Search Results: "bart"

23 September 2022

Gunnar Wolf: 6237415

Years ago, it was customary that some of us stated publicly the way we think in time of Debian General Resolutions (GRs). And even if we didn t, vote lists were open (except when voting for people, i.e. when electing a DPL), so if interested we could understand what our different peers thought. This is the first vote, though, where a Debian vote is protected under voting secrecy. I think it is sad we chose that path, as I liken a GR vote more with a voting process within a general assembly of a cooperative than with a countrywide voting one; I feel that understanding who is behind each posture helps us better understand the project as a whole. But anyway, I m digressing Even though I remained quiet during much of the discussion period (I was preparing and attending a conference), I am very much interested in this vote I am the maintainer for the Raspberry Pi firmware, and am a seconder for two of them. Many people know me for being quite inflexible in my interpretation of what should be considered Free Software, and I m proud of it. But still, I believer it to be fundamental for Debian to be able to run on the hardware most users have. So My vote was as follows:
[6] Choice 1: Only one installer, including non-free firmware
[2] Choice 2: Recommend installer containing non-free firmware
[3] Choice 3: Allow presenting non-free installers alongside the free one
[7] Choice 4: Installer with non-free software is not part of Debian
[4] Choice 5: Change SC for non-free firmware in installer, one installer
[1] Choice 6: Change SC for non-free firmware in installer, keep both installers
[5] Choice 7: None Of The Above
For people reading this not into Debian s voting processes: Debian uses the cloneproof Schwatz sequential dropping Condorcet method, which means we don t only choose our favorite option (which could lead to suboptimal strategic voting outcomes), but we rank all the options according to our preferences. To read this vote, we should first locate position of None of the above , which for my ballot is #5. Let me reorder the ballot according to my preferences:
[1] Choice 6: Change SC for non-free firmware in installer, keep both installers
[2] Choice 2: Recommend installer containing non-free firmware
[3] Choice 3: Allow presenting non-free installers alongside the free one
[4] Choice 5: Change SC for non-free firmware in installer, one installer
[5] Choice 7: None Of The Above
[6] Choice 1: Only one installer, including non-free firmware
[7] Choice 4: Installer with non-free software is not part of Debian
This is, I don t agree either with Steve McIntyre s original proposal, Choice 1 (even though I seconded it, this means, I think it s very important to have this vote, and as a first proposal, it s better than the status quo maybe it s contradictory that I prefer it to the status quo, but ranked it below NotA. Well, more on that when I present Choice 5). My least favorite option is Choice 4, presented by Simon Josefsson, which represents the status quo: I don t want Debian not to have at all an installer that cannot be run on most modern hardware with reasonably good user experience (i.e. network support or the ability to boot at all!) Slightly above my acceptability threshold, I ranked Choice 5, presented by Russ Allbery. Debian s voting and its constitution rub each other in interesting ways, so the Project Secretary has to run the votes as they are presented but he has interpreted Choice 1 to be incompatible with the Social Contract (as there would no longer be a DFSG-free installer available), and if it wins, it could lead him to having to declare the vote invalid. I don t want that to happen, and that s why I ranked Choice 1 below None of the above.
[update/note] Several people have asked me to back that the Secretary said so. I can refer to four mails: 2022.08.29, 2022.08.30, 2022.09.02, 2022.09.04.
Other than that, Choice 6 (proposed by Holger Levsen), Choice 2 (proposed by me) and Choice 3 (proposed by Bart Martens) are very much similar; the main difference is that Choice 6 includes a modification to the Social Contract expressing that:
The Debian official media may include firmware that is otherwise not
part of the Debian system to enable use of Debian with hardware that
requires such firmware.
I believe choices 2 and 3 to be mostly the same, being Choice 2 more verbose in explaining the reasoning than Choice 3. Oh! And there are always some more bits to the discussion For example, given they hold modifications to the Social Contract, both Choice 5 and Choice 6 need a 3:1 supermajority to be valid. So, lets wait until the beginning of October to get the results, and to implement the changes they will (or not?) allow. If you are a Debian Project Member, please vote!

30 December 2021

Chris Lamb: Favourite books of 2021: Non-fiction

As a follow-up to yesterday's post listing my favourite memoirs and biographies I read in 2021, today I'll be outlining my favourite works of non-fiction. Books that just missed the cut include: The Unusual Suspect by Ben Machell for its thrilleresque narrative of a modern-day Robin Hood (and if you get to the end, a completely unexpected twist); Paul Fussell's Class: A Guide to the American Status System as an amusing chaser of sorts to Kate Fox's Watching the English; John Carey's Little History of Poetry for its exhilarating summation of almost four millennia of verse; David Graeber's Debt: The First 5000 Years for numerous historical insights, not least its rejoinder to our dangerously misleading view of ancient barter systems; and, although I didn't treasure everything about it, I won't hesitate to gift Pen Vogler's Scoff to a number of friends over the next year. The weakest book of non-fiction I read this year was undoubtedly Roger Scruton's How to Be a Conservative: I much preferred The Decadent Society for Ross Douthat for my yearly ration of the 'intellectual right'. I also very much enjoyed reading a number of classic texts from academic sociology, but they are difficult to recommend or even summarise. These included One-Dimensional Man by Herbert Marcuse, Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism by Frederic Jameson and The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber. 'These are heavy books', remarks John Proctor in Arthur Miller's The Crucible... All round-up posts for 2021: Memoir/biography, Non-fiction (this post) & Fiction (coming soon).

Hidden Valley Road (2020) Robert Kolker A compelling and disturbing account of the Galvin family six of whom were diagnosed with schizophrenia which details a journey through the study and misunderstanding of the condition. The story of the Galvin family offers a parallel history of the science of schizophrenia itself, from the era of institutionalisation, lobotomies and the 'schizo mother', to the contemporary search for genetic markers for the disease... all amidst fundamental disagreements about the nature of schizophrenia and, indeed, of all illnesses of the mind. Samples of the Galvins' DNA informed decades of research which, curiously, continues to this day, potentially offering paths to treatment, prediction and even eradication of the disease, although on this last point I fancy that I detect a kind of neo-Victorian hubris that we alone will be the ones to find a cure. Either way, a gentle yet ultimately tragic view of a curiously 'American' family, where the inherent lack of narrative satisfaction brings a frustration and sadness of its own.

Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape (2021) Cat Flyn In this disarmingly lyrical book, Cat Flyn addresses the twin questions of what happens after humans are gone and how far can our damage to nature be undone. From the forbidden areas of post-war France to the mining regions of Scotland, Islands of Abandonment explores the extraordinary places where humans no longer live in an attempt to give us a glimpse into what happens when mankind's impact on nature is, for one reason or another, forced to stop. Needless to say, if anxieties in this area are not curdling away in your subconscious mind, you are probably in some kind of denial. Through a journey into desolate, eerie and ravaged areas in the world, this artfully-written study offers profound insights into human nature, eschewing the usual dry sawdust of Wikipedia trivia. Indeed, I summed it up to a close friend remarking that, through some kind of hilarious administrative error, the book's publisher accidentally dispatched a poet instead of a scientist to write this book. With glimmers of hope within the (mostly) tragic travelogue, Islands of Abandonment is not only a compelling read, but also a fascinating insight into the relationship between Nature and Man.

