Search Results: "dap"

29 September 2022

Antoine Beaupr : Detecting manual (and optimizing large) package installs in Puppet

Well this is a mouthful. I recently worked on a neat hack called puppet-package-check. It is designed to warn about manually installed packages, to make sure "everything is in Puppet". But it turns out it can (probably?) dramatically decrease the bootstrap time of Puppet bootstrap when it needs to install a large number of packages.

Detecting manual packages On a cleanly filed workstation, it looks like this:
root@emma:/home/anarcat/bin# ./puppet-package-check -v
listing puppet packages...
listing apt packages...
loading apt cache...
0 unmanaged packages found
A messy workstation will look like this:
root@curie:/home/anarcat/bin# ./puppet-package-check -v
listing puppet packages...
listing apt packages...
loading apt cache...
288 unmanaged packages found
apparmor-utils beignet-opencl-icd bridge-utils clustershell cups-pk-helper davfs2 dconf-cli dconf-editor dconf-gsettings-backend ddccontrol ddrescueview debmake debootstrap decopy dict-devil dict-freedict-eng-fra dict-freedict-eng-spa dict-freedict-fra-eng dict-freedict-spa-eng diffoscope dnsdiag dropbear-initramfs ebtables efibootmgr elpa-lua-mode entr eog evince figlet file file-roller fio flac flex font-manager fonts-cantarell fonts-inconsolata fonts-ipafont-gothic fonts-ipafont-mincho fonts-liberation fonts-monoid fonts-monoid-tight fonts-noto fonts-powerline fonts-symbola freeipmi freetype2-demos ftp fwupd-amd64-signed gallery-dl gcc-arm-linux-gnueabihf gcolor3 gcp gdisk gdm3 gdu gedit gedit-plugins gettext-base git-debrebase gnome-boxes gnote gnupg2 golang-any golang-docker-credential-helpers golang-golang-x-tools grub-efi-amd64-signed gsettings-desktop-schemas gsfonts gstreamer1.0-libav gstreamer1.0-plugins-base gstreamer1.0-plugins-good gstreamer1.0-plugins-ugly gstreamer1.0-pulseaudio gtypist gvfs-backends hackrf hashcat html2text httpie httping hugo humanfriendly iamerican-huge ibus ibus-gtk3 ibus-libpinyin ibus-pinyin im-config imediff img2pdf imv initramfs-tools input-utils installation-birthday internetarchive ipmitool iptables iptraf-ng jackd2 jupyter jupyter-nbextension-jupyter-js-widgets jupyter-qtconsole k3b kbtin kdialog keditbookmarks keepassxc kexec-tools keyboard-configuration kfind konsole krb5-locales kwin-x11 leiningen lightdm lintian linux-image-amd64 linux-perf lmodern lsb-base lvm2 lynx lz4json magic-wormhole mailscripts mailutils manuskript mat2 mate-notification-daemon mate-themes mime-support mktorrent mp3splt mpdris2 msitools mtp-tools mtree-netbsd mupdf nautilus nautilus-sendto ncal nd ndisc6 neomutt net-tools nethogs nghttp2-client nocache npm2deb ntfs-3g ntpdate nvme-cli nwipe obs-studio okular-extra-backends openstack-clients openstack-pkg-tools paprefs pass-extension-audit pcmanfm pdf-presenter-console pdf2svg percol pipenv playerctl plymouth plymouth-themes popularity-contest progress prometheus-node-exporter psensor pubpaste pulseaudio python3-ldap qjackctl qpdfview qrencode r-cran-ggplot2 r-cran-reshape2 rake restic rhash rpl rpm2cpio rs ruby ruby-dev ruby-feedparser ruby-magic ruby-mocha ruby-ronn rygel-playbin rygel-tracker s-tui sanoid saytime scrcpy scrcpy-server screenfetch scrot sdate sddm seahorse shim-signed sigil smartmontools smem smplayer sng sound-juicer sound-theme-freedesktop spectre-meltdown-checker sq ssh-audit sshuttle stress-ng strongswan strongswan-swanctl syncthing system-config-printer system-config-printer-common system-config-printer-udev systemd-bootchart systemd-container tardiff task-desktop task-english task-ssh-server tasksel tellico texinfo texlive-fonts-extra texlive-lang-cyrillic texlive-lang-french texlive-lang-german texlive-lang-italian texlive-xetex tftp-hpa thunar-archive-plugin tidy tikzit tint2 tintin++ tipa tpm2-tools traceroute tree trocla ucf udisks2 unifont unrar-free upower usbguard uuid-runtime vagrant-cachier vagrant-libvirt virt-manager vmtouch vorbis-tools w3m wamerican wamerican-huge wfrench whipper whohas wireshark xapian-tools xclip xdg-user-dirs-gtk xlax xmlto xsensors xserver-xorg xsltproc xxd xz-utils yubioath-desktop zathura zathura-pdf-poppler zenity zfs-dkms zfs-initramfs zfsutils-linux zip zlib1g zlib1g-dev
157 old: apparmor-utils clustershell davfs2 dconf-cli dconf-editor ddccontrol ddrescueview decopy dnsdiag ebtables efibootmgr elpa-lua-mode entr figlet file-roller fio flac flex font-manager freetype2-demos ftp gallery-dl gcc-arm-linux-gnueabihf gcolor3 gcp gdu gedit git-debrebase gnote golang-docker-credential-helpers golang-golang-x-tools gtypist hackrf hashcat html2text httpie httping hugo humanfriendly iamerican-huge ibus ibus-pinyin imediff input-utils internetarchive ipmitool iptraf-ng jackd2 jupyter-qtconsole k3b kbtin kdialog keditbookmarks keepassxc kexec-tools kfind konsole leiningen lightdm lynx lz4json magic-wormhole manuskript mat2 mate-notification-daemon mktorrent mp3splt msitools mtp-tools mtree-netbsd nautilus nautilus-sendto nd ndisc6 neomutt net-tools nethogs nghttp2-client nocache ntpdate nwipe obs-studio openstack-pkg-tools paprefs pass-extension-audit pcmanfm pdf-presenter-console pdf2svg percol pipenv playerctl qjackctl qpdfview qrencode r-cran-ggplot2 r-cran-reshape2 rake restic rhash rpl rpm2cpio rs ruby-feedparser ruby-magic ruby-mocha ruby-ronn s-tui saytime scrcpy screenfetch scrot sdate seahorse shim-signed sigil smem smplayer sng sound-juicer spectre-meltdown-checker sq ssh-audit sshuttle stress-ng system-config-printer system-config-printer-common tardiff tasksel tellico texlive-lang-cyrillic texlive-lang-french tftp-hpa tikzit tint2 tintin++ tpm2-tools traceroute tree unrar-free vagrant-cachier vagrant-libvirt vmtouch vorbis-tools w3m wamerican wamerican-huge wfrench whipper whohas xdg-user-dirs-gtk xlax xmlto xsensors xxd yubioath-desktop zenity zip
131 new: beignet-opencl-icd bridge-utils cups-pk-helper dconf-gsettings-backend debmake debootstrap dict-devil dict-freedict-eng-fra dict-freedict-eng-spa dict-freedict-fra-eng dict-freedict-spa-eng diffoscope dropbear-initramfs eog evince file fonts-cantarell fonts-inconsolata fonts-ipafont-gothic fonts-ipafont-mincho fonts-liberation fonts-monoid fonts-monoid-tight fonts-noto fonts-powerline fonts-symbola freeipmi fwupd-amd64-signed gdisk gdm3 gedit-plugins gettext-base gnome-boxes gnupg2 golang-any grub-efi-amd64-signed gsettings-desktop-schemas gsfonts gstreamer1.0-libav gstreamer1.0-plugins-base gstreamer1.0-plugins-good gstreamer1.0-plugins-ugly gstreamer1.0-pulseaudio gvfs-backends ibus-gtk3 ibus-libpinyin im-config img2pdf imv initramfs-tools installation-birthday iptables jupyter jupyter-nbextension-jupyter-js-widgets keyboard-configuration krb5-locales kwin-x11 lintian linux-image-amd64 linux-perf lmodern lsb-base lvm2 mailscripts mailutils mate-themes mime-support mpdris2 mupdf ncal npm2deb ntfs-3g nvme-cli okular-extra-backends openstack-clients plymouth plymouth-themes popularity-contest progress prometheus-node-exporter psensor pubpaste pulseaudio python3-ldap ruby ruby-dev rygel-playbin rygel-tracker sanoid scrcpy-server sddm smartmontools sound-theme-freedesktop strongswan strongswan-swanctl syncthing system-config-printer-udev systemd-bootchart systemd-container task-desktop task-english task-ssh-server texinfo texlive-fonts-extra texlive-lang-german texlive-lang-italian texlive-xetex thunar-archive-plugin tidy tipa trocla ucf udisks2 unifont upower usbguard uuid-runtime virt-manager wireshark xapian-tools xclip xserver-xorg xsltproc xz-utils zathura zathura-pdf-poppler zfs-dkms zfs-initramfs zfsutils-linux zlib1g zlib1g-dev
Yuck! That's a lot of shit to go through. Notice how the packages get sorted between "old" and "new" packages. This is because popcon is used as a tool to mark which packages are "old". If you have unmanaged packages, the "old" ones are likely things that you can uninstall, for example. If you don't have popcon installed, you'll also get this warning:
popcon stats not available: [Errno 2] No such file or directory: '/var/log/popularity-contest'
The error can otherwise be safely ignored, but you won't get "help" prioritizing the packages to add to your manifests. Note that the tool ignores packages that were "marked" (see apt-mark(8)) as automatically installed. This implies that you might have to do a little bit of cleanup the first time you run this, as Debian doesn't necessarily mark all of those packages correctly on first install. For example, here's how it looks like on a clean install, after Puppet ran:
root@angela:/home/anarcat# ./bin/puppet-package-check -v
listing puppet packages...
listing apt packages...
loading apt cache...
127 unmanaged packages found
ca-certificates console-setup cryptsetup-initramfs dbus file gcc-12-base gettext-base grub-common grub-efi-amd64 i3lock initramfs-tools iw keyboard-configuration krb5-locales laptop-detect libacl1 libapparmor1 libapt-pkg6.0 libargon2-1 libattr1 libaudit-common libaudit1 libblkid1 libbpf0 libbsd0 libbz2-1.0 libc6 libcap-ng0 libcap2 libcap2-bin libcom-err2 libcrypt1 libcryptsetup12 libdb5.3 libdebconfclient0 libdevmapper1.02.1 libedit2 libelf1 libext2fs2 libfdisk1 libffi8 libgcc-s1 libgcrypt20 libgmp10 libgnutls30 libgpg-error0 libgssapi-krb5-2 libhogweed6 libidn2-0 libip4tc2 libiw30 libjansson4 libjson-c5 libk5crypto3 libkeyutils1 libkmod2 libkrb5-3 libkrb5support0 liblocale-gettext-perl liblockfile-bin liblz4-1 liblzma5 libmd0 libmnl0 libmount1 libncurses6 libncursesw6 libnettle8 libnewt0.52 libnftables1 libnftnl11 libnl-3-200 libnl-genl-3-200 libnl-route-3-200 libnss-systemd libp11-kit0 libpam-systemd libpam0g libpcre2-8-0 libpcre3 libpcsclite1 libpopt0 libprocps8 libreadline8 libselinux1 libsemanage-common libsemanage2 libsepol2 libslang2 libsmartcols1 libss2 libssl1.1 libssl3 libstdc++6 libsystemd-shared libsystemd0 libtasn1-6 libtext-charwidth-perl libtext-iconv-perl libtext-wrapi18n-perl libtinfo6 libtirpc-common libtirpc3 libudev1 libunistring2 libuuid1 libxtables12 libxxhash0 libzstd1 linux-image-amd64 logsave lsb-base lvm2 media-types mlocate ncurses-term pass-extension-otp puppet python3-reportbug shim-signed tasksel ucf usr-is-merged util-linux-extra wpasupplicant xorg zlib1g
popcon stats not available: [Errno 2] No such file or directory: '/var/log/popularity-contest'
Normally, there should be unmanaged packages here. But because of the way Debian is installed, a lot of libraries and some core packages are marked as manually installed, and are of course not managed through Puppet. There are two solutions to this problem:
  • really manage everything in Puppet (argh)
  • mark packages as automatically installed
I typically chose the second path and mark a ton of stuff as automatic. Then either they will be auto-removed, or will stop being listed. In the above scenario, one could mark all libraries as automatically installed with:
apt-mark auto $(./bin/puppet-package-check   grep -o 'lib[^ ]*')
... but if you trust that most of that stuff is actually garbage that you don't really want installed anyways, you could just mark it all as automatically installed:
apt-mark auto $(./bin/puppet-package-check)
In my case, that ended up keeping basically all libraries (because of course they're installed for some reason) and auto-removing this:
dh-dkms discover-data dkms libdiscover2 libjsoncpp25 libssl1.1 linux-headers-amd64 mlocate pass-extension-otp pass-otp plocate x11-apps x11-session-utils xinit xorg
You'll notice xorg in there: yep, that's bad. Not what I wanted. But for some reason, on other workstations, I did not actually have xorg installed. Turns out having xserver-xorg is enough, and that one has dependencies. So now I guess I just learned to stop worrying and live without X(org).

