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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.

8 August 2022

Adnan Hodzic: atuf.app: Amsterdam Toilet & Urinal Finder

Amsterdam is a great city to enjoy a beer, or two. However, after you had your beers and you re strolling down the streets, you might... The post atuf.app: Amsterdam Toilet & Urinal Finder appeared first on FoolControl: Phear the penguin.

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.

8 April 2022

Reproducible Builds: Reproducible Builds in March 2022

Welcome to the March 2022 report from the Reproducible Builds project! In our monthly reports we outline the most important things that we have been up to over the past month.
The in-toto project was accepted as an incubating project within the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). in-toto is a framework that protects the software supply chain by collecting and verifying relevant data. It does so by enabling libraries to collect information about software supply chain actions and then allowing software users and/or project managers to publish policies about software supply chain practices that can be verified before deploying or installing software. CNCF foundations hosts a number of critical components of the global technology infrastructure under the auspices of the Linux Foundation. (View full announcement.)
Herv Boutemy posted to our mailing list with an announcement that the Java Reproducible Central has hit the milestone of 500 fully reproduced builds of upstream projects . Indeed, at the time of writing, according to the nightly rebuild results, 530 releases were found to be fully reproducible, with 100% reproducible artifacts.
GitBOM is relatively new project to enable build tools trace every source file that is incorporated into build artifacts. As an experiment and/or proof-of-concept, the GitBOM developers are rebuilding Debian to generate side-channel build metadata for versions of Debian that have already been released. This only works because Debian is (partial) reproducible, so one can be sure that that, if the case where build artifacts are identical, any metadata generated during these instrumented builds applies to the binaries that were built and released in the past. More information on their approach is available in README file in the bomsh repository.
Ludovic Courtes has published an academic paper discussing how the performance requirements of high-performance computing are not (as usually assumed) at odds with reproducible builds. The received wisdom is that vendor-specific libraries and platform-specific CPU extensions have resulted in a culture of local recompilation to ensure the best performance, rendering the property of reproducibility unobtainable or even meaningless. In his paper, Ludovic explains how Guix has:
[ ] implemented what we call package multi-versioning for C/C++ software that lacks function multi-versioning and run-time dispatch [ ]. It is another way to ensure that users do not have to trade reproducibility for performance. (full PDF)

Kit Martin posted to the FOSSA blog a post titled The Three Pillars of Reproducible Builds. Inspired by the shock of infiltrated or intentionally broken NPM packages, supply chain attacks, long-unnoticed backdoors , the post goes on to outline the high-level steps that lead to a reproducible build:
It is one thing to talk about reproducible builds and how they strengthen software supply chain security, but it s quite another to effectively configure a reproducible build. Concrete steps for specific languages are a far larger topic than can be covered in a single blog post, but today we ll be talking about some guiding principles when designing reproducible builds. [ ]
The article was discussed on Hacker News.
Finally, Bernhard M. Wiedemann noticed that the GNU Helloworld project varies depending on whether it is being built during a full moon! (Reddit announcement, openSUSE bug report)

Events There will be an in-person Debian Reunion in Hamburg, Germany later this year, taking place from 23 30 May. Although this is a Debian event, there will be some folks from the broader Reproducible Builds community and, of course, everyone is welcome. Please see the event page on the Debian wiki for more information. Bernhard M. Wiedemann posted to our mailing list about a meetup for Reproducible Builds folks at the openSUSE conference in Nuremberg, Germany. It was also recently announced that DebConf22 will take place this year as an in-person conference in Prizren, Kosovo. The pre-conference meeting (or Debcamp ) will take place from 10 16 July, and the main talks, workshops, etc. will take place from 17 24 July.

Misc news Holger Levsen updated the Reproducible Builds website to improve the documentation for the SOURCE_DATE_EPOCH environment variable, both by expanding parts of the existing text [ ][ ] as well as clarifying meaning by removing text in other places [ ]. In addition, Chris Lamb added a Twitter Card to our website s metadata too [ ][ ][ ]. On our mailing list this month:

Distribution work In Debian this month:
  • Johannes Schauer Marin Rodrigues posted to the debian-devel list mentioning that he exploited the property of reproducibility within Debian to demonstrate that automatically converting a large number of packages to a new internal source version did not change the resulting packages. The proposed change could therefore be applied without causing breakage:
So now we have 364 source packages for which we have a patch and for which we can show that this patch does not change the build output. Do you agree that with those two properties, the advantages of the 3.0 (quilt) format are sufficient such that the change shall be implemented at least for those 364? [ ]
In openSUSE, Bernhard M. Wiedemann posted his usual monthly reproducible builds status report.

Tooling diffoscope is our in-depth and content-aware diff utility. Not only can it locate and diagnose reproducibility issues, it can provide human-readable diffs from many kinds of binary formats. This month, Chris Lamb prepared and uploaded versions 207, 208 and 209 to Debian unstable, as well as made the following changes to the code itself:
  • Update minimum version of Black to prevent test failure on Ubuntu jammy. [ ]
  • Updated the R test fixture for the 4.2.x series of the R programming language. [ ]
Brent Spillner also worked on adding graceful handling for UNIX sockets and named pipes to diffoscope. [ ][ ][ ]. Vagrant Cascadian also updated the diffoscope package in GNU Guix. [ ][ ] reprotest is the Reproducible Build s project end-user tool to build the same source code twice in widely different environments and checking whether the binaries produced by the builds have any differences. This month, Santiago Ruano Rinc n added a new --append-build-command option [ ], which was subsequently uploaded to Debian unstable by Holger Levsen.

Upstream patches The Reproducible Builds project detects, dissects and attempts to fix as many currently-unreproducible packages as possible. We endeavour to send all of our patches upstream where appropriate. This month, we wrote a large number of such patches, including:

Testing framework The Reproducible Builds project runs a significant testing framework at tests.reproducible-builds.org, to check packages and other artifacts for reproducibility. This month, the following changes were made:
  • Holger Levsen:
    • Replace a local copy of the dsa-check-running-kernel script with a packaged version. [ ]
    • Don t hide the status of offline hosts in the Jenkins shell monitor. [ ]
    • Detect undefined service problems in the node health check. [ ]
    • Update the sources.lst file for our mail server as its still running Debian buster. [ ]
    • Add our mail server to our node inventory so it is included in the Jenkins maintenance processes. [ ]
    • Remove the debsecan package everywhere; it got installed accidentally via the Recommends relation. [ ]
    • Document the usage of the osuosl174 host. [ ]
Regular node maintenance was also performed by Holger Levsen [ ], Vagrant Cascadian [ ][ ][ ] and Mattia Rizzolo.
If you are interested in contributing to the Reproducible Builds project, please visit our Contribute page on our website. However, you can get in touch with us via:

7 April 2022

Gunnar Wolf: How is the free firmware for the Raspberry progressing?