The Anatomy of Fascism (2004) Robert O. Paxton Everyone is absolutely sure they know what fascism is... or at least they feel confident choosing from a buffet of features to suit the political mood. To be sure, this is not a new phenomenon: even as 'early' as 1946, George Orwell complained in Politics and the English Language that the word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies something not desirable . Still, it has proved uncommonly hard to define the core nature of fascism and what differentiates it from related political movements. This is still of great significance in the twenty-first century, for the definition ultimately determines where the powerful label of 'fascist' can be applied today. Part of the enjoyment of reading this book was having my own cosy definition thoroughly dismantled and replaced with a robust system of abstractions and common themes. This is achieved through a study of the intellectual origins of fascism and how it played out in the streets of Berlin, Rome and Paris. Moreover, unlike Strongmen (see above), fascisms that failed to gain meaningful power are analysed too, including Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists. Curiously enough, Paxton's own definition of fascism is left to the final chapter, and by the time you reach it, you get an anti-climatic feeling of it being redundant. Indeed, whatever it actually is, fascism is really not quite like any other 'isms' at all, so to try and classify it like one might be a mistake. In his introduction, Paxton warns that many of those infamous images associated with fascism (eg. Hitler in Triumph of the Will, Mussolini speaking from a balcony, etc.) have the ability to induce facile errors about the fascist leader and the apparent compliance of the crowd. (Contemporary accounts often record how sceptical the common man was of the leader's political message, even if they were transfixed by their oratorical bombast.) As it happens, I thus believe I had something of an advantage of reading this via an audiobook, and completely avoided re-absorbing these iconic images. To me, this was an implicit reminder that, however you choose to reduce it to a definition, fascism is undoubtedly the most visual of all political forms, presenting itself to us in vivid and iconic primary images: ranks of disciplined marching youths, coloured-shirted militants beating up members of demonised minorities; the post-war pictures from the concentration camps... Still, regardless of you choose to read it, The Anatomy of Fascism is a powerful book that can teach a great deal about fascism in particular and history in general.

What Good are the Arts? (2005) John Carey What Good are the Arts? takes a delightfully sceptical look at the nature of art, and cuts through the sanctimony and cant that inevitably surrounds them. It begins by revealing the flaws in lofty aesthetic theories and, along the way, debunks the claims that art makes us better people. They may certainly bring joy into your life, but by no means do the fine arts make you automatically virtuous. Carey also rejects the entire enterprise of separating things into things that are art and things that are not, making a thoroughly convincing case that there is no transcendental category containing so-called 'true' works of art. But what is perhaps equally important to what Carey is claiming is the way he does all this. As in, this is an extremely enjoyable book to read, with not only a fine sense of pace and language, but a devilish sense of humour as well. To be clear, What Good are the Arts? it is no crotchety monograph: Leo Tolstoy's *What Is Art? (1897) is hilarious to read in similar ways, but you can't avoid feeling its cantankerous tone holds Tolstoy's argument back. By contrast, Carey makes his argument in a playful sort of manner, in a way that made me slightly sad to read other polemics throughout the year. It's definitely not that modern genre of boomer jeremiad about the young, political correctness or, heaven forbid, 'cancel culture'... which, incidentally, made Carey's 2014 memoir, The Unexpected Professor something of a disappointing follow-up. Just for fun, Carey later undermines his own argument by arguing at length for the value of one art in particular. Literature, Carey asserts, is the only art capable of reasoning and the only art with the ability to criticise. Perhaps so, and Carey spends a chapter or so contending that fiction has the exclusive power to inspire the mind and move the heart towards practical ends... or at least far better than any work of conceptual art. Whilst reading this book I found myself taking down innumerable quotations and laughing at the jokes far more than I disagreed. And the sustained and intellectual style of polemic makes this a pretty strong candidate for my favourite overall book of the year.