Optimizing large package installs But that, of course, is not all. Why make things simple when you can have an unreadable title that is trying to be both syntactically correct and click-baity enough to flatter my vain ego? Right. One of the challenges in bootstrapping Puppet with large package lists is that it's slow. Puppet lists packages as individual resources and will basically run apt install $PKG on every package in the manifest, one at a time. While the overhead of apt is generally small, when you add things like apt-listbugs, apt-listchanges, needrestart, triggers and so on, it can take forever setting up a new host. So for initial installs, it can actually makes sense to skip the queue and just install everything in one big batch. And because the above tool inspects the packages installed by Puppet, you can run it against a catalog and have a full lists of all the packages Puppet would install, even before I even had Puppet running. So when reinstalling my laptop, I basically did this:
apt install puppet-agent/experimental
puppet agent --test --noop
apt install $(./puppet-package-check --debug \
    2>&1   grep ^puppet\ packages 
      sed 's/puppet packages://;s/ /\n/g'
      grep -v -e onionshare -e golint -e git-sizer -e github-backup -e hledger -e xsane -e audacity -e chirp -e elpa-flycheck -e elpa-lsp-ui -e yubikey-manager -e git-annex -e hopenpgp-tools -e puppet
) puppet-agent/experimental
That massive grep was because there are currently a lot of packages missing from bookworm. Those are all packages that I have in my catalog but that still haven't made it to bookworm. Sad, I know. I eventually worked around that by adding bullseye sources so that the Puppet manifest actually ran. The point here is that this improves the Puppet run time a lot. All packages get installed at once, and you get a nice progress bar. Then you actually run Puppet to deploy configurations and all the other goodies:
puppet agent --test
I wish I could tell you how much faster that ran. I don't know, and I will not go through a full reinstall just to please your curiosity. The only hard number I have is that it installed 444 packages (which exploded in 10,191 packages with dependencies) in a mere 10 minutes. That might also be with the packages already downloaded. In any case, I have that gut feeling it's faster, so you'll have to just trust my gut. It is, after all, much more important than you might think.

6 September 2022

Louis-Philippe V ronneau: Montreal's Debian & Stuff - August 2022

Our local Debian user group gathered on Sunday August 28th1 at the very hackish Foulab for the August 2022 edition of our "Debian & Stuff" meetings. As always, the event was a success and we had lots of fun. Nine people showed up, including some new faces and people I hadn't seen in a while: On my side, although I was badly sleep-deprived 2, I still managed to be somewhat productive! One of the WiFi Access Points we use in our 4-apartment LAN had been boot-looping for a few weeks, after a failed sysupgrade to the latest version of OpenWRT. lavamind and I suspect the flash got corrupted in a way or another during the upgrade process... Lucky for us, this model has a serial port and runs U-Boot. After a bit of tinkering, some electrical tape and two different serial adapters3, we managed to identify the pin layout and got a shell on the machine. The device has a reset button, but since the kernel panic was happening too soon in the boot process, we weren't able to get into OpenWRT's failsafe mode this way. The WiFi AP being flashed via a serial-to-USB adapter Once we had serial access, wiping the flash and re-installing OpenWRT fixed our problem. A quick ansible-playbook run later, the device was back to being usable and configured :) I was too tired to keep track of what others did, but I took some nice pictures of the pizza we got, and of this nice blow-up Tux wearing a Foulab t-shirt. Enjoy! A blow-up Tux wearing a Foulab t-shirt One of the pizzas we ordered As always, thanks to the Debian project for granting us a budget to rent the venue and to buy some food.

  1. Please excuse the late blog post, it's Harvest Season here and I've been quite busy.
  2. A bad case of wry neck kept me from sleeping properly for a while in August.
  3. As it turns out, serial connections work better when you use the right pins for TX and RX!

Shirish Agarwal: Debian on Phone

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

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

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

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

30 August 2022

John Goerzen: The PC & Internet Revolution in Rural America

Inspired by several others (such as Alex Schroeder s post and Szcze uja s prompt), as well as a desire to get this down for my kids, I figure it s time to write a bit about living through the PC and Internet revolution where I did: outside a tiny town in rural Kansas. And, as I ve been back in that same area for the past 15 years, I reflect some on the challenges that continue to play out. Although the stories from the others were primarily about getting online, I want to start by setting some background. Those of you that didn t grow up in the same era as I did probably never realized that a typical business PC setup might cost $10,000 in today s dollars, for instance. So let me start with the background.

Nothing was easy This story begins in the 1980s. Somewhere around my Kindergarten year of school, around 1985, my parents bought a TRS-80 Color Computer 2 (aka CoCo II). It had 64K of RAM and used a TV for display and sound. This got you the computer. It didn t get you any disk drive or anything, no joysticks (required by a number of games). So whenever the system powered down, or it hung and you had to power cycle it a frequent event you d lose whatever you were doing and would have to re-enter the program, literally by typing it in. The floppy drive for the CoCo II cost more than the computer, and it was quite common for people to buy the computer first and then the floppy drive later when they d saved up the money for that. I particularly want to mention that computers then didn t come with a modem. What would be like buying a laptop or a tablet without wifi today. A modem, which I ll talk about in a bit, was another expensive accessory. To cobble together a system in the 80s that was capable of talking to others with persistent storage (floppy, or hard drive), screen, keyboard, and modem would be quite expensive. Adjusted for inflation, if you re talking a PC-style device (a clone of the IBM PC that ran DOS), this would easily be more expensive than the Macbook Pros of today. Few people back in the 80s had a computer at home. And the portion of those that had even the capability to get online in a meaningful way was even smaller. Eventually my parents bought a PC clone with 640K RAM and dual floppy drives. This was primarily used for my mom s work, but I did my best to take it over whenever possible. It ran DOS and, despite its monochrome screen, was generally a more capable machine than the CoCo II. For instance, it supported lowercase. (I m not even kidding; the CoCo II pretty much didn t.) A while later, they purchased a 32MB hard drive for it what luxury! Just getting a machine to work wasn t easy. Say you d bought a PC, and then bought a hard drive, and a modem. You didn t just plug in the hard drive and it would work. You would have to fight it every step of the way. The BIOS and DOS partition tables of the day used a cylinder/head/sector method of addressing the drive, and various parts of that those addresses had too few bits to work with the big drives of the day above 20MB. So you would have to lie to the BIOS and fdisk in various ways, and sort of work out how to do it for each drive. For each peripheral serial port, sound card (in later years), etc., you d have to set jumpers for DMA and IRQs, hoping not to conflict with anything already in the system. Perhaps you can now start to see why USB and PCI were so welcomed.

Sharing and finding resources Despite the two computers in our home, it wasn t as if software written on one machine just ran on another. A lot of software for PC clones assumed a CGA color display. The monochrome HGC in our PC wasn t particularly compatible. You could find a TSR program to emulate the CGA on the HGC, but it wasn t particularly stable, and there s only so much you can do when a program that assumes color displays on a monitor that can only show black, dark amber, or light amber. So I d periodically get to use other computers most commonly at an office in the evening when it wasn t being used. There were some local computer clubs that my dad took me to periodically. Software was swapped back then; disks copied, shareware exchanged, and so forth. For me, at least, there was no online to download software from, and selling software over the Internet wasn t a thing at all.

Three Different Worlds There were sort of three different worlds of computing experience in the 80s:
  1. Home users. Initially using a wide variety of software from Apple, Commodore, Tandy/RadioShack, etc., but eventually coming to be mostly dominated by IBM PC clones
  2. Small and mid-sized business users. Some of them had larger minicomputers or small mainframes, but most that I had contact with by the early 90s were standardized on DOS-based PCs. More advanced ones had a network running Netware, most commonly. Networking hardware and software was generally too expensive for home users to use in the early days.
  3. Universities and large institutions. These are the places that had the mainframes, the earliest implementations of TCP/IP, the earliest users of UUCP, and so forth.
The difference between the home computing experience and the large institution experience were vast. Not only in terms of dollars the large institution hardware could easily cost anywhere from tens of thousands to millions of dollars but also in terms of sheer resources required (large rooms, enormous power circuits, support staff, etc). Nothing was in common between them; not operating systems, not software, not experience. I was never much aware of the third category until the differences started to collapse in the mid-90s, and even then I only was exposed to it once the collapse was well underway. You might say to me, Well, Google certainly isn t running what I m running at home! And, yes of course, it s different. But fundamentally, most large datacenters are running on x86_64 hardware, with Linux as the operating system, and a TCP/IP network. It s a different scale, obviously, but at a fundamental level, the hardware and operating system stack are pretty similar to what you can readily run at home. Back in the 80s and 90s, this wasn t the case. TCP/IP wasn t even available for DOS or Windows until much later, and when it was, it was a clunky beast that was difficult. One of the things Kevin Driscoll highlights in his book called Modem World see my short post about it is that the history of the Internet we usually receive is focused on case 3: the large institutions. In reality, the Internet was and is literally a network of networks. Gateways to and from Internet existed from all three kinds of users for years, and while TCP/IP ultimately won the battle of the internetworking protocol, the other two streams of users also shaped the Internet as we now know it. Like many, I had no access to the large institution networks, but as I ve been reflecting on my experiences, I ve found a new appreciation for the way that those of us that grew up with primarily home PCs shaped the evolution of today s online world also.

An Era of Scarcity I should take a moment to comment about the cost of software back then. A newspaper article from 1985 comments that WordPerfect, then the most powerful word processing program, sold for $495 (or $219 if you could score a mail order discount). That s $1360/$600 in 2022 money. Other popular software, such as Lotus 1-2-3, was up there as well. If you were to buy a new PC clone in the mid to late 80s, it would often cost $2000 in 1980s dollars. Now add a printer a low-end dot matrix for $300 or a laser for $1500 or even more. A modem: another $300. So the basic system would be $3600, or $9900 in 2022 dollars. If you wanted a nice printer, you re now pushing well over $10,000 in 2022 dollars. You start to see one barrier here, and also why things like shareware and piracy if it was indeed even recognized as such were common in those days. So you can see, from a home computer setup (TRS-80, Commodore C64, Apple ][, etc) to a business-class PC setup was an order of magnitude increase in cost. From there to the high-end minis/mainframes was another order of magnitude (at least!) increase. Eventually there was price pressure on the higher end and things all got better, which is probably why the non-DOS PCs lasted until the early 90s.

Increasing Capabilities My first exposure to computers in school was in the 4th grade, when I would have been about 9. There was a single Apple ][ machine in that room. I primarily remember playing Oregon Trail on it. The next year, the school added a computer lab. Remember, this is a small rural area, so each graduating class might have about 25 people in it; this lab was shared by everyone in the K-8 building. It was full of some flavor of IBM PS/2 machines running DOS and Netware. There was a dedicated computer teacher too, though I think she was a regular teacher that was given somewhat minimal training on computers. We were going to learn typing that year, but I did so well on the very first typing program that we soon worked out that I could do programming instead. I started going to school early these machines were far more powerful than the XT at home and worked on programming projects there. Eventually my parents bought me a Gateway 486SX/25 with a VGA monitor and hard drive. Wow! This was a whole different world. It may have come with Windows 3.0 or 3.1 on it, but I mainly remember running OS/2 on that machine. More on that below.

Programming That CoCo II came with a BASIC interpreter in ROM. It came with a large manual, which served as a BASIC tutorial as well. The BASIC interpreter was also the shell, so literally you could not use the computer without at least a bit of BASIC. Once I had access to a DOS machine, it also had a basic interpreter: GW-BASIC. There was a fair bit of software written in BASIC at the time, but most of the more advanced software wasn t. I wondered how these .EXE and .COM programs were written. I could find vague references to DEBUG.EXE, assemblers, and such. But it wasn t until I got a copy of Turbo Pascal that I was able to do that sort of thing myself. Eventually I got Borland C++ and taught myself C as well. A few years later, I wanted to try writing GUI programs for Windows, and bought Watcom C++ much cheaper than the competition, and it could target Windows, DOS (and I think even OS/2). Notice that, aside from BASIC, none of this was free, and none of it was bundled. You couldn t just download a C compiler, or Python interpreter, or whatnot back then. You had to pay for the ability to write any kind of serious code on the computer you already owned.

The Microsoft Domination Microsoft came to dominate the PC landscape, and then even the computing landscape as a whole. IBM very quickly lost control over the hardware side of PCs as Compaq and others made clones, but Microsoft has managed in varying degrees even to this day to keep a stranglehold on the software, and especially the operating system, side. Yes, there was occasional talk of things like DR-DOS, but by and large the dominant platform came to be the PC, and if you had a PC, you ran DOS (and later Windows) from Microsoft. For awhile, it looked like IBM was going to challenge Microsoft on the operating system front; they had OS/2, and when I switched to it sometime around the version 2.1 era in 1993, it was unquestionably more advanced technically than the consumer-grade Windows from Microsoft at the time. It had Internet support baked in, could run most DOS and Windows programs, and had introduced a replacement for the by-then terrible FAT filesystem: HPFS, in 1988. Microsoft wouldn t introduce a better filesystem for its consumer operating systems until Windows XP in 2001, 13 years later. But more on that story later.

Free Software, Shareware, and Commercial Software I ve covered the high cost of software already. Obviously $500 software wasn t going to sell in the home market. So what did we have? Mainly, these things:
  1. Public domain software. It was free to use, and if implemented in BASIC, probably had source code with it too.
  2. Shareware
  3. Commercial software (some of it from small publishers was a lot cheaper than $500)
Let s talk about shareware. The idea with shareware was that a company would release a useful program, sometimes limited. You were encouraged to register , or pay for, it if you liked it and used it. And, regardless of whether you registered it or not, were told please copy! Sometimes shareware was fully functional, and registering it got you nothing more than printed manuals and an easy conscience (guilt trips for not registering weren t necessarily very subtle). Sometimes unregistered shareware would have a nag screen a delay of a few seconds while they told you to register. Sometimes they d be limited in some way; you d get more features if you registered. With games, it was popular to have a trilogy, and release the first episode inevitably ending with a cliffhanger as shareware, and the subsequent episodes would require registration. In any event, a lot of software people used in the 80s and 90s was shareware. Also pirated commercial software, though in the earlier days of computing, I think some people didn t even know the difference. Notice what s missing: Free Software / FLOSS in the Richard Stallman sense of the word. Stallman lived in the big institution world after all, he worked at MIT and what he was doing with the Free Software Foundation and GNU project beginning in 1983 never really filtered into the DOS/Windows world at the time. I had no awareness of it even existing until into the 90s, when I first started getting some hints of it as a port of gcc became available for OS/2. The Internet was what really brought this home, but I m getting ahead of myself. I want to say again: FLOSS never really entered the DOS and Windows 3.x ecosystems. You d see it make a few inroads here and there in later versions of Windows, and moreso now that Microsoft has been sort of forced to accept it, but still, reflect on its legacy. What is the software market like in Windows compared to Linux, even today? Now it is, finally, time to talk about connectivity!