Raspberry Pi computers require a piece of non-free software to boot the infamous raspi-firmware package. But for almost as long as there has been a Raspberry Pi to talk of (this year it turns 10 years old!), there have been efforts to get it to boot using only free software. How is it progressing? Michael Bishop (IRC user clever) explained today in the #debian-raspberrypi channel in OFTC that it advances far better than what I expected: It is even possible to boot a usable system under the RPi2 family! Just There is somewhat incomplete hardware support: For his testing, he has managed to use a xfce environment but over the composite (NTSC) video output, as HDMI initialization support is not there. However, he shared with me several interesting links and videos, and I told him I d share them there are still many issues; I do not believe it is currently worth it to make Debian images with this firmware. Before anything else: Go visit the librerpi/lk-overlay repository. Its README outlines hardware support for each of the RPi families; there is a binary build available with nixos if you want to try it out, and instructions to build it. But what clever showed me that made me write this post Is the amount of stuff you can do with the RPi s VPU (why Vision Vector Processing Unit and not the more familiar GPU, Graphical Processing Unit? I don t really know But I trust clever s definitions beyond how I trust my own ) before it loads an opearting system: There s not too much I can add to this. I was just Truly amazed. And I hope to see the remaining hurdles for regular Linux booting on this range of machines with purely free software quickly go away! Packaging this for Debian? Well, not yet not so fast I first told clever we could push this firmware to experimental instead of unstable, as it is not yet ready for most production systems. However, pabs made some spot-on further questions. And yes, it requires installing three(!) different cross-compilers, one of which vc4-toolchain, for the VPU is free software, but not yet upstreamed, and hence is not available for Debian. Anyway, the talk continued long after I had to go. I have gone a bit over the backlog, but I have to leave now so that will be it as for this blog post

1 February 2022

Paul Wise: FLOSS Activities January 2022

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

Changes

Issues

Review

Administration
  • Debian BTS: unarchive/reopen/triage bugs for reintroduced packages
  • Debian servers: ping folks about mail forwarding issues
  • Debian wiki: unblock IP addresses, approve accounts

Communication
  • Respond to queries from Debian users and contributors on the mailing lists and IRC

Sponsors The oci-cli, oci-python-sdk, circuitbreaker, autoconf-archive, libpst, purple-discord, sptag work was sponsored. All other work was done on a volunteer basis.

16 January 2022

Chris Lamb: Favourite films of 2021

In my four most recent posts, I went over the memoirs and biographies, the non-fiction, the fiction and the 'classic' novels that I enjoyed reading the most in 2021. But in the very last of my 2021 roundup posts, I'll be going over some of my favourite movies. (Saying that, these are perhaps less of my 'favourite films' than the ones worth remarking on after all, nobody needs to hear that The Godfather is a good movie.) It's probably helpful to remark you that I took a self-directed course in film history in 2021, based around the first volume of Roger Ebert's The Great Movies. This collection of 100-odd movie essays aims to make a tour of the landmarks of the first century of cinema, and I watched all but a handul before the year was out. I am slowly making my way through volume two in 2022. This tome was tremendously useful, and not simply due to the background context that Ebert added to each film: it also brought me into contact with films I would have hardly come through some other means. Would I have ever discovered the sly comedy of Trouble in Paradise (1932) or the touching proto-realism of L'Atalante (1934) any other way? It also helped me to 'get around' to watching films I may have put off watching forever the influential Battleship Potemkin (1925), for instance, and the ur-epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962) spring to mind here. Choosing a 'worst' film is perhaps more difficult than choosing the best. There are first those that left me completely dry (Ready or Not, Written on the Wind, etc.), and those that were simply poorly executed. And there are those that failed to meet their own high opinions of themselves, such as the 'made for Reddit' Tenet (2020) or the inscrutable Vanilla Sky (2001) the latter being an almost perfect example of late-20th century cultural exhaustion. But I must save my most severe judgement for those films where I took a visceral dislike how their subjects were portrayed. The sexually problematic Sixteen Candles (1984) and the pseudo-Catholic vigilantism of The Boondock Saints (1999) both spring to mind here, the latter of which combines so many things I dislike into such a short running time I'd need an entire essay to adequately express how much I disliked it.

Dogtooth (2009) A father, a mother, a brother and two sisters live in a large and affluent house behind a very high wall and an always-locked gate. Only the father ever leaves the property, driving to the factory that he happens to own. Dogtooth goes far beyond any allusion to Josef Fritzl's cellar, though, as the children's education is a grotesque parody of home-schooling. Here, the parents deliberately teach their children the wrong meaning of words (e.g. a yellow flower is called a 'zombie'), all of which renders the outside world utterly meaningless and unreadable, and completely mystifying its very existence. It is this creepy strangeness within a 'regular' family unit in Dogtooth that is both socially and epistemically horrific, and I'll say nothing here of its sexual elements as well. Despite its cold, inscrutable and deadpan surreality, Dogtooth invites all manner of potential interpretations. Is this film about the artificiality of the nuclear family that the West insists is the benchmark of normality? Or is it, as I prefer to believe, something more visceral altogether: an allegory for the various forms of ontological violence wrought by fascism, as well a sobering nod towards some of fascism's inherent appeals? (Perhaps it is both. In 1972, French poststructuralists Gilles and F lix Guattari wrote Anti-Oedipus, which plays with the idea of the family unit as a metaphor for the authoritarian state.) The Greek-language Dogtooth, elegantly shot, thankfully provides no easy answers.

Holy Motors (2012) There is an infamous scene in Un Chien Andalou, the 1929 film collaboration between Luis Bu uel and famed artist Salvador Dal . A young woman is cornered in her own apartment by a threatening man, and she reaches for a tennis racquet in self-defence. But the man suddenly picks up two nearby ropes and drags into the frame two large grand pianos... each leaden with a dead donkey, a stone tablet, a pumpkin and a bewildered priest. This bizarre sketch serves as a better introduction to Leos Carax's Holy Motors than any elementary outline of its plot, which ostensibly follows 24 hours in the life of a man who must play a number of extremely diverse roles around Paris... all for no apparent reason. (And is he even a man?) Surrealism as an art movement gets a pretty bad wrap these days, and perhaps justifiably so. But Holy Motors and Un Chien Andalou serve as a good reminder that surrealism can be, well, 'good, actually'. And if not quite high art, Holy Motors at least demonstrates that surrealism can still unnerving and hilariously funny. Indeed, recalling the whimsy of the plot to a close friend, the tears of laughter came unbidden to my eyes once again. ("And then the limousines...!") Still, it is unclear how Holy Motors truly refreshes surrealism for the twenty-first century. Surrealism was, in part, a reaction to the mechanical and unfeeling brutality of World War I and ultimately sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind. Holy Motors cannot be responding to another continental conflagration, and so it appears to me to be some kind of commentary on the roles we exhibit in an era of 'post-postmodernity': a sketch on our age of performative authenticity, perhaps, or an idle doodle on the function and psychosocial function of work. Or perhaps not. After all, this film was produced in a time that offers the near-universal availability of mind-altering substances, and this certainly changes the context in which this film was both created. And, how can I put it, was intended to be watched.