16 September 2021

Chris Lamb: On Colson Whitehead's Harlem Shuffle

Colson Whitehead's latest novel, Harlem Shuffle, was always going to be widely reviewed, if only because his last two books won Pulitzer prizes. Still, after enjoying both The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, I was certainly going to read his next book, regardless of what the critics were saying indeed, it was actually quite agreeable to float above the manufactured energy of the book's launch. Saying that, I was encouraged to listen to an interview with the author by Ezra Klein. Now I had heard Whitehead speak once before when he accepted the Orwell Prize in 2020, and once again he came across as a pretty down-to-earth guy. Or if I were to emulate the detached and cynical tone Whitehead embodied in The Nickel Boys, after winning so many literary prizes in the past few years, he has clearly rehearsed how to respond to the cliched questions authors must be asked in every interview. With the obligatory throat-clearing of 'so, how did you get into writing?', for instance, Whitehead replies with his part of the catechism that 'It seemed like being a writer could be a cool job. You could work from home and not talk to people.' The response is the right combination of cute and self-effacing... and with its slight tone-deafness towards enforced isolation, it was no doubt honed before Covid-19. Harlem Shuffle tells three separate stories about Ray Carney, a furniture salesman and 'fence' for stolen goods in New York in the 1960s. Carney doesn't consider himself a genuine criminal though, and there's a certain logic to his relativistic morality. After all, everyone in New York City is on the take in some way, and if some 'lightly used items' in Carney's shop happened to have had 'previous owners', well, that's not quite his problem. 'Nothing solid in the city but the bedrock,' as one character dryly observes. Yet as Ezra pounces on in his NYT interview mentioned abov, the focus on the Harlem underworld means there are very few women in the book, and Whitehead's circular response ah well, it's a book about the criminals at that time! was a little unsatisfying. Not only did it feel uncharacteristically slippery of someone justly lauded for his unflinching power of observation (after all, it was the author who decided what to write about in the first place), it foreclosed on the opportunity to delve into why the heist and caper genres (from The Killing, The Feather Thief, Ocean's 11, etc.) have historically been a 'male' mode of storytelling. Perhaps knowing this to be the case, the conversation quickly steered towards Ray Carney's wife, Elizabeth, the only woman in the book who could be said possesses some plausible interiority. The following off-hand remark from Whitehead caught my attention:
My wife is convinced that [Elizabeth] knows everything about Carney's criminal life, and is sort of giving him a pass. And I'm not sure if that's true. I have to have to figure out exactly what she knows and when she knows it and how she feels about it.
I was quite taken by this, although not simply due to its effect on the story it self. As in, it immediately conjured up a charming picture of Whitehead's domestic arrangements: not only does Whitehead's wife feel free to disagree with what one of Whitehead's 'own' characters knows or believes, but that Colson has no problem whatsoever sharing that disagreement with the public at large. (It feels somehow natural that Whitehead's wife believes her counterpart knows more than she lets on, whilst Whitehead himself imbues the protagonist's wife with a kind of neo-Victorian innocence.) I'm minded to agree with Whitehead's partner myself, if only due to the passages where Elizabeth is studiously ignoring Carney's otherwise unexplained freak-outs. But all of these meta-thoughts simply underline just how emancipatory the Death of the Author can be. This product of academic literary criticism (the term was coined by Roland Barthes' 1967 essay of the same name) holds that the original author's intentions, ideas or biographical background carry no especial weight in determining how others should interpret their work. It is usually understood as meaning that a writer's own views are no more valid or 'correct' than the views held by someone else. (As an aside, I've found that most readers who encounter this concept for the first time have been reading books in this way since they were young. But the opposite is invariably true with cinephiles, who often have a bizarre obsession with researching or deciphering the 'true' interpretation of a film.) And with all that in mind, can you think of a more wry example of how freeing (and fun) nature of the Death of the Author than an author's own partner dissenting with their (Pulitzer Prize-winning) husband on the position of a lynchpin character?
The 1964 Harlem riot began after James Powell, a 15-year-old African American, was shot and killed by Thomas Gilligan, an NYPD police officer in front of 10s of witnesses. Gilligan was subsequently cleared by a grand jury.
As it turns out, the reviews for Harlem Shuffle have been almost universally positive, and after reading it in the two days after its release, I would certainly agree it is an above-average book. But it didn't quite take hold of me in the way that The Underground Railroad or The Nickel Boys did, especially the later chapters of The Nickel Boys that were set in contemporary New York and could thus make some (admittedly fairly explicit) connections from the 1960s to the present day that kind of connection is not there in Harlem Shuffle, or at least I did not pick up on it during my reading. I can see why one might take exception to that, though. For instance, it is certainly true that the week-long Harlem Riot forms a significant part of the plot, and some events in particular are entirely contingent on the ramifications of this momentous event. But it's difficult to argue the riot's impact are truly integral to the story, so not only is this uprising against police brutality almost regarded as a background event, any contemporary allusion to the murder of George Floyd is subsequently watered down. It's nowhere near the historical rubbernecking of Forrest Gump (1994), of course, but that's not a battle you should ever be fighting. Indeed, whilst a certain smoothness of affect is to be priced into the Whitehead reading experience, my initial overall reaction to Harlem Shuffle was fairly flat, despite all the action and intrigue on the page. The book perhaps belies its origins as a work conceived during quarantine after all, the book is essentially comprised of three loosely connected novellas, almost as if the unreality and mental turbulence of lockdown prevented the author from performing the psychological 'deep work' of producing a novel-length text with his usual depth of craft. A few other elements chimed with this being a 'lockdown novel' as well, particularly the book's preoccupation with the sheer physicality of the city compared to the usual complex interplay between its architecture and its inhabitants. This felt like it had been directly absorbed into the book from the author walking around his deserted city, and thus being able to take in details for the first time:
The doorways were entrances into different cities no, different entrances into one vast, secret city. Ever close, adjacent to all you know, just underneath. If you know where to look.
And I can't fail to mention that you can almost touch Whitehead's sublimated hunger to eat out again as well:
Stickups were chops they cook fast and hot, you re in and out. A stakeout was ribs fire down low, slow, taking your time. [ ] Sometimes when Carney jumped into the Hudson when he was a kid, some of that stuff got into his mouth. The Big Apple Diner served it up and called it coffee.
More seriously, however, the relatively thin personalities of minor characters then reminded me of the simulacrum of Zoom-based relationships, and the essentially unsatisfactory endings to the novellas felt reminiscent of lockdown pseudo-events that simply fizzle out without a bang. One of the stories ties up loose ends with: 'These things were usually enough to terminate a mob war, and they appeared to end the hostilities in this case as well.' They did? Well, okay, I guess.
The corner of 125th Street and Morningside Avenue in 2019, the purported location of Carney's fictional furniture store. Signage plays a prominent role in Harlem Shuffle, possibly due to the author's quarantine walks.
Still, it would be unfair to characterise myself as 'disappointed' with the novel, and none of this piece should be taken as really deep criticism. The book certainly was entertaining enough, and pretty funny in places as well:
Carney didn t have an etiquette book in front of him, but he was sure it was bad manners to sit on a man s safe. [ ] The manager of the laundromat was a scrawny man in a saggy undershirt painted with sweat stains. Launderer, heal thyself.
Yet I can't shake the feeling that every book you write is a book that you don't, and so we might need to hold out a little longer for Whitehead's 'George Floyd novel'. (Although it is for others to say how much of this sentiment is the expectations of a White Reader for The Black Author to ventriloquise the pain of 'their' community.) Some room for personal critique is surely permitted. I dearly missed the junk food energy of the dry and acerbic observations that run through Whitehead's previous work. At one point he had a good line on the model tokenisation that lurks behind 'The First Negro to...' labels, but the callbacks to this idea ceased without any payoff. Similar things happened with the not-so-subtle critiques of the American Dream:
Entrepreneur? Pepper said the last part like manure. That s just a hustler who pays taxes. [ ] One thing I ve learned in my job is that life is cheap, and when things start getting expensive, it gets cheaper still.
Ultimately, though, I think I just wanted more. I wanted a deeper exploration of how the real power in New York is not wielded by individual street hoodlums or even the cops but in the form of real estate, essentially serving as a synecdoche for Capital as a whole. (A recent take of this can be felt in Jed Rothstein's 2021 documentary, WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn and it is perhaps pertinent to remember that the US President at the time this novel was written was affecting to be a real estate tycoon.). Indeed, just like the concluding scenes of J. J. Connolly's Layer Cake, although you can certainly pull off a cool heist against the Man, power ultimately resides in those who control the means of production... and a homespun furniture salesman on the corner of 125 & Morningside just ain't that. There are some nods to kind of analysis in the conclusion of the final story ('Their heist unwound as if it had never happened, and Van Wyck kept throwing up buildings.'), but, again, I would have simply liked more. And when I attempted then file this book away into the broader media landscape, given the current cultural visibility of 1960s pop culture (e.g. One Night in Miami (2020), Judas and the Black Messiah (2021), Summer of Soul (2021), etc.), Harlem Shuffle also seemed like a missed opportunity to critically analyse our (highly-qualified) longing for the civil rights era. I can certainly understand why we might look fondly on the cultural products from a period when politics was less alienated, when society was less atomised, and when it was still possible to imagine meaningful change, but in this dimension at least, Harlem Shuffle seems to merely contribute to this nostalgic escapism.

13 September 2021

John Goerzen: Facebook s Blocking Decisions Are Deliberate Including Their Censorship of Mastodon

In the aftermath of my report of Facebook censoring mentions of the open-source social network Mastodon, there was a lot of conversation about whether or not this was deliberate. That conversation seemed to focus on whether a human speficially added to some sort of blacklist. But that s not even relevant. OF COURSE it was deliberate, because of how Facebook tunes its algorithm. Facebook s algorithm is tuned for Facebook s profit. That means it s tuned to maximize the time people spend on the site engagement. In other words, it is tuned to keep your attention on Facebook. Why do you think there is so much junk on Facebook? So much anti-vax, anti-science, conspiracy nonsense from the likes of Breitbart? It s not because their algorithm is incapable of surfacing the good content; we already know it can because they temporarily pivoted it shortly after the last US election. They intentionally undid its efforts to make high-quality news sources more prominent twice. Facebook has said that certain anti-vax disinformation posts violate its policies. It has an extremely cumbersome way to report them, but it can be done and I have. These reports are met with either silence or a response claiming the content didn t violate their guidelines. So what algorithm is it that allows Breitbart to not just be seen but to thrive on the platform, lets anti-vax disinformation survive even a human review, while banning mentions of Mastodon? One that is working exactly as intended. We may think this algorithm is busted. Clearly, Facebook does not. If their goal is to maximize profit by maximizing engagement, the algorithm is working exactly as designed. I don t know if was specifically blacklisted by a human. Nor is it relevant. Facebook s choice to tolerate and promote the things that service its greed for engagement and money, even if they are the lowest dregs of the web, is deliberate. It is no accident that Breitbart does better than Mastodon on Facebook. After all, which of these does its algorithm detect keep people engaged on Facebook itself more? Facebook removes the ban You can see all the screenshots of the censorship in my original post. Now, Facebook has reversed course: We also don t know if this reversal was human or algorithmic, but that still is beside the point. The point is, Facebook intentionally chooses to surface and promote those things that drive engagement, regardless of quality. Clearly many have wondered if tens of thousands of people have died unnecessary deaths over COVID as a result. One whistleblower says I have blood on my hands and President Biden said they re killing people before walking back his comments slightly . I m not equipped to verify those statements. But what do they think is going to happen if they prioritize engagement over quality? Rainbows and happiness?