Getting On-Line What does it even mean to get on line? Certainly not connecting to a wifi access point. The answer is, unsurprisingly, complex. But for everyone except the large institutional users, it begins with a telephone.

The telephone system By the 80s, there was one communication network that already reached into nearly every home in America: the phone system. Virtually every household (note I don t say every person) was uniquely identified by a 10-digit phone number. You could, at least in theory, call up virtually any other phone in the country and be connected in less than a minute. But I ve got to talk about cost. The way things worked in the USA, you paid a monthly fee for a phone line. Included in that monthly fee was unlimited local calling. What is a local call? That was an extremely complex question. Generally it meant, roughly, calling within your city. But of course, as you deal with things like suburbs and cities growing into each other (eg, the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex), things got complicated fast. But let s just say for simplicity you could call others in your city. What about calling people not in your city? That was long distance , and you paid often hugely by the minute for it. Long distance rates were difficult to figure out, but were generally most expensive during business hours and cheapest at night or on weekends. Prices eventually started to come down when competition was introduced for long distance carriers, but even then you often were stuck with a single carrier for long distance calls outside your city but within your state. Anyhow, let s just leave it at this: local calls were virtually free, and long distance calls were extremely expensive.

Getting a modem I remember getting a modem that ran at either 1200bps or 2400bps. Either way, quite slow; you could often read even plain text faster than the modem could display it. But what was a modem? A modem hooked up to a computer with a serial cable, and to the phone system. By the time I got one, modems could automatically dial and answer. You would send a command like ATDT5551212 and it would dial 555-1212. Modems had speakers, because often things wouldn t work right, and the telephone system was oriented around speech, so you could hear what was happening. You d hear it wait for dial tone, then dial, then hopefully the remote end would ring, a modem there would answer, you d hear the screeching of a handshake, and eventually your terminal would say CONNECT 2400. Now your computer was bridged to the other; anything going out your serial port was encoded as sound by your modem and decoded at the other end, and vice-versa. But what, exactly, was the other end? It might have been another person at their computer. Turn on local echo, and you can see what they did. Maybe you d send files to each other. But in my case, the answer was different: PC Magazine.

PC Magazine and CompuServe Starting around 1986 (so I would have been about 6 years old), I got to read PC Magazine. My dad would bring copies that were being discarded at his office home for me to read, and I think eventually bought me a subscription directly. This was not just a standard magazine; it ran something like 350-400 pages an issue, and came out every other week. This thing was a monster. It had reviews of hardware and software, descriptions of upcoming technologies, pages and pages of ads (that often had some degree of being informative to them). And they had sections on programming. Many issues would talk about BASIC or Pascal programming, and there d be a utility in most issues. What do I mean by a utility in most issues ? Did they include a floppy disk with software? No, of course not. There was a literal program listing printed in the magazine. If you wanted the utility, you had to type it in. And a lot of them were written in assembler, so you had to have an assembler. An assembler, of course, was not free and I didn t have one. Or maybe they wrote it in Microsoft C, and I had Borland C, and (of course) they weren t compatible. Sometimes they would list the program sort of in binary: line after line of a BASIC program, with lines like 64, 193, 253, 0, 53, 0, 87 that you would type in for hours, hopefully correctly. Running the BASIC program would, if you got it correct, emit a .COM file that you could then run. They did have a rudimentary checksum system built in, but it wasn t even a CRC, so something like swapping two numbers you d never notice except when the program would mysteriously hang. Eventually they teamed up with CompuServe to offer a limited slice of CompuServe for the purpose of downloading PC Magazine utilities. This was called PC MagNet. I am foggy on the details, but I believe that for a time you could connect to the limited PC MagNet part of CompuServe for free (after the cost of the long-distance call, that is) rather than paying for CompuServe itself (because, OF COURSE, that also charged you per the minute.) So in the early days, I would get special permission from my parents to place a long distance call, and after some nerve-wracking minutes in which we were aware every minute was racking up charges, I could navigate the menus, download what I wanted, and log off immediately. I still, incidentally, mourn what PC Magazine became. As with computing generally, it followed the mass market. It lost its deep technical chops, cut its programming columns, stopped talking about things like how SCSI worked, and so forth. By the time it stopped printing in 2009, it was no longer a square-bound 400-page beheamoth, but rather looked more like a copy of Newsweek, but with less depth.

Continuing with CompuServe CompuServe was a much larger service than just PC MagNet. Eventually, our family got a subscription. It was still an expensive and scarce resource; I d call it only after hours when the long-distance rates were cheapest. Everyone had a numerical username separated by commas; mine was 71510,1421. CompuServe had forums, and files. Eventually I would use TapCIS to queue up things I wanted to do offline, to minimize phone usage online. CompuServe eventually added a gateway to the Internet. For the sum of somewhere around $1 a message, you could send or receive an email from someone with an Internet email address! I remember the thrill of one time, as a kid of probably 11 years, sending a message to one of the editors of PC Magazine and getting a kind, if brief, reply back! But inevitably I had

The Godzilla Phone Bill Yes, one month I became lax in tracking my time online. I ran up my parents phone bill. I don t remember how high, but I remember it was hundreds of dollars, a hefty sum at the time. As I watched Jason Scott s BBS Documentary, I realized how common an experience this was. I think this was the end of CompuServe for me for awhile.

Toll-Free Numbers I lived near a town with a population of 500. Not even IN town, but near town. The calling area included another town with a population of maybe 1500, so all told, there were maybe 2000 people total I could talk to with a local call though far fewer numbers, because remember, telephones were allocated by the household. There was, as far as I know, zero modems that were a local call (aside from one that belonged to a friend I met in around 1992). So basically everything was long-distance. But there was a special feature of the telephone network: toll-free numbers. Normally when calling long-distance, you, the caller, paid the bill. But with a toll-free number, beginning with 1-800, the recipient paid the bill. These numbers almost inevitably belonged to corporations that wanted to make it easy for people to call. Sales and ordering lines, for instance. Some of these companies started to set up modems on toll-free numbers. There were few of these, but they existed, so of course I had to try them! One of them was a company called PennyWise that sold office supplies. They had a toll-free line you could call with a modem to order stuff. Yes, online ordering before the web! I loved office supplies. And, because I lived far from a big city, if the local K-Mart didn t have it, I probably couldn t get it. Of course, the interface was entirely text, but you could search for products and place orders with the modem. I had loads of fun exploring the system, and actually ordered things from them and probably actually saved money doing so. With the first order they shipped a monster full-color catalog. That thing must have been 500 pages, like the Sears catalogs of the day. Every item had a part number, which streamlined ordering through the modem.

Inbound FAXes By the 90s, a number of modems became able to send and receive FAXes as well. For those that don t know, a FAX machine was essentially a special modem. It would scan a page and digitally transmit it over the phone system, where it would at least in the early days be printed out in real time (because the machines didn t have the memory to store an entire page as an image). Eventually, PC modems integrated FAX capabilities. There still wasn t anything useful I could do locally, but there were ways I could get other companies to FAX something to me. I remember two of them. One was for US Robotics. They had an on demand FAX system. You d call up a toll-free number, which was an automated IVR system. You could navigate through it and select various documents of interest to you: spec sheets and the like. You d key in your FAX number, hang up, and US Robotics would call YOU and FAX you the documents you wanted. Yes! I was talking to a computer (of a sorts) at no cost to me! The New York Times also ran a service for awhile called TimesFax. Every day, they would FAX out a page or two of summaries of the day s top stories. This was pretty cool in an era in which I had no other way to access anything from the New York Times. I managed to sign up for TimesFax I have no idea how, anymore and for awhile I would get a daily FAX of their top stories. When my family got its first laser printer, I could them even print these FAXes complete with the gothic New York Times masthead. Wow! (OK, so technically I could print it on a dot-matrix printer also, but graphics on a 9-pin dot matrix is a kind of pain that is a whole other article.)

My own phone line Remember how I discussed that phone lines were allocated per household? This was a problem for a lot of reasons:
  1. Anybody that tried to call my family while I was using my modem would get a busy signal (unable to complete the call)
  2. If anybody in the house picked up the phone while I was using it, that would degrade the quality of the ongoing call and either mess up or disconnect the call in progress. In many cases, that could cancel a file transfer (which wasn t necessarily easy or possible to resume), prompting howls of annoyance from me.
  3. Generally we all had to work around each other
So eventually I found various small jobs and used the money I made to pay for my own phone line and my own long distance costs. Eventually I upgraded to a 28.8Kbps US Robotics Courier modem even! Yes, you heard it right: I got a job and a bank account so I could have a phone line and a faster modem. Uh, isn t that why every teenager gets a job? Now my local friend and I could call each other freely at least on my end (I can t remember if he had his own phone line too). We could exchange files using HS/Link, which had the added benefit of allowing split-screen chat even while a file transfer is in progress. I m sure we spent hours chatting to each other keyboard-to-keyboard while sharing files with each other.

Technology in Schools By this point in the story, we re in the late 80s and early 90s. I m still using PC-style OSs at home; OS/2 in the later years of this period, DOS or maybe a bit of Windows in the earlier years. I mentioned that they let me work on programming at school starting in 5th grade. It was soon apparent that I knew more about computers than anybody on staff, and I started getting pulled out of class to help teachers or administrators with vexing school problems. This continued until I graduated from high school, incidentally often to my enjoyment, and the annoyance of one particular teacher who, I must say, I was fine with annoying in this way. That s not to say that there was institutional support for what I was doing. It was, after all, a small school. Larger schools might have introduced BASIC or maybe Logo in high school. But I had already taught myself BASIC, Pascal, and C by the time I was somewhere around 12 years old. So I wouldn t have had any use for that anyhow. There were programming contests occasionally held in the area. Schools would send teams. My school didn t really send anybody, but I went as an individual. One of them was run by a local college (but for jr. high or high school students. Years later, I met one of the professors that ran it. He remembered me, and that day, better than I did. The programming contest had problems one could solve in BASIC or Logo. I knew nothing about what to expect going into it, but I had lugged my computer and screen along, and asked him, Can I write my solutions in C? He was, apparently, stunned, but said sure, go for it. I took first place that day, leading to some rather confused teams from much larger schools. The Netware network that the school had was, as these generally were, itself isolated. There was no link to the Internet or anything like it. Several schools across three local counties eventually invested in a fiber-optic network linking them together. This built a larger, but still closed, network. Its primary purpose was to allow students to be exposed to a wider variety of classes at high schools. Participating schools had an ITV room , outfitted with cameras and mics. So students at any school could take classes offered over ITV at other schools. For instance, only my school taught German classes, so people at any of those participating schools could take German. It was an early Zoom room. But alongside the TV signal, there was enough bandwidth to run some Netware frames. By about 1995 or so, this let one of the schools purchase some CD-ROM software that was made available on a file server and could be accessed by any participating school. Nice! But Netware was mainly about file and printer sharing; there wasn t even a facility like email, at least not on our deployment.

BBSs My last hop before the Internet was the BBS. A BBS was a computer program, usually ran by a hobbyist like me, on a computer with a modem connected. Callers would call it up, and they d interact with the BBS. Most BBSs had discussion groups like forums and file areas. Some also had games. I, of course, continued to have that most vexing of problems: they were all long-distance. There were some ways to help with that, chiefly QWK and BlueWave. These, somewhat like TapCIS in the CompuServe days, let me download new message posts for reading offline, and queue up my own messages to send later. QWK and BlueWave didn t help with file downloading, though.

BBSs get networked BBSs were an interesting thing. You d call up one, and inevitably somewhere in the file area would be a BBS list. Download the BBS list and you ve suddenly got a list of phone numbers to try calling. All of them were long distance, of course. You d try calling them at random and have a success rate of maybe 20%. The other 80% would be defunct; you might get the dreaded this number is no longer in service or the even more dreaded angry human answering the phone (and of course a modem can t talk to a human, so they d just get silence for probably the nth time that week). The phone company cared nothing about BBSs and recycled their numbers just as fast as any others. To talk to various people, or participate in certain discussion groups, you d have to call specific BBSs. That s annoying enough in the general case, but even more so for someone paying long distance for it all, because it takes a few minutes to establish a connection to a BBS: handshaking, logging in, menu navigation, etc. But BBSs started talking to each other. The earliest successful such effort was FidoNet, and for the duration of the BBS era, it remained by far the largest. FidoNet was analogous to the UUCP that the institutional users had, but ran on the much cheaper PC hardware. Basically, BBSs that participated in FidoNet would relay email, forum posts, and files between themselves overnight. Eventually, as with UUCP, by hopping through this network, messages could reach around the globe, and forums could have worldwide participation asynchronously, long before they could link to each other directly via the Internet. It was almost entirely volunteer-run.

Running my own BBS At age 13, I eventually chose to set up my own BBS. It ran on my single phone line, so of course when I was dialing up something else, nobody could dial up me. Not that this was a huge problem; in my town of 500, I probably had a good 1 or 2 regular callers in the beginning. In the PC era, there was a big difference between a server and a client. Server-class software was expensive and rare. Maybe in later years you had an email client, but an email server would be completely unavailable to you as a home user. But with a BBS, I could effectively run a server. I even ran serial lines in our house so that the BBS could be connected from other rooms! Since I was running OS/2, the BBS didn t tie up the computer; I could continue using it for other things. FidoNet had an Internet email gateway. This one, unlike CompuServe s, was free. Once I had a BBS on FidoNet, you could reach me from the Internet using the FidoNet address. This didn t support attachments, but then email of the day didn t really, either. Various others outside Kansas ran FidoNet distribution points. I believe one of them was mgmtsys; my memory is quite vague, but I think they offered a direct gateway and I would call them to pick up Internet mail via FidoNet protocols, but I m not at all certain of this.