Manchester by the Sea (2016) An absolutely devastating portrayal of a character who is unable to forgive himself and is hesitant to engage with anyone ever again. It features a near-ideal balance between portraying unrecoverable anguish and tender warmth, and is paradoxically grandiose in its subtle intimacy. The mechanics of life led me to watch this lying on a bed in a chain hotel by Heathrow Airport, and if this colourless circumstance blunted the film's emotional impact on me, I am probably thankful for it. Indeed, I find myself reduced in this review to fatuously recalling my favourite interactions instead of providing any real commentary. You could write a whole essay about one particular incident: its surfaces, subtexts and angles... all despite nothing of any substance ever being communicated. Truly stunning.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) Roger Ebert called this movie one of the saddest films I have ever seen, filled with a yearning for love and home that will not ever come. But whilst it is difficult to disagree with his sentiment, Ebert's choice of sad is somehow not quite the right word. Indeed, I've long regretted that our dictionaries don't have more nuanced blends of tragedy and sadness; perhaps the Ancient Greeks can loan us some. Nevertheless, the plot of this film is of a gambler and a prostitute who become business partners in a new and remote mining town called Presbyterian Church. However, as their town and enterprise booms, it comes to the attention of a large mining corporation who want to bully or buy their way into the action. What makes this film stand out is not the plot itself, however, but its mood and tone the town and its inhabitants seem to be thrown together out of raw lumber, covered alternatively in mud or frozen ice, and their days (and their personalities) are both short and dark in equal measure. As a brief aside, if you haven't seen a Roger Altman film before, this has all the trappings of being a good introduction. As Ebert went on to observe: This is not the kind of movie where the characters are introduced. They are all already here. Furthermore, we can see some of Altman's trademark conversations that overlap, a superb handling of ensemble casts, and a quietly subversive view of the tyranny of 'genre'... and the latter in a time when the appetite for revisionist portrays of the West was not very strong. All of these 'Altmanian' trademarks can be ordered in much stronger measures in his later films: in particular, his comedy-drama Nashville (1975) has 24 main characters, and my jejune interpretation of Gosford Park (2001) is that it is purposefully designed to poke fun those who take a reductionist view of 'genre', or at least on the audience's expectations. (In this case, an Edwardian-era English murder mystery in the style of Agatha Christie, but where no real murder or detection really takes place.) On the other hand, McCabe & Mrs. Miller is actually a poor introduction to Altman. The story is told in a suitable deliberate and slow tempo, and the two stars of the film are shown thoroughly defrocked of any 'star status', in both the visual and moral dimensions. All of these traits are, however, this film's strength, adding up to a credible, fascinating and riveting portrayal of the old West.

Detour (1945) Detour was filmed in less than a week, and it's difficult to decide out of the actors and the screenplay which is its weakest point.... Yet it still somehow seemed to drag me in. The plot revolves around luckless Al who is hitchhiking to California. Al gets a lift from a man called Haskell who quickly falls down dead from a heart attack. Al quickly buries the body and takes Haskell's money, car and identification, believing that the police will believe Al murdered him. An unstable element is soon introduced in the guise of Vera, who, through a set of coincidences that stretches credulity, knows that this 'new' Haskell (ie. Al pretending to be him) is not who he seems. Vera then attaches herself to Al in order to blackmail him, and the world starts to spin out of his control. It must be understood that none of this is executed very well. Rather, what makes Detour so interesting to watch is that its 'errors' lend a distinctively creepy and unnatural hue to the film. Indeed, in the early twentieth century, Sigmund Freud used the word unheimlich to describe the experience of something that is not simply mysterious, but something creepy in a strangely familiar way. This is almost the perfect description of watching Detour its eerie nature means that we are not only frequently second-guessed about where the film is going, but are often uncertain whether we are watching the usual objective perspective offered by cinema. In particular, are all the ham-fisted segues, stilted dialogue and inscrutable character motivations actually a product of Al inventing a story for the viewer? Did he murder Haskell after all, despite the film 'showing' us that Haskell died of natural causes? In other words, are we watching what Al wants us to believe? Regardless of the answers to these questions, the film succeeds precisely because of its accidental or inadvertent choices, so it is an implicit reminder that seeking the director's original intention in any piece of art is a complete mirage. Detour is certainly not a good film, but it just might be a great one. (It is a short film too, and, out of copyright, it is available online for free.)

Safe (1995) Safe is a subtly disturbing film about an upper-middle-class housewife who begins to complain about vague symptoms of illness. Initially claiming that she doesn't feel right, Carol starts to have unexplained headaches, a dry cough and nosebleeds, and eventually begins to have trouble breathing. Carol's family doctor treats her concerns with little care, and suggests to her husband that she sees a psychiatrist. Yet Carol's episodes soon escalate. For example, as a 'homemaker' and with nothing else to occupy her, Carol's orders a new couch for a party. But when the store delivers the wrong one (although it is not altogether clear that they did), Carol has a near breakdown. Unsure where to turn, an 'allergist' tells Carol she has "Environmental Illness," and so Carol eventually checks herself into a new-age commune filled with alternative therapies. On the surface, Safe is thus a film about the increasing about of pesticides and chemicals in our lives, something that was clearly felt far more viscerally in the 1990s. But it is also a film about how lack of genuine healthcare for women must be seen as a critical factor in the rise of crank medicine. (Indeed, it made for something of an uncomfortable watch during the coronavirus lockdown.) More interestingly, however, Safe gently-yet-critically examines the psychosocial causes that may be aggravating Carol's illnesses, including her vacant marriage, her hollow friends and the 'empty calorie' stimulus of suburbia. None of this should be especially new to anyone: the gendered Victorian term 'hysterical' is often all but spoken throughout this film, and perhaps from the very invention of modern medicine, women's symptoms have often regularly minimised or outright dismissed. (Hilary Mantel's 2003 memoir, Giving Up the Ghost is especially harrowing on this.) As I opened this review, the film is subtle in its messaging. Just to take one example from many, the sound of the cars is always just a fraction too loud: there's a scene where a group is eating dinner with a road in the background, and the total effect can be seen as representing the toxic fumes of modernity invading our social lives and health. I won't spoiler the conclusion of this quietly devasting film, but don't expect a happy ending.

