itself in personal grievance, it could turn ugly and take a racist and nationalist direction. But that's not, by in large, what millennials have done, and that makes me optimistic. If we embrace the energy of that backlash and help shape it to be more inclusive, just, and fair, we can rediscover the effectiveness of collective solutions for collective problems. Rating: 8 out of 10

11 December 2020

Markus Koschany: My Free Software Activities in November 2020

Welcome to gambaru.de. Here is my monthly report (+ the first week in December) that covers what I have been doing for Debian. If you re interested in Java, Games and LTS topics, this might be interesting for you. Debian Games
Debian Java Misc Debian LTS This was my 57. month as a paid contributor and I have been paid to work 12 hours on Debian LTS, a project started by Rapha l Hertzog. In that time I did the following: ELTS Extended Long Term Support (ELTS) is a project led by Freexian to further extend the lifetime of Debian releases. It is not an official Debian project but all Debian users benefit from it without cost. The current ELTS release is Debian 8 Jessie . This was my 30. month and I have been paid to work 15 hours on ELTS. Thanks for reading and see you next time.

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