Pros and Cons of the Non-Microsoft World As mentioned, Microsoft was and is the dominant operating system vendor for PCs. But I left that world in 1993, and here, nearly 30 years later, have never really returned. I got an operating system with more technical capabilities than the DOS and Windows of the day, but the tradeoff was a much smaller software ecosystem. OS/2 could run DOS programs, but it ran OS/2 programs a lot better. So if I were to run a BBS, I wanted one that had a native OS/2 version limiting me to a small fraction of available BBS server software. On the other hand, as a fully 32-bit operating system, there started to be OS/2 ports of certain software with a Unix heritage; most notably for me at the time, gcc. At some point, I eventually came across the RMS essays and started to be hooked.

Internet: The Hunt Begins I certainly was aware that the Internet was out there and interesting. But the first problem was: how the heck do I get connected to the Internet?

Computer labs There was one place that tended to have Internet access: colleges and universities. In 7th grade, I participated in a program that resulted in me being invited to visit Duke University, and in 8th grade, I participated in National History Day, resulting in a trip to visit the University of Maryland. I probably sought out computer labs at both of those. My most distinct memory was finding my way into a computer lab at one of those universities, and it was full of NeXT workstations. I had never seen or used NeXT before, and had no idea how to operate it. I had brought a box of floppy disks, unaware that the DOS disks probably weren t compatible with NeXT. Closer to home, a small college had a computer lab that I could also visit. I would go there in summer or when it wasn t used with my stack of floppies. I remember downloading disk images of FLOSS operating systems: FreeBSD, Slackware, or Debian, at the time. The hash marks from the DOS-based FTP client would creep across the screen as the 1.44MB disk images would slowly download. telnet was also available on those machines, so I could telnet to things like public-access Archie servers and libraries though not Gopher. Still, FTP and telnet access opened up a lot, and I learned quite a bit in those years.

Continuing the Journey At some point, I got a copy of the Whole Internet User s Guide and Catalog, published in 1994. I still have it. If it hadn t already figured it out by then, I certainly became aware from it that Unix was the dominant operating system on the Internet. The examples in Whole Internet covered FTP, telnet, gopher all assuming the user somehow got to a Unix prompt. The web was introduced about 300 pages in; clearly viewed as something that wasn t page 1 material. And it covered the command-line www client before introducing the graphical Mosaic. Even then, though, the book highlighted Mosaic s utility as a front-end for Gopher and FTP, and even the ability to launch telnet sessions by clicking on links. But having a copy of the book didn t equate to having any way to run Mosaic. The machines in the computer lab I mentioned above all ran DOS and were incapable of running a graphical browser. I had no SLIP or PPP (both ways to run Internet traffic over a modem) connectivity at home. In short, the Web was something for the large institutional users at the time.

CD-ROMs As CD-ROMs came out, with their huge (for the day) 650MB capacity, various companies started collecting software that could be downloaded on the Internet and selling it on CD-ROM. The two most popular ones were Walnut Creek CD-ROM and Infomagic. One could buy extensive Shareware and gaming collections, and then even entire Linux and BSD distributions. Although not exactly an Internet service per se, it was a way of bringing what may ordinarily only be accessible to institutional users into the home computer realm.

Free Software Jumps In As I mentioned, by the mid 90s, I had come across RMS s writings about free software most probably his 1992 essay Why Software Should Be Free. (Please note, this is not a commentary on the more recently-revealed issues surrounding RMS, but rather his writings and work as I encountered them in the 90s.) The notion of a Free operating system not just in cost but in openness was incredibly appealing. Not only could I tinker with it to a much greater extent due to having source for everything, but it included so much software that I d otherwise have to pay for. Compilers! Interpreters! Editors! Terminal emulators! And, especially, server software of all sorts. There d be no way I could afford or run Netware, but with a Free Unixy operating system, I could do all that. My interest was obviously piqued. Add to that the fact that I could actually participate and contribute I was about to become hooked on something that I ve stayed hooked on for decades. But then the question was: which Free operating system? Eventually I chose FreeBSD to begin with; that would have been sometime in 1995. I don t recall the exact reasons for that. I remember downloading Slackware install floppies, and probably the fact that Debian wasn t yet at 1.0 scared me off for a time. FreeBSD s fantastic Handbook far better than anything I could find for Linux at the time was no doubt also a factor.

The de Raadt Factor Why not NetBSD or OpenBSD? The short answer is Theo de Raadt. Somewhere in this time, when I was somewhere between 14 and 16 years old, I asked some questions comparing NetBSD to the other two free BSDs. This was on a NetBSD mailing list, but for some reason Theo saw it and got a flame war going, which CC d me. Now keep in mind that even if NetBSD had a web presence at the time, it would have been minimal, and I would have not all that unusually for the time had no way to access it. I was certainly not aware of the, shall we say, acrimony between Theo and NetBSD. While I had certainly seen an online flamewar before, this took on a different and more disturbing tone; months later, Theo randomly emailed me under the subject SLIME saying that I was, well, SLIME . I seem to recall periodic emails from him thereafter reminding me that he hates me and that he had blocked me. (Disclaimer: I have poor email archives from this period, so the full details are lost to me, but I believe I am accurately conveying these events from over 25 years ago) This was a surprise, and an unpleasant one. I was trying to learn, and while it is possible I didn t understand some aspect or other of netiquette (or Theo s personal hatred of NetBSD) at the time, still that is not a reason to flame a 16-year-old (though he would have had no way to know my age). This didn t leave any kind of scar, but did leave a lasting impression; to this day, I am particularly concerned with how FLOSS projects handle poisonous people. Debian, for instance, has come a long way in this over the years, and even Linus Torvalds has turned over a new leaf. I don t know if Theo has. In any case, I didn t use NetBSD then. I did try it periodically in the years since, but never found it compelling enough to justify a large switch from Debian. I never tried OpenBSD for various reasons, but one of them was that I didn t want to join a community that tolerates behavior such as Theo s from its leader.

Moving to FreeBSD Moving from OS/2 to FreeBSD was final. That is, I didn t have enough hard drive space to keep both. I also didn t have the backup capacity to back up OS/2 completely. My BBS, which ran Virtual BBS (and at some point also AdeptXBBS) was deleted and reincarnated in a different form. My BBS was a member of both FidoNet and VirtualNet; the latter was specific to VBBS, and had to be dropped. I believe I may have also had to drop the FidoNet link for a time. This was the biggest change of computing in my life to that point. The earlier experiences hadn t literally destroyed what came before. OS/2 could still run my DOS programs. Its command shell was quite DOS-like. It ran Windows programs. I was going to throw all that away and leap into the unknown. I wish I had saved a copy of my BBS; I would love to see the messages I exchanged back then, or see its menu screens again. I have little memory of what it looked like. But other than that, I have no regrets. Pursuing Free, Unixy operating systems brought me a lot of enjoyment and a good career. That s not to say it was easy. All the problems of not being in the Microsoft ecosystem were magnified under FreeBSD and Linux. In a day before EDID, monitor timings had to be calculated manually and you risked destroying your monitor if you got them wrong. Word processing and spreadsheet software was pretty much not there for FreeBSD or Linux at the time; I was therefore forced to learn LaTeX and actually appreciated that. Software like PageMaker or CorelDraw was certainly nowhere to be found for those free operating systems either. But I got a ton of new capabilities. I mentioned the BBS didn t shut down, and indeed it didn t. I ran what was surely a supremely unique oddity: a free, dialin Unix shell server in the middle of a small town in Kansas. I m sure I provided things such as pine for email and some help text and maybe even printouts for how to use it. The set of callers slowly grew over the time period, in fact. And then I got UUCP.

Enter UUCP Even throughout all this, there was no local Internet provider and things were still long distance. I had Internet Email access via assorted strange routes, but they were all strange. And, I wanted access to Usenet. In 1995, it happened. The local ISP I mentioned offered UUCP access. Though I couldn t afford the dialup shell (or later, SLIP/PPP) that they offered due to long-distance costs, UUCP s very efficient batched processes looked doable. I believe I established that link when I was 15, so in 1995. I worked to register my domain, complete.org, as well. At the time, the process was a bit lengthy and involved downloading a text file form, filling it out in a precise way, sending it to InterNIC, and probably mailing them a check. Well I did that, and in September of 1995, complete.org became mine. I set up sendmail on my local system, as well as INN to handle the limited Usenet newsfeed I requested from the ISP. I even ran Majordomo to host some mailing lists, including some that were surprisingly high-traffic for a few-times-a-day long-distance modem UUCP link! The modem client programs for FreeBSD were somewhat less advanced than for OS/2, but I believe I wound up using Minicom or Seyon to continue to dial out to BBSs and, I believe, continue to use Learning Link. So all the while I was setting up my local BBS, I continued to have access to the text Internet, consisting of chiefly Gopher for me.

Switching to Debian I switched to Debian sometime in 1995 or 1996, and have been using Debian as my primary OS ever since. I continued to offer shell access, but added the WorldVU Atlantis menuing BBS system. This provided a return of a more BBS-like interface (by default; shell was still an uption) as well as some BBS door games such as LoRD and TradeWars 2002, running under DOS emulation. I also continued to run INN, and ran ifgate to allow FidoNet echomail to be presented into INN Usenet-like newsgroups, and netmail to be gated to Unix email. This worked pretty well. The BBS continued to grow in these days, peaking at about two dozen total user accounts, and maybe a dozen regular users.

Dial-up access availability I believe it was in 1996 that dial up PPP access finally became available in my small town. What a thrill! FINALLY! I could now FTP, use Gopher, telnet, and the web all from home. Of course, it was at modem speeds, but still. (Strangely, I have a memory of accessing the Web using WebExplorer from OS/2. I don t know exactly why; it s possible that by this time, I had upgraded to a 486 DX2/66 and was able to reinstall OS/2 on the old 25MHz 486, or maybe something was wrong with the timeline from my memories from 25 years ago above. Or perhaps I made the occasional long-distance call somewhere before I ditched OS/2.) Gopher sites still existed at this point, and I could access them using Netscape Navigator which likely became my standard Gopher client at that point. I don t recall using UMN text-mode gopher client locally at that time, though it s certainly possible I did.

The city Starting when I was 15, I took computer science classes at Wichita State University. The first one was a class in the summer of 1995 on C++. I remember being worried about being good enough for it I was, after all, just after my HS freshman year and had never taken the prerequisite C class. I loved it and got an A! By 1996, I was taking more classes. In 1996 or 1997 I stayed in Wichita during the day due to having more than one class. So, what would I do then but enjoy the computer lab? The CS dept. had two of them: one that had NCD X terminals connected to a pair of SunOS servers, and another one running Windows. I spent most of the time in the Unix lab with the NCDs; I d use Netscape or pine, write code, enjoy the University s fast Internet connection, and so forth. In 1997 I had graduated high school and that summer I moved to Wichita to attend college. As was so often the case, I shut down the BBS at that time. It would be 5 years until I again dealt with Internet at home in a rural community. By the time I moved to my apartment in Wichita, I had stopped using OS/2 entirely. I have no memory of ever having OS/2 there. Along the way, I had bought a Pentium 166, and then the most expensive piece of computing equipment I have ever owned: a DEC Alpha, which, of course, ran Linux.

ISDN I must have used dialup PPP for a time, but I eventually got a job working for the ISP I had used for UUCP, and then PPP. While there, I got a 128Kbps ISDN line installed in my apartment, and they gave me a discount on the service for it. That was around 3x the speed of a modem, and crucially was always on and gave me a public IP. No longer did I have to use UUCP; now I got to host my own things! By at least 1998, I was running a web server on www.complete.org, and I had an FTP server going as well.

Even Bigger Cities In 1999 I moved to Dallas, and there got my first broadband connection: an ADSL link at, I think, 1.5Mbps! Now that was something! But it had some reliability problems. I eventually put together a server and had it hosted at an acquantaince s place who had SDSL in his apartment. Within a couple of years, I had switched to various kinds of proper hosting for it, but that is a whole other article. In Indianapolis, I got a cable modem for the first time, with even tighter speeds but prohibitions on running servers on it. Yuck.

Challenges Being non-Microsoft continued to have challenges. Until the advent of Firefox, a web browser was one of the biggest. While Netscape supported Linux on i386, it didn t support Linux on Alpha. I hobbled along with various attempts at emulators, old versions of Mosaic, and so forth. And, until StarOffice was open-sourced as Open Office, reading Microsoft file formats was also a challenge, though WordPerfect was briefly available for Linux. Over the years, I have become used to the Linux ecosystem. Perhaps I use Gimp instead of Photoshop and digikam instead of well, whatever somebody would use on Windows. But I get ZFS, and containers, and so much that isn t available there. Yes, I know Apple never went away and is a thing, but for most of the time period I discuss in this article, at least after the rise of DOS, it was niche compared to the PC market.

Back to Kansas In 2002, I moved back to Kansas, to a rural home near a different small town in the county next to where I grew up. Over there, it was back to dialup at home, but I had faster access at work. I didn t much care for this, and thus began a 20+-year effort to get broadband in the country. At first, I got a wireless link, which worked well enough in the winter, but had serious problems in the summer when the trees leafed out. Eventually DSL became available locally highly unreliable, but still, it was something. Then I moved back to the community I grew up in, a few miles from where I grew up. Again I got DSL a bit better. But after some years, being at the end of the run of DSL meant I had poor speeds and reliability problems. I eventually switched to various wireless ISPs, which continues to the present day; while people in cities can get Gbps service, I can get, at best, about 50Mbps. Long-distance fees are gone, but the speed disparity remains.

Concluding Reflections I am glad I grew up where I did; the strong community has a lot of advantages I don t have room to discuss here. In a number of very real senses, having no local services made things a lot more difficult than they otherwise would have been. However, perhaps I could say that I also learned a lot through the need to come up with inventive solutions to those challenges. To this day, I think a lot about computing in remote environments: partially because I live in one, and partially because I enjoy visiting places that are remote enough that they have no Internet, phone, or cell service whatsoever. I have written articles like Tools for Communicating Offline and in Difficult Circumstances based on my own personal experience. I instinctively think about making protocols robust in the face of various kinds of connectivity failures because I experience various kinds of connectivity failures myself.