The Driver (1978) Critics grossly misunderstood The Driver when it was first released. They interpreted the cold and unemotional affect of the characters with the lack of developmental depth, instead of representing their dissociation from the society around them. This reading was encouraged by the fact that the principal actors aren't given real names and are instead known simply by their archetypes instead: 'The Driver', 'The Detective', 'The Player' and so on. This sort of quasi-Jungian erudition is common in many crime films today (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, Layer Cake, Fight Club), so the critics' misconceptions were entirely reasonable in 1978. The plot of The Driver involves the eponymous Driver, a noted getaway driver for robberies in Los Angeles. His exceptional talent has far prevented him from being captured thus far, so the Detective attempts to catch the Driver by pardoning another gang if they help convict the Driver via a set-up robbery. To give himself an edge, however, The Driver seeks help from the femme fatale 'Player' in order to mislead the Detective. If this all sounds eerily familiar, you would not be far wrong. The film was essentially remade by Nicolas Winding Refn as Drive (2011) and in Edgar Wright's 2017 Baby Driver. Yet The Driver offers something that these neon-noir variants do not. In particular, the car chases around Los Angeles are some of the most captivating I've seen: they aren't thrilling in the sense of tyre squeals, explosions and flying boxes, but rather the vehicles come across like wild animals hunting one another. This feels especially so when the police are hunting The Driver, which feels less like a low-stakes game of cat and mouse than a pack of feral animals working together a gang who will tear apart their prey if they find him. In contrast to the undercar neon glow of the Fast & Furious franchise, the urban realism backdrop of the The Driver's LA metropolis contributes to a sincere feeling of artistic fidelity as well. To be sure, most of this is present in the truly-excellent Drive, where the chase scenes do really communicate a credible sense of stakes. But the substitution of The Driver's grit with Drive's soft neon tilts it slightly towards that common affliction of crime movies: style over substance. Nevertheless, I can highly recommend watching The Driver and Drive together, as it can tell you a lot about the disconnected socioeconomic practices of the 1980s compared to the 2010s. More than that, however, the pseudo-1980s synthwave soundtrack of Drive captures something crucial to analysing the world of today. In particular, these 'sounds from the past filtered through the present' bring to mind the increasing role of nostalgia for lost futures in the culture of today, where temporality and pop culture references are almost-exclusively citational and commemorational.

The Souvenir (2019) The ostensible outline of this quietly understated film follows a shy but ambitious film student who falls into an emotionally fraught relationship with a charismatic but untrustworthy older man. But that doesn't quite cover the plot at all, for not only is The Souvenir a film about a young artist who is inspired, derailed and ultimately strengthened by a toxic relationship, it is also partly a coming-of-age drama, a subtle portrait of class and, finally, a film about the making of a film. Still, one of the geniuses of this truly heartbreaking movie is that none of these many elements crowds out the other. It never, ever feels rushed. Indeed, there are many scenes where the camera simply 'sits there' and quietly observes what is going on. Other films might smother themselves through references to 18th-century oil paintings, but The Souvenir somehow evades this too. And there's a certain ring of credibility to the story as well, no doubt in part due to the fact it is based on director Joanna Hogg's own experiences at film school. A beautifully observed and multi-layered film; I'll be happy if the sequel is one-half as good.

The Wrestler (2008) Randy 'The Ram' Robinson is long past his prime, but he is still rarin' to go in the local pro-wrestling circuit. Yet after a brutal beating that seriously threatens his health, Randy hangs up his tights and pursues a serious relationship... and even tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter. But Randy can't resist the lure of the ring, and readies himself for a comeback. The stage is thus set for Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, which is essentially about what drives Randy back to the ring. To be sure, Randy derives much of his money from wrestling as well as his 'fitness', self-image, self-esteem and self-worth. Oh, it's no use insisting that wrestling is fake, for the sport is, needless to say, Randy's identity; it's not for nothing that this film is called The Wrestler. In a number of ways, The Sound of Metal (2019) is both a reaction to (and a quiet remake of) The Wrestler, if only because both movies utilise 'cool' professions to explore such questions of identity. But perhaps simply when The Wrestler was produced makes it the superior film. Indeed, the role of time feels very important for the Wrestler. In the first instance, time is clearly taking its toll on Randy's body, but I felt it more strongly in the sense this was very much a pre-2008 film, released on the cliff-edge of the global financial crisis, and the concomitant precarity of the 2010s. Indeed, it is curious to consider that you couldn't make The Wrestler today, although not because the relationship to work has changed in any fundamentalway. (Indeed, isn't it somewhat depressing the realise that, since the start of the pandemic and the 'work from home' trend to one side, we now require even more people to wreck their bodies and mental health to cover their bills?) No, what I mean to say here is that, post-2016, you cannot portray wrestling on-screen without, how can I put it, unwelcome connotations. All of which then reminds me of Minari's notorious red hat... But I digress. The Wrestler is a grittily stark darkly humorous look into the life of a desperate man and a sorrowful world, all through one tragic profession.

Thief (1981) Frank is an expert professional safecracker and specialises in high-profile diamond heists. He plans to use his ill-gotten gains to retire from crime and build a life for himself with a wife and kids, so he signs on with a top gangster for one last big score. This, of course, could be the plot to any number of heist movies, but Thief does something different. Similar to The Wrestler and The Driver (see above) and a number of other films that I watched this year, Thief seems to be saying about our relationship to work and family in modernity and postmodernity. Indeed, the 'heist film', we are told, is an understudied genre, but part of the pleasure of watching these films is said to arise from how they portray our desired relationship to work. In particular, Frank's desire to pull off that last big job feels less about the money it would bring him, but a displacement from (or proxy for) fulfilling some deep-down desire to have a family or indeed any relationship at all. Because in theory, of course, Frank could enter into a fulfilling long-term relationship right away, without stealing millions of dollars in diamonds... but that's kinda the entire point: Frank needing just one more theft is an excuse to not pursue a relationship and put it off indefinitely in favour of 'work'. (And being Federal crimes, it also means Frank cannot put down meaningful roots in a community.) All this is communicated extremely subtly in the justly-lauded lowkey diner scene, by far the best scene in the movie. The visual aesthetic of Thief is as if you set The Warriors (1979) in a similarly-filthy Chicago, with the Xenophon-inspired plot of The Warriors replaced with an almost deliberate lack of plot development... and the allure of The Warriors' fantastical criminal gangs (with their alluringly well-defined social identities) substituted by a bunch of amoral individuals with no solidarity beyond the immediate moment. A tale of our time, perhaps. I should warn you that the ending of Thief is famously weak, but this is a gritty, intelligent and strangely credible heist movie before you get there.

Uncut Gems (2019) The most exhausting film I've seen in years; the cinematic equivalent of four cups of double espresso, I didn't even bother even trying to sleep after downing Uncut Gems late one night. Directed by the two Safdie Brothers, it often felt like I was watching two films that had been made at the same time. (Or do I mean two films at 2X speed?) No, whatever clumsy metaphor you choose to adopt, the unavoidable effect of this film's finely-tuned chaos is an uncompromising and anxiety-inducing piece of cinema. The plot follows Howard as a man lost to his countless vices mostly gambling with a significant side hustle in adultery, but you get the distinct impression he would be happy with anything that will give him another high. A true junkie's junkie, you might say. You know right from the beginning it's going to end in some kind of disaster, the only question remaining is precisely how and what. Portrayed by an (almost unrecognisable) Adam Sandler, there's an uncanny sense of distance in the emotional chasm between 'Sandler-as-junkie' and 'Sandler-as-regular-star-of-goofy-comedies'. Yet instead of being distracting and reducing the film's affect, this possibly-deliberate intertextuality somehow adds to the masterfully-controlled mayhem. My heart races just at the memory. Oof.