10 May 2021

Russell Coker: Echo Chambers vs Epistemic Bubbles

C Thi Nguyen wrote an interesting article about the difficulty of escaping from Echo Chambers and also mentions Epistemic Bubbles [1]. An Echo Chamber is a group of people who reinforce the same ideas and who often preemptively strike against opposing ideas (for example the right wing denigrating mainstream media to prevent their followers from straying from their approved message). An Epistemic Bubble is a group of people who just happen to not have contact with certain different ideas. When reading that article I wondered about what bubbles I and the people I associate with may be in. One obvious issue is that I have little communication with people who don t write in English and also little communication with people who are poor. So people who are poor and who can t write in English (which means significant portions of the population of India and Africa) are out of communication range for me. There are many situations that are claimed to be bubbles such as white people who are claimed to be innocent of racial issues because they only associate with other white people and men in the IT industry who are claimed to be innocent of sexism because they don t associate with women in the IT industry. But I think they are more of an echo chamber issue, if a white American doesn t access any of the variety of English language media produced by Afro Americans and realise that there s a racial problem it s because they don t want to see it and deliberately avoid looking at evidence. If a man in the IT industry doesn t access any of the media produced by women in tech and realise there are problems with sexism then it s because they don t want to see it. When is it OK to Reject a Group? The Ad Hominem Wikipedia page has a good analysis of different types of Ad Hominem arguments [2]. But the criteria for refuting a point in a debate are very different to the criteria used to determine which sources you should trust when learning about a topic. For example it s theoretically possible for someone to be good at computer science while also thinking the world is flat. In a debate about some aspect of computer programming it would be a fallacious Ad Hominem argument to say you think the Earth is flat therefore you can t program a computer . But if you do a Google search for information on computer programming and one of the results is from then it would probably save time to skip reading that one. If only one person supports an idea then it s quite likely to be wrong. Good ideas tend to be supported by multiple people and for any good idea you will find a supporter who doesn t appear to have any ideas that are obviously wrong. One of the problems we have as a society now is determining the quality of data (ideas, claims about facts, opinions, communication/spam, etc). When humans have to do that it takes time and energy. Shortcuts can make things easier. Some shortcuts I use are that mainstream media articles are usually more reliable than social media posts (even posts by my friends) and that certain media outlets are untrustworthy (like Breitbart). The next step is that anyone who cites a bad site like Breitbart as factual (rather than just an indication of what some extremists believe) is unreliable. For most questions that you might search for on the Internet there is a virtually endless supply of answers, the challenge is not finding an answer but finding a correct answer. So eliminating answers that are unlikely to be correct is an important part of the search. If someone is citing references to support their argument and they can only cite fringe or extremist sites then I won t be convinced. Now someone could turn that argument around and claim that a site I reference such as the New York Times is wrong. If I find that my ideas were based on a claim that can only be found on the NYT then I will reconsider the issue. While I think that the NYT is generally accurate they are capable of making mistakes and if they are the sole source for claims that go against other claims then I will be hesitant to accept such claims. Newspapers often have exclusive articles based on their own research, but such articles always inspire investigation from other newspapers so other articles appear either supporting or questioning the claims in the exclusive. Saving Time When Interacting With Members of Echo Chambers Convincing a member of a cult or echo chamber of anything is not likely. When in discussions with them the focus should be on the audience and on avoiding wasting much time while also not giving them the impression that you agree with them. A common thing that members of echo chambers say is I don t have time to read about that when you ask if they have read a research paper or a news article. I don t have time to listen to people who can t or won t learn before speaking, there just isn t any value in that. Also if someone has a list of memes that takes more than 15 minutes to recite then they have obviously got time for reading things, just not reading outside their echo chamber. Conversations with members of echo chambers seem to be state free. They make a claim and you reject it, but regardless of the logical flaws you point out or the counter evidence you cite they make the same claim again the next time you speak to them. This seems to be evidence supporting the claim that evangelism is not about converting other people but alienating cult members from the wider society [3] (the original Quora text seems unavailable so I ve linked to a Reddit copy). Pointing out that they had made a claim previously and didn t address the issues you had with it seems effective, such discussions seem to be more about performance so you want to perform your part quickly and efficiently. Be aware of false claims about etiquette. It s generally regarded as polite not to disagree much with someone who invites you to your home or who has done some favour for you, but that is no reason for tolerating an unwanted lecture about their echo chamber. Anyone who tries to create a situation where it seems rude of you not to listen to them saying things that they know will offend you is being rude, much ruder than telling them you are sick of it. Look for specific claims that can be disproven easily. The claim that the Roman Salute is different from the Hitler Salute is one example that is easy to disprove. Then they have to deal with the issue of their echo chamber being wrong about something.

26 April 2021

Vishal Gupta: Ramblings // On Sikkim and Backpacking

What I loved the most about Sikkim can t be captured on cameras. It can t be taped since it would be intrusive and it can t be replicated because it s unique and impromptu. It could be described, as I attempt to, but more importantly, it s something that you simply have to experience to know. Now I first heard about this from a friend who claimed he d been offered free rides and Tropicanas by locals after finishing the Ladakh Marathon. And then I found Ronnie s song, whose chorus goes : Dil hai pahadi, thoda anadi. Par duniya ke maya mein phasta nahi (My heart belongs to the mountains. Although a little childish, it doesn t get hindered by materialism). While the song refers his life in Manali, I think this holds true for most Himalayan states. Maybe it s the pleasant weather, the proximity to nature, the sense of safety from Indian Army being round the corner, independence from material pleasures that aren t available in remote areas or the absence of the pollution, commercialisation, & cutthroat-ness of cities, I don t know, there s just something that makes people in the mountains a lot kinder, more generous, more open and just more alive. Sikkimese people, are honestly some of the nicest people I ve ever met. The blend of Lepchas, Bhutias and the humility and the truthfulness Buddhism ingrains in its disciples is one that ll make you fall in love with Sikkim (assuming the views, the snow, the fab weather and food, leave you pining for more). As a product of Indian parenting, I ve always been taught to be wary of the unknown and to stick to the safer, more-travelled path but to be honest, I enjoy bonding with strangers. To me, each person is a storybook waiting to be flipped open with the right questions and the further I get from home, the wilder the stories get. Besides there s something oddly magical about two arbitrary curvilinear lines briefly running parallel until they diverge to move on to their respective paths. And I think our society has been so busy drawing lines and spreading hate that we forget that in the end, we re all just lines on the universe s infinite canvas. So the next time you travel, and you re in a taxi, a hostel, a bar, a supermarket, or on a long walk to a monastery (that you re secretly wishing is open despite a lockdown), strike up a conversation with a stranger. Small-talk can go a long way.
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19 April 2021

Ritesh Raj Sarraf: Catching Up Your Sources

I ve mostly had the preference of controlling my data rather than depend on someone else. That s one reason why I still believe email to be my most reliable medium for data storage, one that is not plagued/locked by a single entity. If I had the resources, I d prefer all digital data to be broken down to its simplest form for storage, like email format, and empower the user with it i.e. their data. Yes, there are free services that are indirectly forced upon common users, and many of us get attracted to it. Many of us do not think that the information, which is shared for the free service in return, is of much importance. Which may be fair, depending on the individual, given that they get certain services without paying any direct dime.

New age communication So first, we had email and usenet. As I mentioned above, email was designed with fine intentions. Intentions that make it stand even today, independently. But not everything, back then, was that great either. For example, instant messaging was very closed and centralised then too. Things like: ICQ, MSN, Yahoo Messenger; all were centralized. I wonder if people still have access to their ICQ logs. Not much has chagned in the current day either. We now have domination by: Facebook Messenger, Google Whatever the new marketing term they introdcue, WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal etc. To my knowledge, they are all centralized. Over all this time, I m yet to see a product come up with good (business) intentions, to really empower the end user. In this information age, the most invaluable data is user activity. That s one data everyone is after. If you decline to share that bit of free data in exchange for the free services, mind you, that that free service like Facebook, Google, Instagram, WhatsApp, Truecaller, Twitter; none of it would come to you at all. Try it out. So the reality is that while you may not be valuating the data you offer in exchange correctly, there s a lot that is reaped from it. But still, I think each user has (and should have) the freedom to opt in for these tech giants and give them their personal bit, for free services in return. That is a decent barter deal. And it is a choice that one if free to choose

Retaining my data I m fond of keeping an archive folder in my mailbox. A folder that holds significant events in the form of an email usually, if documented. Over the years, I chose to resort to the email format because I felt it was more reliable in the longer term than any other formats. The next best would be plain text. In my lifetime, I have learnt a lot from the internet; so it is natural that my preference has been with it. Mailing Lists, IRCs, HOWTOs, Guides, Blog posts; all have helped. And over the years, I ve come across hundreds of such content that I d always like to preserve. Now there are multiple ways to preserving data. Like, for example, big tech giants. In most usual cases, your data for your lifetime, should be fine with a tech giant. In some odd scenarios, you may be unlucky if you relied on a service provider that went bankrupt. But seriously, I think users should be fine if they host their data with Microsoft, Google etc; as long as they abide by their policies. There s also the catch of alignment. As the user, you should ensure to align (and transition) with the product offerings of your service provider. Otherwise, what may look constant and always reliable, will vanish in the blink of an eye. I guess Google Plus would be a good example. There was some Google Feed service too. Maybe Google Photos in the near decade future, just like Google Picasa in the previous (or current) decade.