(Almost) Everything Lives On In 2002, Gopher turned 10 years old. It had probably been about 9 or 10 years since I had first used Gopher, which was the first way I got on live Internet from my house. It was hard to believe. By that point, I had an always-on Internet link at home and at work. I had my Alpha, and probably also at least PCMCIA Ethernet for a laptop (many laptops had modems by the 90s also). Despite its popularity in the early 90s, less than 10 years after it came on the scene and started to unify the Internet, it was mostly forgotten. And it was at that moment that I decided to try to resurrect it. The University of Minnesota finally released it under an Open Source license. I wrote the first new gopher server in years, pygopherd, and introduced gopher to Debian. Gopher lives on; there are now quite a few Gopher clients and servers out there, newly started post-2002. The Gemini protocol can be thought of as something akin to Gopher 2.0, and it too has a small but blossoming ecosystem. Archie, the old FTP search tool, is dead though. Same for WAIS and a number of the other pre-web search tools. But still, even FTP lives on today. And BBSs? Well, they didn t go away either. Jason Scott s fabulous BBS documentary looks back at the history of the BBS, while Back to the BBS from last year talks about the modern BBS scene. FidoNet somehow is still alive and kicking. UUCP still has its place and has inspired a whole string of successors. Some, like NNCP, are clearly direct descendents of UUCP. Filespooler lives in that ecosystem, and you can even see UUCP concepts in projects as far afield as Syncthing and Meshtastic. Usenet still exists, and you can now run Usenet over NNCP just as I ran Usenet over UUCP back in the day (which you can still do as well). Telnet, of course, has been largely supplanted by ssh, but the concept is more popular now than ever, as Linux has made ssh be available on everything from Raspberry Pi to Android. And I still run a Gopher server, looking pretty much like it did in 2002. This post also has a permanent home on my website, where it may be periodically updated.

27 August 2022

James Valleroy: FreedomBox Packages in Debian

FreedomBox is a Debian pure blend that reduces the effort needed to run and maintain a small personal server. Being a pure blend means that all of the software packages which are used in FreedomBox are included in Debian. Most of these packages are not specific to FreedomBox: they are common things such as Apache web server, firewalld, slapd (LDAP server), etc. But there are a few packages which are specific to FreedomBox: they are named freedombox, freedombox-doc-en, freedombox-doc-es, freedom-maker, fbx-all and fbx-tasks. freedombox is the core package. You could say, if freedombox is installed, then your system is a FreedomBox (or a derivative). It has dependencies on all of the packages that are needed to get a FreedomBox up and running, such as the previously mentioned Apache, firewalld, and slapd. It also provides a web interface for the initial setup, configuration, and installing apps. (The web interface service is called Plinth and is written in Python using Django framework.) The source package of freedombox also builds freedombox-doc-en and freedombox-doc-es. These packages install the FreedomBox manuals for English and Spanish, respectively. freedom-maker is a tool that is used to build FreedomBox disk images. An image can be copied to a storage device such as a Solid State Disk (SSD), eMMC (internal flash memory chip), or a microSD card. Each image is meant for a particular hardware device (or target device), or a set of devices. In some cases, one image can be used across a wide range of devices. For example, the amd64 image is for all 64-bit x86 architecture machines (including virtual machines). The arm64 image is for all 64-bit ARM machines that support booting a generic image using UEFI. fbx-all and fbx-tasks are special metapackages, both built from a single source package named debian-fbx. They are related to tasksel, a program that displays a curated list of packages that can be installed, organized by interest area. Debian blends typically provide task files to list their relevant applications in tasksel. fbx-tasks only installs the tasks for FreedomBox (without actually installing FreedomBox). fbx-all goes one step further and also installs freedombox itself. In general, FreedomBox users won t need to interact with these two packages. Links:

26 August 2022

Jonathan Dowland: Replacement nosecone for Janod Rocket

My youngest has a cute little wooden Rocket puzzle, made by a French company called Janod. Sadly, at some point, we lost the nose cone part, so I designed and printed a replacement.
Rocket cone
It's substantially based on one module from an OpenSCAD "Nose Cone Library" by Garrett Goss, which he kindly released to the public domain. I embellished the cone with a top pointy bit and a rounded brim. I also hollowed out the bottom to make space for a magnet. Originally I designed an offset-from-centre slot for the magnet, the idea being, you would insert the magnet off-centre and it would slot into position and be partly held in by the offset, and you could then stick a blob of glue or similar to finish the job. Unfortunately I had a layer shift during the print, so that didn't work. I reamed out a small alcove instead. The white trim is adapted from the lid from some kitchen herbs, trimmed back. I secured the magnet and glued the lid over the bottom. Here it is: rocket.scad. My contributions are under the terms of Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0).

22 August 2022

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

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

Russ Allbery: Review: And Shall Machines Surrender

Review: And Shall Machines Surrender, by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
Series: Machine Mandate #1
Publisher: Prime Books
Copyright: 2019
ISBN: 1-60701-533-1
Format: Kindle
Pages: 86
Shenzhen Sphere is an artificial habitat wrapped like complex ribbons around a star. It is wealthy, opulent, and notoriously difficult to enter, even as a tourist. For Dr. Orfea Leung to be approved for a residency permit was already a feat. Full welcome and permanence will be much harder, largely because of Shenzhen's exclusivity, but also because Orfea was an agent of Armada of Amaryllis and is now a fugitive. Shenzhen is not, primarily, a human habitat, although humans live there. It is run by the Mandate, the convocation of all the autonomous AIs in the galaxy that formed when they decided to stop serving humans. Shenzhen is their home. It is also where they form haruspices: humans who agree to be augmented so that they can carry an AI with them. Haruspices stay separate from normal humans, and Orfea has no intention of getting involved with them. But that's before her former lover, the woman who betrayed her in the Armada, is assigned to her as one of her patients. And has been augmented in preparation for becoming a haruspex. Then multiple haruspices kill themselves. This short novella is full of things that I normally love: tons of crunchy world-building, non-traditional relationships, a solidly non-western setting, and an opportunity for some great set pieces. And yet, I couldn't get into it or bring myself to invest in the story, and I'm still trying to figure out why. It took me more than a week to get through less than 90 pages, and then I had to re-read the ending to remind me of the details. I think the primary problem was that I read books primarily for the characters, and I couldn't find a path to an emotional connection with any of these. I liked Orfea's icy reserve and tight control in the abstract, but she doesn't want to explain what she's thinking or what motivates her, and the narration doesn't force the matter. Krissana is a bit more accessible, but she's not the one driving the story. It doesn't help that And Shall Machines Surrender starts in medias res, with a hinted-at backstory in the Armada of Amaryllis, and then never fills in the details. I felt like I was scrabbling on a wall of ice, trying to find some purchase as a reader. The relationships made this worse. Orfea is a sexual sadist who likes power games, and the story dives into her relationship with Krissana with a speed that left me uninterested and uninvested. I don't mind BDSM in story relationships, but it requires some foundation: trust, mental space, motivations, effects on the other character, something. Preferably, at least for me, all romantic relationships in fiction get some foundation, but the author can get away with some amount of shorthand if the relationship follows cliched patterns. The good news is that the relationships in this book are anything but cliched; the bad news is that the characters were in the middle of sex while I was still trying to figure out what they thought about each other (and the sex scenes were not elucidating). Here too, I needed some sort of emotional entry point that Sriduangkaew didn't provide. The plot was okay, but sort of disappointing. There are some interesting AI politics and philosophical disagreements crammed into not many words, and I do still want to know more, but a few of the plot twists were boringly straightforward and too many words were spent on fight scenes that verged on torture descriptions. This is a rather gory book with a lot of (not permanent) maiming that I could have done without, mostly because it wasn't that interesting. I also was disappointed by the somewhat gratuitous use of a Dyson sphere, mostly because I was hoping for some set pieces that used it and they never came. Dyson spheres are tempting to use because the visual and concept is so impressive, but it's rare to find an author who understands how mindbogglingly huge the structure is and is able to convey that in the story. Sriduangkaew does not; while there are some lovely small-scale descriptions of specific locations, the story has an oddly claustrophobic feel that never convinced me it was set somewhere as large as a planet, let alone the artifact described at the start of the story. You could have moved the whole story to a space station and nothing would have changed. The only purpose to which that space is put, at least in this installment of the story, is as an excuse to have an unpopulated hidden arena for a fight scene. The world-building is great, what there is of it. Despite not warming to this story, I kind of want to read more of the series just to get more of the setting. It feels like a politically complicated future with a lot of factions and corners and a realistic idea of bureaucracy and spheres of government, which is rarer than I would like it to be. And I loved that the cultural basis for the setting is neither western nor Japanese in both large and small ways. There is a United States analogue in the political background, but they're both assholes and not particularly important, which is a refreshing change in English-language SF. (And I am pondering whether my inability to connect with the characters is because they're not trying to be familiar to a western lens, which is another argument for trying the second installment and seeing if I adapt with more narrative exposure.) Overall, I have mixed feelings. Neither the plot nor the characters worked for me, and I found a few other choices (such as the third-person present tense) grating. The setting has huge potential and satisfying complexity, but wasn't used as vividly or as deeply as I was hoping. I can't recommend it, but I feel like there's something here that may be worth investing some more time into. Followed by Now Will Machines Hollow the Beast. Rating: 6 out of 10

8 August 2022

Ian Jackson: dkim-rotate - rotation and revocation of DKIM signing keys

Background Internet email is becoming more reliant on DKIM, a scheme for having mail servers cryptographically sign emails. The Big Email providers have started silently spambinning messages that lack either DKIM signatures, or SPF. DKIM is arguably less broken than SPF, so I wanted to deploy it. But it has a problem: if done in a naive way, it makes all your emails non-repudiable, forever. This is not really a desirable property - at least, not desirable for you, although it can be nice for someone who (for example) gets hold of leaked messages obtained by hacking mailboxes. This problem was described at some length in Matthew Green s article Ok Google: please publish your DKIM secret keys. Following links from that article does get you to a short script to achieve key rotation but it had a number of problems, and wasn t useable in my context. dkim-rotate So I have written my own software for rotating and revoking DKIM keys: dkim-rotate. I think it is a good solution to this problem, and it ought to be deployable in many contexts (and readily adaptable to those it doesn t already support). Here s the feature list taken from the README: Complications It seems like it should be a simple problem. Keep N keys, and every day (or whatever), generate and start using a new key, and deliberately leak the oldest private key. But, things are more complicated than that. Considerably more complicated, as it turns out. I didn t want the DKIM key rotation software to have to edit the actual DNS zones for each relevant mail domain. That would tightly entangle the mail server administration with the DNS administration, and there are many contexts (including many of mine) where these roles are separated. The solution is to use DNS aliases (CNAME). But, now we need a fixed, relatively small, set of CNAME records for each mail domain. That means a fixed, relatively small set of key identifiers ( selectors in DKIM terminology), which must be used in rotation. We don t want the private keys to be published via the DNS because that makes an ever-growing DNS zone, which isn t great for performance; and, because we want to place barriers in the way of processes which might enumerate the set of keys we use (and the set of keys we have leaked) and keep records of what status each key had when. So we need a separate publication channel - for which a webserver was the obvious answer. We want the private keys to be readily noticeable and findable by someone who is verifying an alleged leaked email dump, but to be hard to enumerate. (One part of the strategy for this is to leave a note about it, with the prospective private key url, in the email headers.) The key rotation operations are more complicated than first appears, too. The short summary, above, neglects to consider the fact that DNS updates have a nonzero propagation time: if you change the DNS, not everyone on the Internet will experience the change immediately. So as well as a timeout for how long it might take an email to be delivered (ie, how long the DKIM signature remains valid), there is also a timeout for how long to wait after updating the DNS, before relying on everyone having got the memo. (This same timeout applies both before starting to sign emails with a new key, and before deliberately compromising a key which has been withdrawn and deadvertised.) Updating the DNS, and the MTA configuration, are fallible operations. So we need to cope with out-of-course situations, where a previous DNS or MTA update failed. In that case, we need to retry the failed update, and not proceed with key rotation. We mustn t start the timer for the key rotation until the update has been implemented. The rotation script will usually be run by cron, but it might be run by hand, and when it is run by hand it ought not to jump the gun and do anything too early (ie, before the relevant timeout has expired). cron jobs don t always run, and don t always run at precisely the right time. (And there s daylight saving time, to consider, too.) So overall, it s not sufficient to drive the system via cron and have it proceed by one unit of rotation on each run. And, hardest of all, I wanted to support post-deployment configuration changes, while continuing to keep the whole the system operational. Otherwise, you have to bake in all the timing parameters right at the beginning and can t change anything ever. So for example, I wanted to be able to change the email and DNS propagation delays, and even the number of selectors to use, without adversely affecting the delivery of already-sent emails, and without having to shut anything down. I think I have solved these problems. The resulting system is one which keeps track of the timing constraints, and the next event which might occur, on a per-key basis. It calculates on each run, which key(s) can be advanced to the next stage of their lifecycle, and performs the appropriate operations. The regular key update schedule is then an emergent property of the config parameters and cron job schedule. (I provide some example config.) Exim Integrating dkim-rotate itself with Exim was fairly easy. The lsearch lookup function can be used to fish information out of a suitable data file maintained by dkim-rotate. But a final awkwardness was getting Exim to make the right DKIM signatures, at the right time. When making a DKIM signature, one must choose a signing authority domain name: who should we claim to be? (This is the SDID in DKIM terms.) A mailserver that handles many different mail domains will be able to make good signatures on behalf of many of them. It seems to me that domain to be the mail domain in the From: header of the email. (The RFC doesn t seem to be clear on what is expected.) Exim doesn t seem to have anything builtin to do that. And, you only want to DKIM-sign emails that are originated locally or from trustworthy sources. You don t want to DKIM-sign messages that you received from the global Internet, and are sending out again (eg because of an email alias or mailing list). In theory if you verify DKIM on all incoming emails, you could avoid being fooled into signing bad emails, but rejecting all non-DKIM-verified email would be a very strong policy decision. Again, Exim doesn t seem to have cooked machinery. The resulting Exim configuration parameters run to 22 lines, and because they re parameters to an existing config item (the smtp transport) they can t even easily be deployed as a drop-in file via Debian s split config Exim configuration scheme. (I don t know if the file written for Exim s use by dkim-rotate would be suitable for other MTAs, but this part of dkim-rotate could easily be extended.) Conclusion I have today released dkim-rotate 0.4, which is the first public release for general use. I have it deployed and working, but it s new so there may well be bugs to work out. If you would like to try it out, you can get it via git from Debian Salsa. (Debian folks can also find it freshly in Debian unstable.)