Woman in the Dunes (1964) I ended up watching three films that feature sand this year: Denis Villeneuve's Dune (2021), Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Woman in the Dunes. But it is this last 1964 film by Hiroshi Teshigahara that will stick in my mind in the years to come. Sure, there is none of the Medician intrigue of Dune or the Super Panavision-70 of Lawrence of Arabia (or its quasi-orientalist score, itself likely stolen from Anton Bruckner's 6th Symphony), but Woman in the Dunes doesn't have to assert its confidence so boldly, and it reveals the enormity of its plot slowly and deliberately instead. Woman in the Dunes never rushes to get to the film's central dilemma, and it uncovers its terror in little hints and insights, all whilst establishing the daily rhythm of life. Woman in the Dunes has something of the uncanny horror as Dogtooth (see above), as well as its broad range of potential interpretations. Both films permit a wide array of readings, without resorting to being deliberately obscurantist or being just plain random it is perhaps this reason why I enjoyed them so much. It is true that asking 'So what does the sand mean?' sounds tediously sophomoric shorn of any context, but it somehow applies to this thoughtfully self-contained piece of cinema.

A Quiet Place (2018) Although A Quiet Place was not actually one of the best films I saw this year, I'm including it here as it is certainly one of the better 'mainstream' Hollywood franchises I came across. Not only is the film very ably constructed and engages on a visceral level, I should point out that it is rare that I can empathise with the peril of conventional horror movies (and perhaps prefer to focus on its cultural and political aesthetics), but I did here. The conceit of this particular post-apocalyptic world is that a family is forced to live in almost complete silence while hiding from creatures that hunt by sound alone. Still, A Quiet Place engages on an intellectual level too, and this probably works in tandem with the pure 'horrorific' elements and make it stick into your mind. In particular, and to my mind at least, A Quiet Place a deeply American conservative film below the surface: it exalts the family structure and a certain kind of sacrifice for your family. (The music often had a passacaglia-like strain too, forming a tombeau for America.) Moreover, you survive in this dystopia by staying quiet that is to say, by staying stoic suggesting that in the wake of any conflict that might beset the world, the best thing to do is to keep quiet. Even communicating with your loved ones can be deadly to both of you, so not emote, acquiesce quietly to your fate, and don't, whatever you do, speak up. (Or join a union.) I could go on, but The Quiet Place is more than this. It's taut and brief, and despite cinema being an increasingly visual medium, it encourages its audience to develop a new relationship with sound.

Russell Coker: SSD Endurance

I previously wrote about the issue of swap potentially breaking SSD [1]. My conclusion was that swap wouldn t be a problem as no normally operating systems that I run had swap using any significant fraction of total disk writes. In that post the most writes I could see was 128GB written per day on a 120G Intel SSD (writing the entire device once a day). My post about swap and SSD was based on the assumption that you could get many thousands of writes to the entire device which was incorrect. Here s a background on the terminology from WD [2]. So in the case of the 120G Intel SSD I was doing over 1 DWPD (Drive Writes Per Day) which is in the middle of the range of SSD capability, Intel doesn t specify the DWPD or TBW (Tera Bytes Written) for that device. The most expensive and high end NVMe device sold by my local computer store is the Samsung 980 Pro which has a warranty of 150TBW for the 250G device and 600TBW for the 1TB device [3]. That means that the system which used to have an Intel SSD would have exceeded the warranty in 3 years if it had a 250G device. My current workstation has been up for just over 7 days and has averaged 110GB written per day. It has some light VM use and the occasional kernel compile, a fairly typical developer workstation. It s storage is 2*Crucial 1TB NVMe devices in a BTRFS RAID-1, the NVMe devices are the old series of Crucial ones and are rated for 200TBW which means that they can be expected to last for 5 years under the current load. This isn t a real problem for me as the performance of those devices is lower than I hoped for so I will buy faster ones before they are 5yo anyway. My home server (and my wife s workstation) is averaging 325GB per day on the SSDs used for the RAID-1 BTRFS filesystem for root and for most data that is written much (including VMs). The SSDs are 500G Samsung 850 EVOs [4] which are rated at 150TBW which means just over a year of expected lifetime. The SSDs are much more than a year old, I think Samsung stopped selling them more than a year ago. Between the 2 SSDs SMART reports 18 uncorrectable errors and btrfs device stats reports 55 errors on one of them. I m not about to immediately replace them, but it appears that they are well past their prime. The server which runs my blog (among many other things) is averaging over 1TB written per day. It currently has a RAID-1 of hard drives for all storage but it s previous incarnation (which probably had about the same amount of writes) had a RAID-1 of enterprise SSDs for the most written data. After a few years of running like that (and some time running with someone else s load before it) the SSDs became extremely slow (sustained writes of 15MB/s) and started getting errors. So that s a pair of SSDs that were burned out. Conclusion The amounts of data being written are steadily increasing. Recent machines with more RAM can decrease storage usage in some situations but that doesn t compare to the increased use of checksummed and logged filesystems, VMs, databases for local storage, and other things that multiply writes. The amount of writes allowed under warranty isn t increasing much and there are new technologies for larger SSD storage that decrease the DWPD rating of the underlying hardware. For the systems I own it seems that they are all going to exceed the rated TBW for the SSDs before I have other reasons to replace them, and they aren t particularly high usage systems. A mail server for a large number of users would hit it much earlier. RAID of SSDs is a really good thing. Replacement of SSDs is something that should be planned for and a way of swapping SSDs to less important uses is also good (my parents have some SSDs that are too small for my current use but which work well for them). Another thing to consider is that if you have a server with spare drive bays you could put some extra SSDs in to spread the wear among a larger RAID-10 array. Instead of having a 2*SSD BTRFS RAID-1 for a server you could have 6*SSD to get a 3* longer lifetime than a regular RAID-1 before the SSDs wear out (BTRFS supports this sort of thing). Based on these calculations and the small number of errors I ve seen on my home server I ll add a 480G SSD I have lying around to the array to spread the load and keep it running for a while longer.

12 November 2021

Adnan Hodzic: wp-k8s: WordPress on privately hosted Kubernetes cluster (Raspberry Pi 4 + Synology)

Blog post you re reading right now is privately hosted on Raspberry PI 4 Kubernetes cluster with its data coming from NFS share and MariaDB on... The post wp-k8s: WordPress on privately hosted Kubernetes cluster (Raspberry Pi 4 + Synology) appeared first on FoolControl: Phear the penguin.

17 October 2021

Adnan Hodzic: wp-k8s: WordPress on Kubernetes project (GKE, cloud SQL, NFS, cluster autoscaling, HPA, VPA, Ingress, Let s Encrypt)

Title of this blog post isn t a collection of every Kubernetes related buzzword I could think of. It s a collection of technologies that went into... The post wp-k8s: WordPress on Kubernetes project (GKE, cloud SQL, NFS, cluster autoscaling, HPA, VPA, Ingress, Let s Encrypt) appeared first on FoolControl: Phear the penguin.

15 October 2021

Adnan Hodzic: Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start writing!