History what is On the topic of retaining information, lets take a small drift. I still admire our ancestors. I don t know what went in their mind when they were documenting events in the form of scriptures, carvings, temples, churches, mosques etc; but one things for sure, they were able to leave a fine means of communication. They are all gone but a large number of those events are evident through the creations that they left. Some of those events have been strong enough that further rulers/invaders have had tough times trying to wipe it out from history. Remember, history is usually not the truth, but the statement to be believed by the teller. And the teller is usually the survivor, or the winner you may call. But still, the information retention techniques were better. I haven t visited, but admire whosoever built the Kailasa Temple, Ellora, without which, we d be made to believe what not by all invaders and rulers of the region. But the majestic standing of the temple, is a fine example of the history and the events that have occured in the past.
Ellora Temple -  The majectic carving believed to be carved out of a single stone
Ellora Temple - The majectic carving believed to be carved out of a single stone
Dominance has the power to rewrite history and unfortunately that s true and it has done its part. It is just that in a mere human s defined lifetime, it is not possible to witness the transtion from current to history, and say that I was there then and I m here now, and this is not the reality. And if not dominance, there s always the other bit, hearsay. With it, you can always put anything up for dispute. Because there s no way one can go back in time and produce a fine evidence. There s also a part about religion. Religion can be highly sentimental. And religion can be a solid way to get an agenda going. For example, in India - a country which today consitutionally is a secular country, there have been multiple attempts to discard the belief, that never ever did the thing called Ramayana exist. That the Rama Setu, nicely reworded as Adam s Bridge by who so ever, is a mere result of science. Now Rama, or Hanumana, or Ravana, or Valmiki, aren t going to come over and prove that that is true or false. So such subjects serve as a solid base to get an agenda going. And probably we ve even succeeded in proving and believing that there was never an event like Ramayana or the Mahabharata. Nor was there ever any empire other than the Moghul or the British Empire. But yes, whosoever made the Ellora Temple or the many many more of such creations, did a fine job of making a dent for the future, to know of what the history possibly could also be.

Enough of the drift So, in my opinion, having events documented is important. It d be nice to have skills documented too so that it can be passed over generations but that s a debatable topic. But events, I believe should be documented. And documented in the best possible ways so that its existence is not diminished. A documentation in the form of certain carvings on a rock is far more better than links and posts shared on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit etc. For one, these are all corporate entities with vested interests and can pretext excuse in the name of compliance and conformance. So, for the helpless state and generation I am in, I felt email was the best possible independent form of data retention in today s age. If I really had the resources, I d not rely on digital age. This age has no guarantee of retaining and recording information in any reliable manner. Instead, it is just mostly junk, which is manipulative and changeable, conditionally.

Email and RSS So for my communication, I like to prefer emails over any other means. That doesn t mean I don t use the current trends. I do. But this blog is mostly about penning my desires. And desire be to have communication over email format. Such is the case that for information useful over the internet, I crave to have it formatted in email for archival. RSS feeds is my most common mode of keeping track of information I care about. Not all that I care for is available in RSS feeds but hey such is life. And adaptability is okay. But my preference is still RSS. So I use RSS feeds through a fine software called feed2imap. A software that fits my bill fairly well. feed2imap is:
  • An rss feed news aggregator
  • Pulls and extracts news feeds in the form of an email
  • Can push the converted email over pop/imap
  • Can convert all image content to email mime attachment
In a gist, it makes the online content available to me offline in the most admired email format In my mail box, in today s day, my preferred email client is Evolution. It does a good job of dealing with such emails (rss feed items). An image example of accessing the rrs feed item through it is below
RSS News Item through Evolution
RSS News Item through Evolution
The good part is that my actual data is always independent of such MUAs. Tomorrow, as technology - trends - economics evolve, something new would come as a replacement but my data would still be mine.

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 August 2020

Paul Wise: FLOSS Activities July 2020

Focus This month I didn't have any particular focus. I just worked on issues in my info bubble.




  • Debian wiki: unblock IP addresses, approve accounts, reset email addresses


Sponsors The purple-discord, ifenslave and psqlodbc work was sponsored by my employer. All other work was done on a volunteer basis.

19 July 2020

Enrico Zini: More notable people

Ren Carmille (8 January 1886 25 January 1945) was a French humanitarian, civil servant, and member of the French Resistance. During World War II, Carmille saved tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied France. In his capacity at the government's Demographics Department, Carmille sabotaged the Nazi census of France, saving tens of thousands of Jewish people from death camps.
Gino Strada (born Luigi Strada; 21 April 1948) is an Italian war surgeon and founder of Emergency, a UN-recognized international non-governmental organization.
Il morbo di K una malattia inventata nel 1943, durante la Seconda guerra mondiale, da Adriano Ossicini insieme al dottor Giovanni Borromeo per salvare alcuni italiani di religione ebraica dalle persecuzioni nazifasciste a Roma.[1][2][3][4]
Stage races

30 June 2020

Chris Lamb: Free software activities in June 2020

Here is my monthly update covering what I have been doing in the free software world during June 2020 (previous month): For Lintian, the static analysis tool for Debian packages:

Reproducible Builds One of the original promises of open source software is that distributed peer review and transparency of process results in enhanced end-user security. However, whilst anyone may inspect the source code of free and open source software for malicious flaws, almost all software today is distributed as pre-compiled binaries. This allows nefarious third-parties to compromise systems by injecting malicious code into ostensibly secure software during the various compilation and distribution processes. The motivation behind the Reproducible Builds effort is to ensure no flaws have been introduced during this compilation process by promising identical results are always generated from a given source, thus allowing multiple third-parties to come to a consensus on whether a build was compromised. The project is proud to be a member project of the Software Freedom Conservancy. Conservancy acts as a corporate umbrella allowing projects to operate as non-profit initiatives without managing their own corporate structure. If you like the work of the Conservancy or the Reproducible Builds project, please consider becoming an official supporter. This month, I:

Elsewhere in our tooling, I made the following changes to diffoscope including preparing and uploading versions 147, 148 and 149 to Debian: trydiffoscope is the web-based version of diffoscope. This month, I specified a location for the celerybeat scheduler to ensure that the clean/tidy tasks are actually called which had caused an accidental resource exhaustion. (#12)

Debian I filed three bugs against: Debian LTS This month I have worked 18 hours on Debian Long Term Support (LTS) and 5 hours on its sister Extended LTS project. You can find out more about the project via the following video:

26 October 2017

Russell Coker: Anarchy in the Office

Some of the best examples I ve seen of anarchy working have been in corporate environments. This doesn t mean that they were perfect or even as good as a theoretical system in which a competent manager controlled everything, but they often worked reasonably well. In a well functioning team members will encourage others to do their share of the work in the absence of management. So when the manager disappears (doesn t visit the team more than once a week and doesn t ask for any meaningful feedback on how things are going) things can still work out. When someone who is capable of doing work isn t working then other people will suggest that they do their share. If resources for work (such as a sufficiently configured PC for IT work) aren t available then they can be found (abandoned PCs get stripped and the parts used to upgrade the PCs that need it most). There was one time where a helpdesk worker who was about to be laid off was assigned to the same office as me (apparently making all the people in his group redundant took some time). So I started teaching him sysadmin skills, assigned work to him, and then recommended that my manager get him transferred to my group. That worked well for everyone. One difficult case is employees who get in the way of work being done, those who are so incompetent that they break enough things to give negative productivity. One time when I was working in Amsterdam I had two colleagues like that, it turned out that the company had no problem with employees viewing porn at work so no-one asked them to stop looking at porn. Having them paid to look at porn 40 hours a week was much better than having them try to do work. With anarchy there s little option to get rid of bad people, so just having them hang out and do no work was the only option. I m not advocating porn at work (it makes for a hostile work environment), but managers at that company did worse things. One company I worked for appeared (from the non-management perspective) to have a management culture of doing no work. During my time there I did two annual reviews in two weeks, and the second was delayed by over 6 months. The manager in question only did the reviews at that time because he was told he couldn t be promoted until he got the backlog of reviews done, so apparently being more than a year behind in annual reviews was no obstacle to being selected for promotion. On one occasion I raised the issue of a colleague who had done no work for over a year (and didn t even have a PC to do work) with that manager, his response was what do you expect me to do ! I expected him to do anything other than blow me off when I reported such a serious problem! But in spite of that strictly work-optional culture enough work was done and the company was a leader in it s field. There has been a lot of research into the supposed benefits of bonuses etc which usually turn out to reduce productivity. Such research is generally ignored presumably because the people who are paid the most are the ones who get to decide whether financial incentives should be offered so they choose the compensation model for the company that benefits themselves. But the fact that teams can be reasonably productive when some people are paid to do nothing and most people have their work allocated by group consensus rather than management plan seems to be a better argument against the typical corporate management. I think it would be interesting to try to run a company with an explicit anarchic management and see how it compares to the accidental anarchy that so many companies have. The idea would be to have minimal management that just does the basic HR tasks (preventing situations of bullying etc), a flat pay rate for everyone (no bonuses, pay rises, etc) and have workers decide how to spend money for training, facilities, etc. Instead of having middle managers you would have representatives elected from each team to represent their group to senior management. PS Australia has some of the strictest libel laws in the world. Comments that identify companies or people are likely to be edited or deleted.

28 March 2017

Keith Packard: DRM-lease

DRM display resource leasing (kernel side) So, you've got a fine head-mounted display and want to explore the delights of virtual reality. Right now, on Linux, that means getting the window system to cooperate because the window system is the DRM master and holds sole access to all display resources. So, you plug in your device, play with RandR to get it displaying bits from the window system and then carefully configure your VR application to use the whole monitor area and hope that the desktop will actually grant you the boon of page flipping so that you will get reasonable performance and maybe not even experience tearing. Results so far have been mixed, and depend on a lot of pieces working in ways that aren't exactly how they were designed to work. We could just hack up the window system(s) and try to let applications reserve the HMD monitors and somehow removing them from the normal display area so that other applications don't randomly pop up in the middle of the screen. That would probably work, and would take advantage of much of the existing window system infrastructure for setting video modes and performing page flips. However, we've got a pretty spiffy standard API in the kernel for both of those, and getting the window system entirely out of the way seems like something worth trying. I spent a few hours in Hobart chatting with Dave Airlie during LCA and discussed how this might actually work. Goals
  1. Use KMS interfaces directly from the VR application to drive presentation to the HMD.
  2. Make sure the window system clients never see the HMD as a connected monitor.
  3. Maybe let logind (or other service) manage the KMS resources and hand them out to the window system and VR applications.
  1. Don't make KMS resources appear and disappear. It turns out applications get confused when the set of available CRTCs, connectors and encoders changes at runtime.
An Outline for Multiple DRM masters By the end of our meeting in Hobart, Dave had sketched out a fairly simple set of ideas with me. We'd add support in the kernel to create additional DRM masters. Then, we'd make it possible to 'hide' enough state about the various DRM resources so that each DRM master would automagically use disjoint subsets of resources. In particular, we would.
  1. Pretend that connectors were always disconnected
  2. Mask off crtc and encoder bits so that some of them just didn't seem very useful.
  3. Block access to resources controlled by other DRM masters, just in case someone tried to do the wrong thing.
Refinement with Eric over Swedish Pancakes A couple of weeks ago, Eric Anholt and I had breakfast at the original pancake house and chatted a bit about this stuff. He suggested that the right interface for controlling these new DRM masters was through the existing DRM master interface, and that we could add new ioctls that the current DRM master could invoke to create and manage them. Leasing as a Model I spent some time just thinking about how this might work and came up with a pretty simple metaphor for these new DRM masters. The original DRM master on each VT "owns" the output resources and has final say over their use. However, a DRM master can create another DRM master and "lease" resources it has control over to the new DRM master. Once leased, resources cannot be controlled by the owner unless the owner cancels the lease, or the new DRM master is closed. Here's some terminology:
DRM Master
Any DRM file which can perform mode setting.
The original DRM Master, created by opening /dev/dri/card*
A DRM master which has leased out resources to one or more other DRM masters.
A DRM master which controls resources leased from another DRM master. Each Lessee leases resources from a single Lessor.
Lessee ID
An integer which uniquely identifies a lessee within the tree of DRM masters descending from a single Owner.
The contract between the Lessor and Lessee which identifies which resources which may be controlled by the Lessee. All of the resources must be owned by or leased to the Lessor.
With Eric's input, the interface to create a lease was pretty simple to write down:
int drmModeCreateLease(int fd,
               const uint32_t *objects,
               int num_objects,
               int flags,
               uint32_t *lessee_id);
Given an FD to a DRM master, and a list of objects to lease, a new DRM master FD is returned that holds a lease to those objects. 'flags' can be any combination of O_CLOEXEC and O_NONBLOCK for the newly minted file descriptor. Of course, the owner might want to take some resources back, or even grant new resources to the lessee. So, I added an interface that rewrites the terms of the lease with a new set of objects:
int drmModeChangeLease(int fd,
               uint32_t lessee_id,
               const uint32_t *objects,
               int num_objects);
Note that nothing here makes any promises about the state of the objects across changes in the lease status; the lessor and lessee are expected to perform whatever modesetting is required for the objects to be useful to them. Window System Integration There are two ways to integrate DRM leases into the window system environment:
  1. Have logind "lease" most resources to the window system. When a HMD is connected, it would lease out suitable resources to the VR environment.
  2. Have the window system "own" all of the resources and then add window system interfaces to create new DRM masters leased from its DRM master.
I'll probably go ahead and do 2. in X and see what that looks like. One trick with any of this will be to hide HMDs from any RandR clients listening in on the window system. You probably don't want the window system to tell the desktop that a new monitor has been connected, have it start reconfiguring things, and then have your VR application create a new DRM master, making the HMD appear to have disconnected to the window system and have that go reconfigure things all over again. I'm not sure how this might work, but perhaps having the VR application register something like a passive grab on hot plug events might make sense? Essentially, you want it to hear about monitor connect events, go look to see if the new monitor is one it wants, and if not, release that to other X clients for their use. This can be done in stages, with the ability to create a new DRM master over X done first, and then cleaning up the hotplug stuff later on. Current Status I hacked up the kernel to support the drmModeCreateLease API, and then hacked up kmscube to run two threads with different sets of KMS resources. That ran for nearly a minute before crashing and requiring a reboot. I think there may be some locking issues with page flips from two threads to the same device. I think I also made the wrong decision about how to handle lessors closing down. I tried to let the lessors get deleted and then 'orphan' the lessees. I've rewritten that so that lessees hold a reference on their lessor, keeping the lessor in place until the lessee shuts down. I've also written the kernel parts of the drmModeChangeLease support. Questions

31 January 2017

Chris Lamb: Free software activities in January 2017

Here is my monthly update covering what I have been doing in the free software world (previous month):
Reproducible builds

Whilst anyone can inspect the source code of free software for malicious flaws, most software is distributed pre-compiled to end users. The motivation behind the Reproducible Builds effort is to permit verification that no flaws have been introduced either maliciously or accidentally during this compilation process by promising identical results are always generated from a given source, thus allowing multiple third-parties to come to a consensus on whether a build was compromised. (I have previously been awarded a grant from the Core Infrastructure Initiative to fund my work in this area.) This month I:
I also made the following changes to our tooling:

diffoscope is our in-depth and content-aware diff utility that can locate and diagnose reproducibility issues.