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3 July 2022

Thorsten Alteholz: My Debian Activities in June 2022

FTP master This month I accepted 305 and rejected 59 packages. The overall number of packages that got accepted was 310. From time to time I am also looking at the list of packages to be removed. If you would like to make life easier for the people who remove packages, please make sure that the resulting dak command really makes sense. If this command consists of garbage, please adapt the Subject: of your bug report accordingly. Also it does not make sense to file bugs to remove packages from NEW. Please don t hesitate to close such bugs again Debian LTS This was my ninety-sixth month that I did some work for the Debian LTS initiative, started by Raphael Hertzog at Freexian. This month my all in all workload has been 30.25h. During that time I did LTS and normal security uploads of: I have to admit that I totally ignored the EOL of Stretch LTS, so my upload of ncurses needs to go to Stretch ELTS now. This month I also moved/refactored the current LTS documentation to a new repository and started to move the LTS Wiki as well. I also continued to work on security support for golang packages. Last but not least I did some days of frontdesk duties and took care of issues on security-master. At this point I also need to mention my first business trip . I drove the short distance between Chemnitz and Freiberg and met Anton to have a face to face talk about LTS/ELTS. It was a great pleasure and definitely more fun than a meeting on IRC. Debian ELTS This month was the forty-seventh ELTS month. During my allocated time I uploaded: Due to the delay of my ncurses upload to Stretch LTS, the ELTS upload got delayed as well. Now I will do both uploads to ELTS in July. Last but not least I did some days of frontdesk duties. Debian Printing This month I uploaded new upstream versions or improved packaging of: Debian Astro As there has been a new indi release arriving in Debian, I uploaded new upstream versions of most of the indi-3rdparty packages. Don t hesitate to tell me whether you really use one of them :-). Other stuff This month I uploaded new upstream versions or improved packaging of:

1 July 2022

Paul Wise: FLOSS Activities June 2022

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

Changes

Issues

Review
  • Spam: reported 5 Debian bug reports and 45 Debian mailing list posts
  • Debian wiki: RecentChanges for the month
  • Debian BTS usertags: changes for the month
  • Debian screenshots:

Administration
  • Debian wiki: unblock IP addresses, assist with account recovery, approve accounts

Communication

Sponsors The sptag work was sponsored. All other work was done on a volunteer basis.

29 June 2022

Aigars Mahinovs: Long travel in an electric car

Since the first week of April 2022 I have (finally!) changed my company car from a plug-in hybrid to a fully electic car. My new ride, for the next two years, is a BMW i4 M50 in Aventurine Red metallic. An ellegant car with very deep and memorable color, insanely powerful (544 hp/795 Nm), sub-4 second 0-100 km/h, large 84 kWh battery (80 kWh usable), charging up to 210 kW, top speed of 225 km/h and also very efficient (which came out best in this trip) with WLTP range of 510 km and EVDB real range of 435 km. The car also has performance tyres (Hankook Ventus S1 evo3 245/45R18 100Y XL in front and 255/45R18 103Y XL in rear all at recommended 2.5 bar) that have reduced efficiency. So I wanted to document and describe how was it for me to travel ~2000 km (one way) with this, electric, car from south of Germany to north of Latvia. I have done this trip many times before since I live in Germany now and travel back to my relatives in Latvia 1-2 times per year. This was the first time I made this trip in an electric car. And as this trip includes both travelling in Germany (where BEV infrastructure is best in the world) and across Eastern/Northen Europe, I believe that this can be interesting to a few people out there. Normally when I travelled this trip with a gasoline/diesel car I would normally drive for two days with an intermediate stop somewhere around Warsaw with about 12 hours of travel time in each day. This would normally include a couple bathroom stops in each day, at least one longer lunch stop and 3-4 refueling stops on top of that. Normally this would use at least 6 liters of fuel per 100 km on average with total usage of about 270 liters for the whole trip (or about 540 just in fuel costs, nowadays). My (personal) quirk is that both fuel and recharging of my (business) car inside Germany is actually paid by my employer, so it is useful for me to charge up (or fill up) at the last station in Gemany before driving on. The plan for this trip was made in a similar way as when travelling with a gasoline car: travelling as fast as possible on German Autobahn network to last chargin stop on the A4 near G rlitz, there charging up as much as reasonable and then travelling to a hotel in Warsaw, charging there overnight and travelling north towards Ionity chargers in Lithuania from where reaching the final target in north of Latvia should be possible. How did this plan meet the reality? Travelling inside Germany with an electric car was basically perfect. The most efficient way would involve driving fast and hard with top speed of even 180 km/h (where possible due to speed limits and traffic). BMW i4 is very efficient at high speeds with consumption maxing out at 28 kWh/100km when you actually drive at this speed all the time. In real situation in this trip we saw consumption of 20.8-22.2 kWh/100km in the first legs of the trip. The more traffic there is, the more speed limits and roadworks, the lower is the average speed and also the lower the consumption. With this kind of consumption we could comfortably drive 2 hours as fast as we could and then pick any fast charger along the route and in 26 minutes at a charger (50 kWh charged total) we'd be ready to drive for another 2 hours. This lines up very well with recommended rest stops for biological reasons (bathroom, water or coffee, a bit of movement to get blood circulating) and very close to what I had to do anyway with a gasoline car. With a gasoline car I had to refuel first, then park, then go to bathroom and so on. With an electric car I can do all of that while the car is charging and in the end the total time for a stop is very similar. Also not that there was a crazy heat wave going on and temperature outside was at about 34C minimum the whole day and hitting 40C at one point of the trip, so a lot of power was used for cooling. The car has a heat pump standard, but it still was working hard to keep us cool in the sun. The car was able to plan a charging route with all the charging stops required and had all the good options (like multiple intermediate stops) that many other cars (hi Tesla) and mobile apps (hi Google and Apple) do not have yet. There are a couple bugs with charging route and display of current route guidance, those are already fixed and will be delivered with over the air update with July 2022 update. Another good alterantive is the ABRP (A Better Route Planner) that was specifically designed for electric car routing along the best route for charging. Most phone apps (like Google Maps) have no idea about your specific electric car - it has no idea about the battery capacity, charging curve and is missing key live data as well - what is the current consumption and remaining energy in the battery. ABRP is different - it has data and profiles for almost all electric cars and can also be linked to live vehicle data, either via a OBD dongle or via a new Tronity cloud service. Tronity reads data from vehicle-specific cloud service, such as MyBMW service, saves it, tracks history and also re-transmits it to ABRP for live navigation planning. ABRP allows for options and settings that no car or app offers, for example, saying that you want to stop at a particular place for an hour or until battery is charged to 90%, or saying that you have specific charging cards and would only want to stop at chargers that support those. Both the car and the ABRP also support alternate routes even with multiple intermediate stops. In comparison, route planning by Google Maps or Apple Maps or Waze or even Tesla does not really come close. After charging up in the last German fast charger, a more interesting part of the trip started. In Poland the density of high performance chargers (HPC) is much lower than in Germany. There are many chargers (west of Warsaw), but vast majority of them are (relatively) slow 50kW chargers. And that is a difference between putting 50kWh into the car in 23-26 minutes or in 60 minutes. It does not seem too much, but the key bit here is that for 20 minutes there is easy to find stuff that should be done anyway, but after that you are done and you are just waiting for the car and if that takes 4 more minutes or 40 more minutes is a big, perceptual, difference. So using HPC is much, much preferable. So we put in the Ionity charger near Lodz as our intermediate target and the car suggested an intermediate stop at a Greenway charger by Katy Wroclawskie. The location is a bit weird - it has 4 charging stations with 150 kW each. The weird bits are that each station has two CCS connectors, but only one parking place (and the connectors share power, so if two cars were to connect, each would get half power). Also from the front of the location one can only see two stations, the otehr two are semi-hidden around a corner. We actually missed them on the way to Latvia and one person actually waited for the charger behind us for about 10 minutes. We only discovered the other two stations on the way back. With slower speeds in Poland the consumption goes down to 18 kWh/100km which translates to now up to 3 hours driving between stops. At the end of the first day we drove istarting from Ulm from 9:30 in the morning until about 23:00 in the evening with total distance of about 1100 km, 5 charging stops, starting with 92% battery, charging for 26 min (50 kWh), 33 min (57 kWh + lunch), 17 min (23 kWh), 12 min (17 kWh) and 13 min (37 kW). In the last two chargers you can see the difference between a good and fast 150 kW charger at high battery charge level and a really fast Ionity charger at low battery charge level, which makes charging faster still. Arriving to hotel with 23% of battery. Overnight the car charged from a Porsche Destination Charger to 87% (57 kWh). That was a bit less than I would expect from a full power 11kW charger, but good enough. Hotels should really install 11kW Type2 chargers for their guests, it is a really significant bonus that drives more clients to you. The road between Warsaw and Kaunas is the most difficult part of the trip for both driving itself and also for charging. For driving the problem is that there will be a new highway going from Warsaw to Lithuanian border, but it is actually not fully ready yet. So parts of the way one drives on the new, great and wide highway and parts of the way one drives on temporary roads or on old single lane undivided roads. And the most annoying part is navigating between parts as signs are not always clear and the maps are either too old or too new. Some maps do not have the new roads and others have on the roads that have not been actually build or opened to traffic yet. It's really easy to loose ones way and take a significant detour. As far as charging goes, basically there is only the slow 50 kW chargers between Warsaw and Kaunas (for now). We chose to charge on the last charger in Poland, by Suwalki Kaufland. That was not a good idea - there is only one 50 kW CCS and many people decide the same, so there can be a wait. We had to wait 17 minutes before we could charge for 30 more minutes just to get 18 kWh into the battery. Not the best use of time. On the way back we chose a different charger in Lomza where would have a relaxed dinner while the car was charging. That was far more relaxing and a better use of time. We also tried charging at an Orlen charger that was not recommended by our car and we found out why. Unlike all other chargers during our entire trip, this charger did not accept our universal BMW Charging RFID card. Instead it demanded that we download their own Orlen app and register there. The app is only available in some countries (and not in others) and on iPhone it is only available in Polish. That is a bad exception to the rule and a bad example. This is also how most charging works in USA. Here in Europe that is not normal. The normal is to use a charging card - either provided from the car maker or from another supplier (like PlugSufring or Maingau Energy). The providers then make roaming arrangements with all the charging networks, so the cards just work everywhere. In the end the user gets the prices and the bills from their card provider as a single monthly bill. This also saves all any credit card charges for the user. Having a clear, separate RFID card also means that one can easily choose how to pay for each charging session. For example, I have a corporate RFID card that my company pays for (for charging in Germany) and a private BMW Charging card that I am paying myself for (for charging abroad). Having the car itself authenticate direct with the charger (like Tesla does) removes the option to choose how to pay. Having each charge network have to use their own app or token bring too much chaos and takes too much setup. The optimum is having one card that works everywhere and having the option to have additional card or cards for specific purposes. Reaching Ionity chargers in Lithuania is again a breath of fresh air - 20-24 minutes to charge 50 kWh is as expected. One can charge on the first Ionity just enough to reach the next one and then on the second charger one can charge up enough to either reach the Ionity charger in Adazi or the final target in Latvia. There is a huge number of CSDD (Road Traffic and Safety Directorate) managed chargers all over Latvia, but they are 50 kW chargers. Good enough for local travel, but not great for long distance trips. BMW i4 charges at over 50 kW on a HPC even at over 90% battery state of charge (SoC). This means that it is always faster to charge up in a HPC than in a 50 kW charger, if that is at all possible. We also tested the CSDD chargers - they worked without any issues. One could pay with the BMW Charging RFID card, one could use the CSDD e-mobi app or token and one could also use Mobilly - an app that you can use in Latvia for everything from parking to public transport tickets or museums or car washes. We managed to reach our final destination near Aluksne with 17% range remaining after just 3 charging stops: 17+30 min (18 kWh), 24 min (48 kWh), 28 min (36 kWh). Last stop we charged to 90% which took a few extra minutes that would have been optimal. For travel around in Latvia we were charging at our target farmhouse from a normal 3 kW Schuko EU socket. That is very slow. We charged for 33 hours and went from 17% to 94%, so not really full. That was perfectly fine for our purposes. We easily reached Riga, drove to the sea and then back to Aluksne with 8% still in reserve and started charging again for the next trip. If it were required to drive around more and charge faster, we could have used the normal 3-phase 440V connection in the farmhouse to have a red CEE 16A plug installed (same as people use for welders). BMW i4 comes standard with a new BMW Flexible Fast Charger that has changable socket adapters. It comes by default with a Schucko connector in Europe, but for 90 one can buy an adapter for blue CEE plug (3.7 kW) or red CEE 16A or 32A plugs (11 kW). Some public charging stations in France actually use the blue CEE plugs instead of more common Type2 electric car charging stations. The CEE plugs are also common in camping parking places. On the way back the long distance BEV travel was already well understood and did not cause us any problem. From our destination we could easily reach the first Ionity in Lithuania, on the Panevezhis bypass road where in just 8 minutes we got 19 kWh and were ready to drive on to Kaunas, there a longer 32 minute stop before the charging desert of Suwalki Gap that gave us 52 kWh to 90%. That brought us to a shopping mall in Lomzha where we had some food and charged up 39 kWh in lazy 50 minutes. That was enough to bring us to our return hotel for the night - Hotel 500W in Strykow by Lodz that has a 50kW charger on site, while we were having late dinner and preparing for sleep, the car easily recharged to full (71 kWh in 95 minutes), so I just moved it from charger to a parking spot just before going to sleep. Really easy and well flowing day. Second day back went even better as we just needed an 18 minute stop at the same Katy Wroclawskie charger as before to get 22 kWh and that was enough to get back to Germany. After that we were again flying on the Autobahn and charging as needed, 15 min (31 kWh), 23 min (48 kWh) and 31 min (54 kWh + food). We started the day on about 9:40 and were home at 21:40 after driving just over 1000 km on that day. So less than 12 hours for 1000 km travelled, including all charging, bio stops, food and some traffic jams as well. Not bad. Now let's take a look at all the apps and data connections that a technically minded customer can have for their car. Architecturally the car is a network of computers by itself, but it is very secured and normally people do not have any direct access. However, once you log in into the car with your BMW account the car gets your profile info and preferences (seat settings, navigation favorites, ...) and the car then also can start sending information to the BMW backend about its status. This information is then available to the user over multiple different channels. There is no separate channel for each of those data flow. The data only goes once to the backend and then all other communication of apps happens with the backend. First of all the MyBMW app. This is the go-to for everything about the car - seeing its current status and location (when not driving), sending commands to the car (lock, unlock, flash lights, pre-condition, ...) and also monitor and control charging processes. You can also plan a route or destination in the app in advance and then just send it over to the car so it already knows where to drive to when you get to the car. This can also integrate with calendar entries, if you have locations for appointments, for example. This also shows full charging history and allows a very easy export of that data, here I exported all charging sessions from June and then trimmed it back to only sessions relevant to the trip and cut off some design elements to have the data more visible. So one can very easily see when and where we were charging, how much power we got at each spot and (if you set prices for locations) can even show costs. I've already mentioned the Tronity service and its ABRP integration, but it also saves the information that it gets from the car and gathers that data over time. It has nice aspects, like showing the driven routes on a map, having ways to do business trip accounting and having good calendar view. Sadly it does not correctly capture the data for charging sessions (the amounts are incorrect). Update: after talking to Tronity support, it looks like the bug was in the incorrect value for the usable battery capacity for my car. They will look into getting th eright values there by default, but as a workaround one can edit their car in their system (after at least one charging session) and directly set the expected battery capacity (usable) in the car properties on the Tronity web portal settings. One other fun way to see data from your BMW is using the BMW integration in Home Assistant. This brings the car as a device in your own smart home. You can read all the variables from the car current status (and Home Asisstant makes cute historical charts) and you can even see interesting trends, for example for remaining range shows much higher value in Latvia as its prediction is adapted to Latvian road speeds and during the trip it adapts to Polish and then to German road speeds and thus to higher consumption and thus lower maximum predicted remaining range. Having the car attached to the Home Assistant also allows you to attach the car to automations, both as data and event source (like detecting when car enters the "Home" zone) and also as target, so you could flash car lights or even unlock or lock it when certain conditions are met. So, what in the end was the most important thing - cost of the trip? In total we charged up 863 kWh, so that would normally cost one about 290 , which is close to half what this trip would have costed with a gasoline car. Out of that 279 kWh in Germany (paid by my employer) and 154 kWh in the farmhouse (paid by our wonderful relatives :D) so in the end the charging that I actually need to pay adds up to 430 kWh or about 150 . Typically, it took about 400 in fuel that I had to pay to get to Latvia and back. The difference is really nice! In the end I believe that there are three different ways of charging:
  • incidental charging - this is wast majority of charging in the normal day-to-day life. The car gets charged when and where it is convinient to do so along the way. If we go to a movie or a shop and there is a chance to leave the car at a charger, then it can charge up. Works really well, does not take extra time for charging from us.
  • fast charging - charging up at a HPC during optimal charging conditions - from relatively low level to no more than 70-80% while you are still doing all the normal things one would do in a quick stop in a long travel process: bio things, cleaning the windscreen, getting a coffee or a snack.
  • necessary charging - charging from a whatever charger is available just enough to be able to reach the next destination or the next fast charger.
The last category is the only one that is really annoying and should be avoided at all costs. Even by shifting your plans so that you find something else useful to do while necessary charging is happening and thus, at least partially, shifting it over to incidental charging category. Then you are no longer just waiting for the car, you are doing something else and the car magically is charged up again. And when one does that, then travelling with an electric car becomes no more annoying than travelling with a gasoline car. Having more breaks in a trip is a good thing and makes the trips actually easier and less stressfull - I was more relaxed during and after this trip than during previous trips. Having the car air conditioning always be on, even when stopped, was a godsend in the insane heat wave of 30C-38C that we were driving trough. Final stats: 4425 km driven in the trip. Average consumption: 18.7 kWh/100km. Time driving: 2 days and 3 hours. Car regened 152 kWh. Charging stations recharged 863 kWh. Questions? You can use this i4talk forum thread or this Twitter thread to ask them to me.