20 June 2021

Julian Andres Klode: Migrating away from apt-key

This is an edited copy of an email I sent to provide guidance to users of apt-key as to how to handle things in a post apt-key world. The manual page already provides all you need to know for replacing apt-key add usage:
Note: Instead of using this command a keyring should be placed directly in the /etc/apt/trusted.gpg.d/ directory with a descriptive name and either gpg or asc as file extension
So it s kind of surprising people need step by step instructions for how to copy/download a file into a directory. I ll also discuss the alternative security snakeoil approach with signed-by that s become popular. Maybe we should not have added signed-by, people seem to forget that debs still run maintainer scripts as root. Aside from this email, Debian users should look into extrepo, which manages curated external repositories for you.

Direct translation Assume you currently have:
wget -qO- https://myrepo.example/myrepo.asc   sudo apt-key add  
To translate this directly for bionic and newer, you can use:
sudo wget -qO /etc/apt/trusted.gpg.d/myrepo.asc https://myrepo.example/myrepo.asc
or to avoid downloading as root:
wget -qO-  https://myrepo.example/myrepo.asc   sudo tee -a /etc/apt/trusted.gpg.d/myrepo.asc
Older (and all) releases only support unarmored files with an extension .gpg. If you care about them, provide one, and use
sudo wget -qO /etc/apt/trusted.gpg.d/myrepo.gpg https://myrepo.example/myrepo.gpg
Some people will tell you to download the .asc and pipe it to gpg --dearmor, but gpg might not be installed, so really, just offer a .gpg one instead that is supported on all systems. wget might not be available everywhere so you can use apt-helper:
sudo /usr/lib/apt/apt-helper download-file https://myrepo.example/myrepo.asc /etc/apt/trusted.gpg.d/myrepo.asc
or, to avoid downloading as root:
/usr/lib/apt/apt-helper download-file https://myrepo.example/myrepo.asc /tmp/myrepo.asc && sudo mv /tmp/myrepo.asc /etc/apt/trusted.gpg.d

Pretending to be safer by using signed-by People say it s good practice to not use trusted.gpg.d and install the file elsewhere and then refer to it from the sources.list entry by using signed-by=<path to the file>. So this looks a lot safer, because now your key can t sign other unrelated repositories. In practice, security increase is minimal, since package maintainer scripts run as root anyway. But I guess it s better for publicity :) As an example, here are the instructions to install signal-desktop from signal.org. As mentioned, gpg --dearmor use in there is not a good idea, and I d personally not tell people to modify /usr as it s supposed to be managed by the package manager, but we don t have an /etc/apt/keyrings or similar at the moment; it s fine though if the keyring is installed by the package. You can also just add the file there as a starting point, and then install a keyring package overriding it (pretend there is a signal-desktop-keyring package below that would override the .gpg we added).
# NOTE: These instructions only work for 64 bit Debian-based
# Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, Mint etc.
# 1. Install our official public software signing key
wget -O- https://updates.signal.org/desktop/apt/keys.asc   gpg --dearmor > signal-desktop-keyring.gpg
cat signal-desktop-keyring.gpg   sudo tee -a /usr/share/keyrings/signal-desktop-keyring.gpg > /dev/null
# 2. Add our repository to your list of repositories
echo 'deb [arch=amd64 signed-by=/usr/share/keyrings/signal-desktop-keyring.gpg] https://updates.signal.org/desktop/apt xenial main'  \
  sudo tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list.d/signal-xenial.list
# 3. Update your package database and install signal
sudo apt update && sudo apt install signal-desktop
I do wonder why they do wget gpg --dearmor, pipe that into the file and then cat sudo tee it, instead of having that all in one pipeline. Maybe they want nicer progress reporting.

Scenario-specific guidance We have three scenarios: For system image building, shipping the key in /etc/apt/trusted.gpg.d seems reasonable to me; you are the vendor sort of, so it can be globally trusted. Chrome-style debs and repository config debs: If you ship a deb, embedding the sources.list.d snippet (calling it $myrepo.list) and shipping a $myrepo.gpg in /usr/share/keyrings is the best approach. Whether you ship that in product debs aka vscode/chromium or provide a repository configuration deb (let s call it myrepo-repo.deb) and then tell people to run apt update followed by apt install <package inside the repo> depends on how many packages are in the repo, I guess. Manual instructions (signal style): The third case, where you tell people to run wget themselves, I find tricky. As we see in signal, just stuffing keyring files into /usr/share/keyrings is popular, despite /usr supposed to be managed by the package manager. We don t have another dir inside /etc (or /usr/local), so it s hard to suggest something else. There s no significant benefit from actually using signed-by, so it s kind of extra work for little gain, though.

Addendum: Future work This part is new, just for this blog post. Let s look at upcoming changes and how they make things easier.

Bundled .sources files Assuming I get my merge request merged, the next version of APT (2.4/2.3.something) will do away with all the complexity and allow you to embed the key directly into a deb822 .sources file (which have been available for some time now):
Types: deb
URIs: https://myrepo.example/ https://myotherrepo.example/
Suites: stable not-so-stable
Components: main
Signed-By:
 -----BEGIN PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK-----
 .
 mDMEYCQjIxYJKwYBBAHaRw8BAQdAD/P5Nvvnvk66SxBBHDbhRml9ORg1WV5CvzKY
 CuMfoIS0BmFiY2RlZoiQBBMWCgA4FiEErCIG1VhKWMWo2yfAREZd5NfO31cFAmAk
 IyMCGyMFCwkIBwMFFQoJCAsFFgIDAQACHgECF4AACgkQREZd5NfO31fbOwD6ArzS
 dM0Dkd5h2Ujy1b6KcAaVW9FOa5UNfJ9FFBtjLQEBAJ7UyWD3dZzhvlaAwunsk7DG
 3bHcln8DMpIJVXht78sL
 =IE0r
 -----END PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK-----
Then you can just provide a .sources files to users, they place it into sources.list.d, and everything magically works Probably adding a nice apt add-source command for it I guess. Well, python-apt s aptsources package still does not support deb822 sources, and never will, we ll need an aptsources2 for that for backwards-compatibility reasons, and then port software-properties and other users to it.

OpenPGP vs aptsign We do have a better, tighter replacement for gpg in the works which uses Ed25519 keys to sign Release files. It s temporarily named aptsign, but it s a generic signer for single-section deb822 files, similar to signify/minisign. We believe that this solves the security nightmare that our OpenPGP integration is while reducing complexity at the same time. Keys are much shorter, so the bundled sources file above will look much nicer.

16 June 2021

Julien Danjou: Python Tools to Try in 2021

Python Tools to Try in 2021The Python programming language is one of the most popular and in huge demand. It is free, has a large community, is intended for the development of projects of varying complexity, is easy to learn, and opens up great opportunities for programmers. To work comfortably with it, you need special Python tools, which are able to simplify your work. We have selected the best Python tools that will be relevant in 2021.