  • Comparators:
    • Display magic file type when we know the file format but can't find file-specific details. (Closes: #850850).
    • Ensure our "APK metadata" file appears first, fixing non-deterministic tests. (998b288)
    • Fix APK extration with absolute filenames. (Closes: #850485).
    • Don't error if directory containing ELF debug symbols already exists. (Closes: #850807).
    • Support comparing .ico files (Closes: #850730).
    • If we don't have a tool (eg. apktool), don't blow up when attempting to unpack it.
  • Output formats:
    • Add Markdown output format. (Closes: #848141).
    • Add RestructuredText output format.
    • Use an optimised indentation routine throughout all presenters.
    • Move text presenter to use the Visitor pattern.
    • Correctly escape value of href="" elements (re. #849411).
  • Tests:
    • Prevent FTBFS by loading fixtures as UTF-8 in case surrounding terminal is not Unicode-aware. (Closes: #852926).
    • Skip tests if binutils can't handle the object file format. (Closes: #851588).
    • Actually compare the output of text/ReST/Markdown formats to fixtures.
    • Add tests for: Comparing two empty directories, HTML output, image.ICOImageFile, --html-dir, --text-color & no arguments (beyond the filenames) emits the text output.
  • Profiling:
    • Count the number of calls, not just the total time.
    • Skip as much profiling overhead when not enabled for a ~2% speedup.
  • Misc:
    • Alias an expensive Config() lookup for a 10% optimisation.
    • Avoid expensive regex creation until we actually need it, speeding up diff parsing by 2X.
    • Use Pythonic logging functions based on __name__, etc.
    • Drop milliseconds from logging output. is my experiment into how to process, store and distribute .buildinfo files after the Debian archive software has processed them.

  • Store files directly onto S3.
  • Drop big unique_together index to save disk space.
  • Show SHA256 checksums where space permits.

Debian LTS

This month I have been paid to work 12.75 hours on Debian Long Term Support (LTS). In that time I did the following:
  • "Frontdesk" duties, triaging CVEs, etc.
  • Issued DLA 773-1 for python-crypto fixing a vulnerability where calling with an invalid parameter could crash the Python interpreter.
  • Issued DLA 777-1 for libvncserver addressing two heap-based buffer overflow attacks based on invalid FramebufferUpdate data.
  • Issued DLA 778-1 for pcsc-lite correcting a use-after-free vulnerability.
  • Issued DLA 795-1 for hesiod which fixed a weak SUID check as well as removed the hard-coding of a fallback domain if the configuration file could not be found.
  • Issued DLA 810-1 for libarchive fixing a heap buffer overflow.

  • python-django:
    • 1:1.10.5-1 New upstream stable release.
    • 1:1.11~alpha1-1 New upstream experimental release.
  • gunicorn (19.6.0-10) Moved debian/README.Debian to debian/NEWS so that the recent important changes will be displayed to users when upgrading to stretch.
  • redis:
    • 3:3.2.6-2 & 4:4.0-rc2-2 Tidy patches and rename RunTimeDirectory to RuntimeDirectory in .service files. (Closes: #850534)
    • 3:3.2.6-3 Remove a duplicate redis-server binary by symlinking /usr/bin/redis-check-rdb. This was found by the dedup service.
    • 3:3.2.6-4 Expand the documentation in redis-server.service and redis-sentinel.service regarding the default hardening options and how, in most installations, they can be increased.
    • 3:3.2.6-5, 3:3.2.6-6, 4:4.0-rc2-3 & 4:4.0-rc2-4 Add taskset calls to try and avoid build failures due to parallelism in upstream test suite.

I also made the following non-maintainer uploads:
  • cpio:
    • 2.12+dfsg-1 New upstream release (to experimental), refreshing all patches, etc.
    • 2.12+dfsg-2 Add missing autoconf to Build-Depends.
  • xjump (2.7.5-6.2) Make the build reproducible by passing -n to gzip calls in debian/rules. (Closes: #777354)
  • magicfilter (1.2-64.1) Make the build reproducible by passing -n to gzip calls in debian/rules. (Closes: #777478)

16 November 2016

Joey Hess: Linux.Conf.Au 2017 presentation on Propellor

On January 18th, I'll be presenting "Type driven configuration management with Propellor" at Linux.Conf.Au in Hobart, Tasmania. Abstract Linux.Conf.Au is a wonderful conference, and I'm thrilled to be able to attend it again. -- Update: My presentation on keysafe has also been accepted for the Security MiniConf at LCA, January 17th.

6 October 2016

Reproducible builds folks: Reproducible Builds: week 75 in Stretch cycle

What happened in the Reproducible Builds effort between Sunday September 25 and Saturday October 1 2016: Statistics For the first time, we reached 91% reproducible packages in our testing framework on testing/amd64 using a determistic build path. (This is what we recommend to make packages in Stretch reproducible.) For unstable/amd64, where we additionally test for reproducibility across different build paths we are at almost 76% again. IRC meetings We have a poll to set a time for a new regular IRC meeting. If you would like to attend, please input your available times and we will try to accommodate for you. There was a trial IRC meeting on Friday, 2016-09-31 1800 UTC. Unfortunately, we did not activate meetbot. Despite this participants consider the meeting a success as several topics where discussed (eg changes to IRC notifications of tests.r-b.o) and the meeting stayed within one our length. Upcoming events Reproduce and Verify Filesystems - Vincent Batts, Red Hat - Berlin (Germany), 5th October, 14:30 - 15:20 @ LinuxCon + ContainerCon Europe 2016. From Reproducible Debian builds to Reproducible OpenWrt, LEDE & coreboot - Holger "h01ger" Levsen and Alexander "lynxis" Couzens - Berlin (Germany), 13th October, 11:00 - 11:25 @ OpenWrt Summit 2016. Introduction to Reproducible Builds - Vagrant Cascadian will be presenting at the Conference In Seattle (USA), November 11th-12th, 2016. Previous events GHC Determinism - Bartosz Nitka, Facebook - Nara (Japan), 24th September, ICPF 2016. Toolchain development and fixes Michael Meskes uploaded bsdmainutils/9.0.11 to unstable with a fix for #830259 based on Reiner Herrmann's patch. This fixed locale_dependent_symbol_order_by_lorder issue in the affected packages (freebsd-libs, mmh). devscripts/2.16.8 was uploaded to unstable. It includes a debrepro script by Antonio Terceiro which is similar in purpose to reprotest but more lightweight; specific to Debian packages and without support for virtual servers or configurable variations. Packages reviewed and fixed, and bugs filed The following updated packages have become reproducible in our testing framework after being fixed: The following updated packages appear to be reproducible now for reasons we were not able to figure out. (Relevant changelogs did not mention reproducible builds.) Some uploads have addressed some reproducibility issues, but not all of them: Patches submitted that have not made their way to the archive yet: Reviews of unreproducible packages 77 package reviews have been added, 178 have been updated and 80 have been removed in this week, adding to our knowledge about identified issues. 6 issue types have been updated: Weekly QA work As part of reproducibility testing, FTBFS bugs have been detected and reported by: diffoscope development A new version of diffoscope 61 was uploaded to unstable by Chris Lamb. It included contributions from: Post-release there were further contributions from: reprotest development A new version of reprotest 0.3.2 was uploaded to unstable by Ximin Luo. It included contributions from: Post-release there were further contributions from: Misc. This week's edition was written by Ximin Luo, Holger Levsen & Chris Lamb and reviewed by a bunch of Reproducible Builds folks on IRC.