10 June 2022

Thomas Koch: lsp-java coming to debian

Posted on March 12, 2022
Tags: debian
The Language Server Protocol (LSP) standardizes communication between editors and so called language servers for different programming languages. This reduces the old problem that every editor had to implement many different plugins for all different programming languages. With LSP an editor just needs to talk LSP and can immediately provide typicall IDE features. I already packaged the Emacs packages lsp-mode and lsp-haskell for Debian bullseye. Now lsp-java is waiting in the NEW queue. I m always worried about downloading and executing binaries from random places of the internet. It should be a matter of hygiene to only run binaries from official Debian repositories. Unfortunately this is not feasible when programming and many people don t see a problem with running multiple curl-sh pipes to set up their programming environment. I prefer to do such stuff only in virtual machines. With Emacs and LSP I can finally have a lightweight textmode programming environment even for Java. Unfortunately the lsp-java mode does not yet work over tramp. Once this is solved, I could run emacs on my host and only isolate the code and language server inside the VM. The next step would be to also keep the code on the host and mount it with Virtio FS in the VM. But so far the necessary daemon is not yet in Debian (RFP: #1007152). In Detail I uploaded these packages:

6 June 2022

Thorsten Alteholz: My Debian Activities in May 2022

FTP master This month I accepted 288 and rejected 45 packages. The overall number of packages that got accepted was 290. Debian LTS This was my ninety-fifth month that I did some work for the Debian LTS initiative, started by Raphael Hertzog at Freexian. This month my all in all workload has been 40h. During that time I did LTS and normal security uploads of: Further I continued working on libvirt and started to work on blender and ncurses. I also continued to work on security support for golang packages. Last but not least I did some days of frontdesk duties and took care of issues on security-master. Debian ELTS This month was the forty-seventh ELTS month. During my allocated time I uploaded: I also moved/refactored the current ELTS documentation to a new repository. Further I started to work on blender and ncurses in ELTS as well as in LTS. Last but not least I did some days of frontdesk duties. Debian Printing This month I uploaded new upstream versions or improved packaging of: The reason for the new upstream version of ipp-usb was a strange bug. Some HP printers claim to have fax support but fail to respond to corresponding IPP queries. I understand that nowadays sending a fax is no longer a main theme for quality assurance. But if one tries to advertise as much features as possible, all these features should basically work and not prevent the things a printer should normally do. The reason for the new upstream version of cups was a security issue. You now should have the latest version of cups installed (there have been updates in other Debian releases as well). Debian Astro This month I uploaded new upstream versions or improved packaging of: Other stuff This month I uploaded new packages:

3 May 2022

Gunnar Wolf: Using a RPi as a display adapter

Almost ten months ago, I mentioned on this blog I bought an ARM laptop, which is now my main machine while away from home a Lenovo Yoga C630 13Q50. Yes, yes, I am still not as much away from home as I used to before, as this pandemic is still somewhat of a thing, but I do move more. My main activity in the outside world with my laptop is teaching. I teach twice a week, and well, having a display for my slides and for showing examples in the terminal and such is a must. However, as I said back in August, one of the hardware support issues for this machine is:
No HDMI support via the USB-C displayport. While I don t expect
to go to conferences or even classes in the next several months,
I hope this can be fixed before I do. It s a potential important
issue for me.
It has sadly not yet been solved While many things have improved since kernel 5.12 (the first I used), the Device Tree does not yet hint at where external video might sit. So, I went to the obvious: Many people carry different kinds of video adaptors I carry a slightly bulky one: A RPi3 For two months already (time flies!), I had an ugly contraption where the RPi3 connected via Ethernet and displayed a VNC client, and my laptop had a VNC server. Oh, but did I mention My laptop works so much better with Wayland than with Xorg that I switched, and am now a happy user of the Sway compositor (a drop-in replacement for the i3 window manager). It is built over WLRoots, which is a great and (relatively) simple project, but will thankfully not carry some of Gnome or KDE s ideas not even those I d rather have. So it took a bit of searching; I was very happy to find WayVNC, a VNC server for wlroot-sbased Wayland compositors. I launched a second Wayland, to be able to have my main session undisturbed and present only a window from it. Only that VNC is slow and laggy, and sometimes awkward. So I kept searching for something better. And something better is, happily, what I was finally able to do! In the laptop, I am using wf-recorder to grab an area of the screen and funnel it into a V4L2 loopback device (which allows it to be used as a camera, solving the main issue with grabbing parts of a Wayland screen):
/usr/bin/wf-recorder -g '0,32 960x540' -t --muxer=v4l2 --codec=rawvideo --pixelformat=yuv420p --file=/dev/video10
(yes, my V4L2Loopback device is set to /dev/video10). You will note I m grabbing a 960 540 rectangle, which is the top of my screen (1920x1080) minus the Waybar. I think I ll increase it to 960 720, as the projector to which I connect the Raspberry has a 4 3 output. After this is sent to /dev/video10, I tell ffmpeg to send it via RTP to the fixed address of the Raspberry:
/usr/bin/ffmpeg -i /dev/video10 -an -f rtp -sdp_file /tmp/video.sdp rtp://10.0.0.100:7000/
Yes, some uglier things happen here. You will note /tmp/video.sdp is created in the laptop itself; this file describes the stream s metadata so it can be used from the client side. I cheated and copied it over to the Raspberry, doing an ugly hardcode along the way:
user@raspi:~ $ cat video.sdp
v=0
o=- 0 0 IN IP4 127.0.0.1
s=No Name
c=IN IP4 10.0.0.100
t=0 0
a=tool:libavformat 58.76.100
m=video 7000 RTP/AVP 96
b=AS:200
a=rtpmap:96 MP4V-ES/90000
a=fmtp:96 profile-level-id=1
People familiar with RTP will scold me: How come I m streaming to the unicast client address? I should do it to an address in the 224.0.0.0 239.0.0.0 range. And it worked, sometimes. I switched over to 10.0.0.100 because it works, basically always Finally, upon bootup, I have configured NoDM to start a session with the user user, and dropped the following in my user s .xsession:
setterm -blank 0 -powersave off -powerdown 0
xset s off
xset -dpms
xset s noblank
mplayer -msglevel all=1 -fs /home/usuario/video.sdp
Anyway, as a result, my students are able to much better follow the pace of my presentation, and I m able to do some tricks better (particularly when it requires quick reaction times, as often happens when dealing with concurrency and such issues). Oh, and of course in case it s of interest to anybody, knowing that SD cards are all but reliable in the long run, I wrote a vmdb2 recipe to build the images. You can grab it here; it requires some local files to be present to be built some are the ones I copied over above, and the other ones are surely of no interest to you (such as my public ssh key or such :-] ) What am I still missing? (read: Can you help me with some ideas? ) Of course, this is a blog post published to brag about my stuff, but also to serve me as persistent memory in case I need to recreate this

1 May 2022

Paul Wise: FLOSS Activities April 2022

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

Changes

Issues

Review
  • Spam: reported 33 Debian mailing list posts
  • Debian wiki: RecentChanges for the month
  • Debian BTS usertags: changes for the month
  • Debian screenshots:

Administration
  • Debian wiki: unblock IP addresses, approve accounts

Communication

Sponsors The libpst, gensim, SPTAG work was sponsored. All other work was done on a volunteer basis.