MailtrapAs you may probably know, in order to send an email, you need SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol). This is because you can't just send a letter to the recipient. It needs to be sent to the server from which the recipient will download this letter using IMAP and POP3.Mailtrap provides an opportunity to send emails in python. Moreover, Mailtrap provides #rest #api to access current emails. It can be used to automate email testing, which will improve your email marketing campaigns. For example, you can check the password recovery form in the Selenium Test and immediately see if an email was sent to the correct address. Then take a new password from the email and try to enter the site with it. Cool, isn't it?

Pros
  • All emails are in one place.
  • Mailtrap provides multiple inboxes.
  • Shared access is present.
  • It is easy to set up.
  • RESTful API

ConsNo visible disadvantages were found.

Django
Python Tools to Try in 2021
Django is a free and open-source full-stack framework. It is one of the most important and popular among Python developers. It helps you move from a prototype to a ready-made working solution in a short time since its main task is to automate processes and speed up work through associations and libraries. It s a great choice for a product launch.You can use Django if at least a few of the following points interest you:
  • There is a need to develop the server-side of the API.
  • You need to develop a web application.
  • In the course of work, many changes are made, you have to constantly deploy the application and make edits.
  • There are many complex tasks that are difficult to solve on your own, and you will need the help of the community.
  • ORM support is needed to avoid accessing the database directly.
  • There is a need to integrate new technologies such as machine learning.
Django is a great Python Web Framework that does its job. It is not for nothing that it is one of the most popular, and is actively used by millions of developers.

ProsDjango has quite a few advantages. It contains a large number of ready-made solutions, which greatly simplifies development. Admin panel, database migration, various forms, user authentication tools are extremely helpful. The structure is very clear and simple.A large community helps to solve almost any problem. Thanks to ORM, there is a high level of security and it is comfortable to work with databases.

ConsDespite its powerful capabilities, Django's Python Web Framework has drawbacks. It is very massive, monolithic, therefore it develops slowly. Despite the many generic modules, the development speed of Django itself is reduced.

CherryPy
Python Tools to Try in 2021
CherryPy is a micro-framework. It is designed to solve specific problems, capable of running the program on any operating system. CherryPy is used in the following cases:
  • To create an application with small code size.
  • There is a need to manage several servers at the same time.
  • You need to monitor the performance of applications.
CherryPy refers to Python Frameworks, which are designed for specific tasks. It's clear, user-friendly, and ideal for Android development.

ProsCherryPy Python tool has a friendly and understandable development environment. This is a functional and complete framework, which can be used to build good applications. The source code is open, so the platform is completely free for developers, and the community, although not too large, is very responsive, and always helps to solve problems.

ConsThere are not so many cons to this Python tool. It is not capable of performing complex tasks and functions, it is intended more for specific solutions, for example, for the development of certain plugins or modules.

Pyramid
Python Tools to Try in 2021
Python Pyramid tool is designed for programming complex objects and solving multifunctional problems. It is used by professional programmers and is traditionally used for identification and routing. It is aimed at a wide audience and is capable of developing API prototypes.It is used in the following cases:
  • You need problem indicator tools to make timely adjustments and edits.
  • You use several programming languages at once;
  • You work with reporting and financial calculations, forecasting;
  • You need to quickly create a simple application.
At the same time, the Python Web Framework Pyramid allows you to create complex applications with great functionality like a translation software.

ProsPyramid does an excellent job of developing basic applications quickly. It is quite flexible and easy to learn. In fact, the key to the success of this framework is that it is completely based on fundamental principles, using simple and basic programming techniques. It is minimalistic, but at the same time offers users a lot of freedom of action. It is able to work with both small applications and powerful multifunctional programs.

ConsIt is difficult to deviate from the basic principles. This Python tool makes the decision for you. Simple programs are very easy to implement. But to do something complex and large-scale, you have to completely immerse yourself in the study of the environment and obey it.

Grok
Python Tools to Try in 2021
Grok is a Python tool that works with templates. Its main task is to eliminate repetitions in the code. If the element is repeated, then the template that was already created earlier is simply applied. This greatly simplifies and speeds up the work.Grok suits developers in the following cases:
  • If a programmer has little experience and is not yet ready to develop his modules.
  • There is a need to quickly develop a simple application.
  • The functionality of the application is simple, straightforward, and the interface does not play a key role.

ProsThe Grok framework is a child of Zope3, which was released earlier. It has a simplified structure of work, easy installation of modules, more capabilities, and better flexibility. It is designed to develop small applications. Yes, it is not intended for complex work, but due to its functionality, it allows you to quickly implement a project.

ConsThe Grok community is not very large, as this Python tool has not gained widespread popularity. Nevertheless, it is used by Python adepts for comfortable development. It is impossible to implement complex tasks on it since the possibilities are quite limited.Grok is one of the best Python Web Frameworks. It is understandable and has enough features for comfortable development.

Web2Py
Python Tools to Try in 2021
Web2Py is a Python tool that has its own IDEwhich, which includes a code editor, debugger, and deployment. It works great without the need for configuration or installation, provides a high level of data security, and is suitable for work on various platforms.Web2Py is great in the following cases:
  • When there is a need to develop something on different operating systems.
  • If there is no way to install and configure the framework.
  • When a high level of data security is required, for example, when developing financial applications or sales performance management tools.
  • If you need to carefully track bugs right during development, and not during the testing phase.

ProsWeb2Py is capable of working with different protocols, has a built-in error tracker, and has a backward compatibility feature that helps to work on the basis of previous versions of the framework. This means that code maintenance becomes much easier and cheaper. It's free, open-source, and very flexible.

ConsAmong the many Python tools, there are not many that require the latest version of the language. Web2Py is one of those and won't work on Python 3 and below. Therefore, you need to constantly monitor the updates.Web2Py does an excellent job of its tasks. It is quite simple and accessible to everyone.

BlueBream
Python Tools to Try in 2021
BlueBream used to be called Zope3 before. It copes well with tasks of the medium and high level of complexity and is suitable for working on serious projects.

ProsThe BlueBream build system is quite powerful and suitable for complex tasks. You can create functional applications on it, and the principle of reuse of components makes the code easier. At the same time, the speed of development increases. The software can be scaled, and a transactional object database provides an easy path to store it. This means that queries are processed quickly and database management is simple.

ConsThis is not a very flexible framework, it is better to know clearly in advance what is required of it. In addition, it cannot withstand heavy loads. When working with 1000 users at the same time, it can crash and give errors. Therefore, it should be used to solve narrow problems.Python frameworks are often designed for specific tasks. BlueBream is one of these and is suitable for applications where database management plays a key role.

ConclusionPython tools come in different forms and have vastly different capabilities. There are quite a few of them, but in 2021 these will be the most popular and in demand. Experienced programmers always choose several development tools for their comfortable work.