26 June 2016

Clint Adams: A local script for local people

This isn't actually answering the question, but it's close. It's also horrible, so whoever adopts Enrico's script should also completely rewrite this or burn it along with the stack of pizza boxes and the grand piano. Input:
set -e
keyring=$ 1:-ksp-dc16.gpg 
myfpr=$ 2:-2100A32C46F895AF3A08783AF6D3495BB0AE9A02 
#keyserver=$ 3:- 
# this doesn't handle hokey fetch failures
#(for fpr in $(hkt list --keyring $ keyring  --output-format JSON   jq '.[].publickey.fpr')
#  hokey fetch --keyserver "$ keyserver " --validation-method MatchPrimaryKeyFingerprint "$ (Q)fpr "
#done) >$ NEWKEYS 
#gpg2 --no-default-keyring --keyring $ NEWKEYRING  --import $ NEWKEYS 
cp "$ keyring " "$ NEWKEYRING "
gpg2 --no-default-keyring --keyring $ NEWKEYRING  --refresh
hkt findpaths --keyring $ NEWKEYRING  '' '' '' > $ PATHS 
id=$(awk -F, "/$ myfpr )\$/  sub(/\(/,BLANKY,\$1);print \$1; " $ PATHS )
grep -e ",\[$ id ," -e ",$ id \]" $ PATHS    sort -n   tail -n 10 > $ FARTHEST_TEN 
targetids=($ (f)"$ $((sed 's/^.*\[//;s/,.*$//;' $ FARTHEST_TEN ; sed 's/\])$//;s/.*,//;' $ FARTHEST_TEN )   sort -n -u   grep -v "^$ id $") " )
targetfprs=($(for i in $ targetids ; do awk -F, "/\($ i ,[^[]/  sub(/\)/,BLANKY,\$2); print \$2 " $ PATHS ; done))
gpg2 --no-default-keyring --keyring $ NEWKEYRING  --list-keys $ targetfprs 
pub   rsa4096/0x664F1238AA8F138A 2015-07-14 [SC]
      Key fingerprint = 3575 0B8F B6EF 95FF 16B8  EBC0 664F 1238 AA8F 138A
uid                   [ unknown] Daniel Lange <>
sub   rsa4096/0x03BEE1C11DB1954B 2015-07-14 [E]
pub   rsa4096/0xDF23DA3396978EB3 2014-09-05 [SC]
      Key fingerprint = BBBC 58B4 5994 CF9C CC56  BCDA DF23 DA33 9697 8EB3
uid                   [  undef ] Michael Meskes <>
uid                   [  undef ] Michael Meskes <>
uid                   [  undef ] Michael Meskes <>
uid                   [  undef ] Michael Meskes <>
sub   rsa4096/0x85C3AFFECF0BF9B5 2014-09-05 [E]
sub   rsa4096/0x35D857C0BBCB3B25 2014-11-04 [S]
pub   rsa4096/0x1E953E27D4311E58 2009-07-12 [SC]
      Key fingerprint = C2FE 4BD2 71C1 39B8 6C53  3E46 1E95 3E27 D431 1E58
uid                   [  undef ] Chris Lamb <>
uid                   [  undef ] Chris Lamb <>
uid                   [  undef ] Chris Lamb <>
sub   rsa4096/0x72B3DBA98575B3F2 2009-07-12 [E]
pub   rsa4096/0xDF6D76C44D696F6B 2014-08-15 [SC] [expires: 2017-06-03]
      Key fingerprint = 1A6F 3E63 9A44 67E8 C347  6525 DF6D 76C4 4D69 6F6B
uid                   [ unknown] Sven Bartscher <>
uid                   [ unknown] Sven Bartscher <>
uid                   [ unknown] Sven Bartscher <>
sub   rsa4096/0x9E83B071ED764C3A 2014-08-15 [E]
sub   rsa4096/0xAEB25323217028C2 2016-06-14 [S]
pub   rsa4096/0x83E33BD7D4DD4CA1 2015-11-12 [SC] [expires: 2017-11-11]
      Key fingerprint = 0B5A 33B8 A26D 6010 9C50  9C6C 83E3 3BD7 D4DD 4CA1
uid                   [ unknown] Jerome Charaoui <>
sub   rsa4096/0x6614611FBD6366E7 2015-11-12 [E]
sub   rsa4096/0xDB17405204ECB364 2015-11-12 [A] [expires: 2017-11-11]
pub   rsa4096/0xF823A2729883C97C 2014-08-26 [SC]
      Key fingerprint = 8ED6 C3F8 BAC9 DB7F C130  A870 F823 A272 9883 C97C
uid                   [ unknown] Lucas Kanashiro <>
uid                   [ unknown] Lucas Kanashiro <>
sub   rsa4096/0xEE6E5D1A9C2F5EA6 2014-08-26 [E]
pub   rsa4096/0x2EC0FFB3B7301B1F 2014-08-29 [SC] [expires: 2017-04-06]
      Key fingerprint = 76A2 8E42 C981 1D91 E88F  BA5E 2EC0 FFB3 B730 1B1F
uid                   [ unknown] Niko Tyni <>
uid                   [ unknown] Niko Tyni <>
uid                   [ unknown] Niko Tyni <>
sub   rsa4096/0x129086C411868FD0 2014-08-29 [E] [expires: 2017-04-06]
pub   rsa4096/0xAA761F51CC10C92A 2016-06-20 [SC] [expires: 2018-06-20]
      Key fingerprint = C9DE 2EA8 93EE 4C86 BE73  973A AA76 1F51 CC10 C92A
uid                   [ unknown] Roger Shimizu <>
sub   rsa4096/0x2C2EE1D5DBE7B292 2016-06-20 [E] [expires: 2018-06-20]
sub   rsa4096/0x05C7FD79DD03C4BB 2016-06-20 [S] [expires: 2016-09-18]
Note that this completely neglects potential victims who are unconnected within the KSP set.

17 May 2016

Sean Whitton: seoulviasfo

I spent last night in San Francisco on my way from Tucson to Seoul. This morning as I headed to the airport, I caught the end of a shouted conversation between a down-and-out and a couple of middle school-aged girls, who ran away back to the Asian Art museum as the conversation ended. A security guard told the man that he needed him to go away. The wealth divide so visible here just isn t something you really see around Tucson. I m working on a new module for Propellor that s complicated enough that I need to think carefully about the Haskell in order to write produce a flexible and maintainable module. I ve only been doing an hour or so of work on it per day, but the past few days I wake up each day with an idea for restructuring yesterday s code. These ideas aren t anything new to me: I think I m just dredging up the understanding of Haskell I developed last year when I was studying it more actively. Hopefully this summer I can learn some new things about Haskell. Riding on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) feels like stepping back in time to the years of Microsoft s ascendency, before we had a tech world dominated by Google and Facebook: the platform announcements are in a computerised voice that sounds like it was developed in the nineties. They ll eventually replace the old trains apparently some new ones are coming in 2017 so I feel privileged to have been able to ride the older ones. I feel the same about the Tube in London. I really appreciate old but supremely reliable and effective public transport. It reminds me of the Debian toolchain: a bit creaky, but maintained over a sufficiently long period that it serves everyone a lot better than newer offerings, which tend to be produced with ulterior corporate motives.

16 May 2016

Bits from Debian: New Debian Developers and Maintainers (March and April 2016)

The following contributors got their Debian Developer accounts in the last two months: Congratulations!

10 May 2016

Dmitry Shachnev: ReText 6.0 and PyMarkups 2.0 released

Today I have released the new major version of the ReText editor. This release would not be possible without Maurice van der Pot who was the author of the greatest features because of which the version number was bumped: Other news worth mentioning are: As usual, some bugs have been fixed (most of fixes have also been backported to 5.3.1 release), and some translations have been updated from Transifex. Please report any bugs you find to our issue tracker.