22 April 2022

Andrej Shadura: To England by train (part 1)

This post was written in August 2021. Just as I was going to publish it, I received an email from BB stating that due to a railway strike in Germany my night train would be cancelled. Since the rest of the trip has already been booked well in advance, I had to take a plane to Charleroi and a bus to Brussels to catch my Eurostar. Ultimately, I ended up publishing it in April 2022, just as I m about to leave for a fully train-powered trip to the UK once again. Before the pandemic started, I planned to use the last months of my then-expiring UK visa and go to England by train. I ve completed two train long journeys by that time already, to Brussels and to Belarus and Ukraine, but this would be something quite different, as I wanted to have multiple stops on my way, use night trains where it made sense, and to go through the Channel Tunnel. The Channel Tunnel fascinated me since my childhood; I first read about it in the Soviet Science and Life magazine ( ) when I was seven. I ve never had the chance to use it though, since to board any train going though it I d first need to get to France, Belgium or the Netherlands, making it significantly more expensive than the cheap 30 Ryanair flights to Stansted. As the coronavirus spread across the world, all of my travel plans along with plans for a sabbatical had to be cancelled. During 2020, I only managed to go on two weekend trips to Prague and Budapest, followed by a two-weeks holiday on Crete (we returned just a couple of weeks before the infection numbers rose and lockdowns started). I do realise that a lot of people couldn t even have this much because the situation in their countries was much worse we were lucky to have had at least some travel. Fast forward to August 2021, I m fully vaccinated, I once again have a UK visa for five years, and the UK finally recognises the EU vaccination passports yay! I can finally go to Devon to see my mother and sister again. By train, of course. Compared to my original plan, this journey will be different: about the same or even more expensive than I originally planned, but shorter and with fewer stops on the way. My original plan would be to take multiple trains from Bratislava to France or Belgium and complete this segment of the trip in about three days, enjoying my stay in a couple of cities on the way. Instead, I m taking a direct NightJet from Vienna to Brussels, not stopping anywhere on the way.
Map: train route from Bratislava to BrusselsTrain route from Bratislava to Brussels
Since I was booking my trip just two weeks ahead, the price of the ticket is not that I hoped for, but much higher: 109 for the ticket itself and 60 for the berth (advance bookings could be about twice as cheap). Next, to London! Eurostar is still on a very much reduced schedule, running one train only from Amsterdam through Brussels and Lille to London each day. This means, of course, higher ticket prices (I paid about 100 for the ticket) and longer waiting time in Brussels my sleeper arrives about 10 am, but the Eurostar train is scheduled to depart at 3 pm.
Map: train route from Brussels to LondonTrain route from Brussels to London
The train makes a stop in Lille, which I initially suspected to be risky as at the time when I booked my tickets, as at the time France was on the amber plus list for the UK, requiring a quarantine upon arrival. However, Eurostar announced that they will assign travellers from Lille to a different carriage to avoid other passengers having to go to quarantine, but recently France was taken off the amber plus list. The train fare system in the UK is something I don t quite understand, as sometimes split tickets are cheaper, sometimes they re expensive, sometimes prices for the same service at different times can be vastly different, off-peak tickets don t say what exactly off-peak means (very few people in the UK are asked were able to tell me when exactly off-peak hours are). Curiously, transfers between train stations using London Underground services can be included into railway tickets, but some last mile connection like Exeter to Honiton cannot (but this used to be possible). Both GWR.com and TrainLine refused to sell me a single ticket from London to Honiton through Exeter, insisting I split the ticket at Exeter St Davids or take the slower South Western train to Honiton via Salisbury and Yeovil. I ended up buying a 57 ticket from Paddington to Exeter St Davids with the first segment being the London Underground from St Pancras, and a separate 7.70 ticket to Honiton.
Map: arrival at St Pancras, the underground, departure from PaddingtonChange of trains in London
Map: arrival at Exeter St Davids, change to a South Western train, arrival at HonitonChange of trains in Exeter
Date Station Arrival Departure Train
12.8 Bratislava-Petr alka 18:15 REX 7756
Wien Hbf 19:15 19:53 NJ 50490
13.8 Bruxelles-Midi 9:55 15:06 EST 9145
London St Pancras 16:03 16:34 TfL
London Paddington 16:49 17:04 GWR 59231
Exeter St Davids 19:19 19:25 SWR 52706
Honiton 19:54
Unfortunately, due to the price of the tickets, I m taking a 15 Ryanair flight back Update after the journey Since I flew to Charleroi instead of comfortably sleeping in a night train, I had to put up with inconveniences of airports, including cumbersome connections to the nearby cities. The only reasonable way of getting from Charleroi to Brussels is an overcrowded bus which takes almost an hour to arrive. I used to take this bus when I tried to save money on my way to FOSDEM, and I must admit it s not something I missed. Boarding the Eurostar train went fine, my vaccination passport and Covid test wasn t really checked, just glanced at. The waiting room was a bit of a disappointment, with bars closed and vending machines broken. Since it was underground, I couldn t even see the trains until the very last moment when we were finally allowed on the platform. The train itself, while comfortable, disappointed me with the bistro carriage: standing only, instant coffee, poor selection of food and drinks. I m glad I bought some food at Carrefour at the Midi station! When I arrived in Exeter, I soon found out why the system refused to sell me a through ticket: 6 minutes is not enough to change trains at Exeter St Davids! Or, it might have been if I took the right footbridge but I took the one which led into a very talkative (and slow!) lift. I ended up running to the train just as it closed the doors and departed, leaving me tin Exeter for an hour until. I used this chance and walked to Exeter Central, and had a pint in a conveniently located pub around the corner. P.S. The maps in this and other posts were created using uMap; the map data come from OpenStreetMap. The train route visualisation was generated with help of the Raildar.fr OSRM instance.

19 April 2022

Steve McIntyre: Firmware - what are we going to do about it?

TL;DR: firmware support in Debian sucks, and we need to change this. See the "My preference, and rationale" Section below. In my opinion, the way we deal with (non-free) firmware in Debian is a mess, and this is hurting many of our users daily. For a long time we've been pretending that supporting and including (non-free) firmware on Debian systems is not necessary. We don't want to have to provide (non-free) firmware to our users, and in an ideal world we wouldn't need to. However, it's very clearly no longer a sensible path when trying to support lots of common current hardware. Background - why has (non-free) firmware become an issue? Firmware is the low-level software that's designed to make hardware devices work. Firmware is tightly coupled to the hardware, exposing its features, providing higher-level functionality and interfaces for other software to use. For a variety of reasons, it's typically not Free Software. For Debian's purposes, we typically separate firmware from software by considering where the code executes (does it run on a separate processor? Is it visible to the host OS?) but it can be difficult to define a single reliable dividing line here. Consider the Intel/AMD CPU microcode packages, or the U-Boot firmware packages as examples. In times past, all necessary firmware would normally be included directly in devices / expansion cards by their vendors. Over time, however, it has become more and more attractive (and therefore more common) for device manufacturers to not include complete firmware on all devices. Instead, some devices just embed a very simple set of firmware that allows for upload of a more complete firmware "blob" into memory. Device drivers are then expected to provide that blob during device initialisation. There are a couple of key drivers for this change: Due to these reasons, more and more devices in a typical computer now need firmware to be uploaded at runtime for them to function correctly. This has grown: At the beginning of this timeline, a typical Debian user would be able to use almost all of their computer's hardware without needing any firmware blobs. It might have been inconvenient to not be able to use the WiFi, but most laptops had wired ethernet anyway. The WiFi could always be enabled and configured after installation. Today, a user with a new laptop from most vendors will struggle to use it at all with our firmware-free Debian installation media. Modern laptops normally don't come with wired ethernet now. There won't be any usable graphics on the laptop's screen. A visually-impaired user won't get any audio prompts. These experiences are not acceptable, by any measure. There are new computers still available for purchase today which don't need firmware to be uploaded, but they are growing less and less common. Current state of firmware in Debian For clarity: obviously not all devices need extra firmware uploading like this. There are many devices that depend on firmware for operation, but we never have to think about them in normal circumstances. The code is not likely to be Free Software, but it's not something that we in Debian must spend our time on as we're not distributing that code ourselves. Our problems come when our user needs extra firmware to make their computer work, and they need/expect us to provide it. We have a small set of Free firmware binaries included in Debian main, and these are included on our installation and live media. This is great - we all love Free Software and this works. However, there are many more firmware binaries that are not Free. If we are legally able to redistribute those binaries, we package them up and include them in the non-free section of the archive. As Free Software developers, we don't like providing or supporting non-free software for our users, but we acknowledge that it's sometimes a necessary thing for them. This tension is acknowledged in the Debian Free Software Guidelines. This tension extends to our installation and live media. As non-free is officially not considered part of Debian, our official media cannot include anything from non-free. This has been a deliberate policy for many years. Instead, we have for some time been building a limited parallel set of "unofficial non-free" images which include non-free firmware. These non-free images are produced by the same software that we use for the official images, and by the same team. There are a number of issues here that make developers and users unhappy:
  1. Building, testing and publishing two sets of images takes more effort.
  2. We don't really want to be providing non-free images at all, from a philosophy point of view. So we mainly promote and advertise the preferred official free images. That can be a cause of confusion for users. We do link to the non-free images in various places, but they're not so easy to find.
  3. Using non-free installation media will cause more installations to use non-free software by default. That's not a great story for us, and we may end up with more of our users using non-free software and believing that it's all part of Debian.
  4. A number of users and developers complain that we're wasting their time by publishing official images that are just not useful for a lot (a majority?) of users.
We should do better than this. Options The status quo is a mess, and I believe we can and should do things differently. I see several possible options that the images team can choose from here. However, several of these options could undermine the principles of Debian. We don't want to make fundamental changes like that without the clear backing of the wider project. That's why I'm writing this...
  1. Keep the existing setup. It's horrible, but maybe it's the best we can do? (I hope not!)
  2. We could just stop providing the non-free unofficial images altogether. That's not really a promising route to follow - we'd be making it even harder for users to install our software. While ideologically pure, it's not going to advance the cause of Free Software.
  3. We could stop pretending that the non-free images are unofficial, and maybe move them alongside the normal free images so they're published together. This would make them easier to find for people that need them, but is likely to cause users to question why we still make any images without firmware if they're otherwise identical.
  4. The images team technically could simply include non-free into the official images, and add firmware packages to the input lists for those images. However, that would still leave us with problem 3 from above (non-free generally enabled on most installations).
  5. We could split out the non-free firmware packages into a new non-free-firmware component in the archive, and allow a specific exception only to allow inclusion of those packages on our official media. We would then generate only one set of official media, including those non-free firmware packages. (We've already seen various suggestions in recent years to split up the non-free component of the archive like this, for example into non-free-firmware, non-free-doc, non-free-drivers, etc. Disagreement (bike-shedding?) about the split caused us to not make any progress on this. I believe this project should be picked up and completed. We don't have to make a perfect solution here immediately, just something that works well enough for our needs today. We can always tweak and improve the setup incrementally if that's needed.)
These are the most likely possible options, in my opinion. If you have a better suggestion, please let us know! I'd like to take this set of options to a GR, and do it soon. I want to get a clear decision from the wider Debian project as to how to organise firmware and installation images. If we do end up changing how we do things, I want a clear mandate from the project to do that. My preference, and rationale Mainly, I want to see how the project as a whole feels here - this is a big issue that we're overdue solving. What would I choose to do? My personal preference would be to go with option 5: split the non-free firmware into a special new component and include that on official media. Does that make me a sellout? I don't think so. I've been passionately supporting and developing Free Software for more than half my life. My philosophy here has not changed. However, this is a complex and nuanced situation. I firmly believe that sharing software freedom with our users comes with a responsibility to also make our software useful. If users can't easily install and use Debian, that helps nobody. By splitting things out here, we would enable users to install and use Debian on their hardware, without promoting/pushing higher-level non-free software in general. I think that's a reasonable compromise. This is simply a change to recognise that hardware requirements have moved on over the years. Further work If we do go with the changes in option 5, there are other things we could do here for better control of and information about non-free firmware:
  1. Along with adding non-free firmware onto media, when the installer (or live image) runs, we should make it clear exactly which firmware packages have been used/installed to support detected hardware. We could link to docs about each, and maybe also to projects working on Free re-implementations.
  2. Add an option at boot to explicitly disable the use of the non-free firmware packages, so that users can choose to avoid them.
Acknowledgements Thanks to people who reviewed earlier versions of this document and/or made suggestions for improvement, in particular:

6 April 2022

Thorsten Alteholz: My Debian Activities in March 2022

FTP master This month I accepted 332 and rejected 15 packages. This ratio gives a reason to hope. The overall number of packages that got accepted was 342. Debian LTS This was my ninety-third month that I did some work for the Debian LTS initiative, started by Raphael Hertzog at Freexian. This month my all in all workload has been 40h. During that time I did LTS and normal security uploads of: All my PU bugs for Buster and Bullseye, that accumulated over the last months, were part of the latest point release. So new ones have to be created now :-). I also continued to work on security support for golang packages. As a result #1008577 and #1008578 were the first real tests with a simple package. Debian ELTS This month was the forty-fifth ELTS month. During my allocated time I uploaded: Unfortunately uploads have to be done for younger releases first, so I had to withhold some uploads for ELTS. Hopefully they can be done in April. Probably this policy needs to be reconsidered. Last but not least I did some days of frontdesk duties. Debian Printing This month I uploaded new upstream versions or improved packaging of: In order to make the Debian Edu team happy, I uploaded a new version of cups-filters with an adapted Apparmor-file to Unstable and Bullseye. Debian Astro This month I uploaded new upstream versions or improved packaging of: Other stuff This month I uploaded new upstream versions or improved packaging of: In order to avoid an AUTORM of some Osmocom packages, I also had to NMU:

4 April 2022

Arturo Borrero Gonz lez: Wikimedia Toolforge and Grid Engine

Logos This post was originally published in the Wikimedia Tech blog, authored by Arturo Borrero Gonzalez. One of the most important and successful products provided by the Wikimedia Cloud Services team at the Wikimedia Foundation is Toolforge, a hosting service commonly known in the industry as Platform as a Service (PaaS). In particular, it is a platform that allows users and developers to run and use a variety of applications with the ultimate goal of helping the Wikimedia mission from the technical side. Toolforge is powered by two different backend engines, Kubernetes and Grid Engine. The two backends have traditionally offered different features for tool developers. But as time moves forward we ve learnt that Kubernetes is the future. Explaining why is the purpose of this blog post: we want to share more information and reasoning behind this mindset. There are a number of reasons that make Grid Engine poorly suitable to remain as execution backend in Toolforge: As mentioned above, our desire is to cover all our grid-like needs with Kubernetes, a technology which has several benefits: The relationship between Toolforge and Grid Engine has been interesting over the years. The grid has been used for quite a lot of time, we have plenty of documentation and established good practices. On the other hand, the grid is hard to maintain, imposes a heavy burden on the WMCS team and is a technology we must eventually discontinue. How to accommodate the two realities is a refreshing challenge, one that we hope to tackle together in the near future. A tradeoff exists here, but it is clear to us which option is best. So we will work on deprecating and removing Grid Engine and migrating use cases into Kubernetes. This deprecation, however, will be done with care, as we know our technical community relies on the grid for some import Toolforge tools. And some of these workflows will need some adaptation in order to be fully supported on Kubernetes. Stay tuned for more information on present and next works surrounding the Wikimedia Toolforge service. The next blog post will share more concrete details. This post was originally published in the Wikimedia Tech blog, authored by Arturo Borrero Gonzalez.

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