3 June 2021

John Goerzen: Roundup of Unique Data/Storage Hosting Options

Recently I have been taking another look at the services at rsync.net and it got me thinking: what would I do with a lot of storage? What might I want to run with it, if it were fairly cheap? Let s start taking a look at what s out there. I m going to try to focus on things that are unique for some reason: pricing, features, etc. Incidentally, good reviews are hard to find due to the proliferation of affiliate links. I have no affiliate relationships with anyone mentioned here and there are no affiliate links in this post. I ll start with the highest-end community and commercial options (though both are quite competitive on price for what they are), and then move on to the cheaper options. Community option: SDF SDF is somewhat hard to define. What is SDF? could prompt answers like: There s a lot there. SDF lets you use things for yourself, of course, but you can also join a community. It s not a commercial service backed by SLAs it s best-effort but it s been around more than 30 years and has a great track record. Top commercial option for backup storage: rsync.net rsync.net offers storage broadly over SSH: sftp, rsync, scp, borg, rclone, restic, git-annex, git, and such. You do not get a shell, but you do get to run a few noninteractive commands via ssh. You can, for instance, run git clone on the rsync server. The rsync special sauce is in ZFS. They run raidz3 on their arrays (and also offer dual location setups for an additional fee), offer both free and paid ZFS snapshots, etc. The service is designed to be extremely reliable, particularly for backups, and it seems to me to meet those goals. Basic storage is $0.025 per GB/mo, but with certain account types such as borg, can be had for $0.015 per GB/mo. The minimum size is 400GB or $10/mo. There are no bandwidth charges. This makes it quite economical even compared to, say, S3. Additional discounts start at 10TB, so 10TB with rsync.net would cost $204.80/mo or $81.92 on the borg plan. You won t run Nextcloud on this thing, but for backups that must be reliable, or even a photo collection or something, it makes perfect sense. When you look into other options, you ll find that other providers are a lot more vague about their storage setup than rsync.net. Various offerings from Hetzner Hetzner is one of Europe s large hosting companies, and they have several options of interest. Their Storage Box competes directly with the rsync.net service. Their per-GB storage cost is lower than rsync.net, and although they do include a certain amount of free bandwidth with each account, bandwidth is not unlimited and could result in charges. Still, if you don t drive 2x or more your storage usage in bandwidth each month, it would be cheaper than rsync. The Storage Box also uses ZFS with some kind of redundancy, though they don t specifcy details. What differentiates them from rsync.net is the protocol support. They support sftp, scp, Borg, ssh, rsync, etc. just as rsync.net does. But then they also throw in Samba/CIFS, FTPS, HTTPS, and WebDAV all optionally enabled or disabled by you. Although things like sshfs exist, they aren t particularly optimal for some use cases, and CIFS support may just be what you need in some situations. 10TB with Hetzner would cost EUR 39.90/mo, or about $48.84/mo. (This figure is higher for Europeans, who also have to pay VAT.) Hetzner also offers a Storage Share, which is a private Nextcloud instance. 10TB of that is exactly the same cost as 10TB of the Storage Box. You can add your own users, groups, etc. to this as your are the Nextcloud admin of your instance. Hetzner throws in automatic updates (which is great, as updates have been a pain in my side for a long time). Nextcloud is ideal for things like photo sharing, even has email and chat built in, etc. For about the same price at 2TB of Google One, you can have 2TB of Nextcloud with all those services for yourself. Not bad. You can also mount a Nextcloud instance with WebDAV. Interestingly, Nextcloud supports external storages as backend for the data. It supports another Nextcloud instance, OpenStack or S3 object storage, and SFTP, SMB/CIFS, and WebDAV. If you re thinking you d like both SFTP and Nextcloud access to a pool of storage, I imagine you could always get a large Storage Box from Hetzner (internal transfer is free), pair it with a small Nextcloud instance, and link the two with Nextcloud external storage. Dedicated Servers If you want a more DIY approach, you can find some interesting deals on actual dedicated server hardware you get the entire machine to yourself. I ve been using OVH s SoYouStart for a number of years, with good experienaces, and they have a number of server configurations available. For instance, for $45.99, you can get a Xeon box with 4x2TB drives and 32GB RAM. With RAID5 or raidz1, that s 6TB of available space and cheaper than the 6TB from rsync.net (though less redundant) plus you get the whole box to yourself too. OVH directly has some more storage servers; for instance, you can get a box with 4x4TB + 1x500GB SSD for $86.75/mo, giving you 12TB available with RAID5/raidz1, plus a 16GB server to do what you want with. Hetzner also has some larger options available, for instance 2x4TB at EUR39 or 2x8TB at EUR54, both with 64GB of RAM. Bargain Corner Yes, you can find 10TB for $25/mo. It s hosted on ceph, by what appears to be mostly a single person (though with a lot of experience and a fair bit of transparency). You re not going to have the round-the-clock support experience as with rsync.net, nor its raidz3 level of redundancy but if you don t need that, there are quite a few options. Let s start with Lima Labs. Yes, 10TB is $25/mo, and they support sftp, rsync, borg, and even NFS mounts on storage backed by Ceph. The owner, Sam, seems to be a nice guy but the service isn t going to be on the scale of rsync.net or Hetzner. That may or may not be OK for your needs I mean, you can even get 1TB for $5/mo, so there are some fantastic deals to be had here. BorgBase does Borg hosting and borg hosting only. You can get 1TB for $6.67/mo or, for instance, 10TB for $53.46. They don t say much about their infrastructure and it s hard to get a read on the company, but for Borg backups, it could be a nice option. Bargain Corner Part 2: Seedboxes There s a market out there of companies offering BitTorrent seeding and downloading services. Typically, these services offer you Unix ssh access to a shell, give you a bunch of space on completely non-redundant drives (theory being that the data on them is transient), lots of bandwidth, for a low price. Some people use them for BitTorrent, others for media serving and such. If you are willing to take the lowest in drive redundancy, there are some deals to be had. Whatbox is a popular leader here, and has an extensive wiki with info. Or you can find some seedbox.io shared storage plans for instance, 12TB for $32.49/mo. But it s completely non-redundant drives. Seedbox has a partner company, Walker Servers, with some interesting deals; for instance, 4x8TB for EUR 52.45. Not bad for 24TB usable with RAID5 but Walker Servers is completely unknown to me and doesn t publish a phone number. So, YMMV. Conclusion I m sure I ve left out many quality options here, but hopefully this is enough to lay out a general lay of the land. Leave other suggestions in the comments.

16 May 2021

Russ Allbery: Review: A Desolation Called Peace

Review: A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine
Series: Teixcalaan #2
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: 2021
ISBN: 1-250-18648-X
Format: Kindle
Pages: 496
A Desolation Called Peace is a direct sequel to A Memory Called Empire and picks up shortly after that book's ending. It would completely spoil the first book and builds heavily on previous events. This is not a series to read out of order. It's nearly impossible to discuss anything about the plot of this book without at least minor spoilers for the previous book, so beware. If you've not read A Memory Called Empire, I highly recommend it, and you may want to skip this review until you have. Mahit Dzmare has returned to Lsel Station and escaped, mostly, the pull of the Teixcalaan Empire in all its seductive arrogance. That doesn't mean Lsel Station is happy to see her. The maneuverings of the station council were only a distant part of the complex political situation she was navigating at the Teixcalaanli capital. Now home, it is far harder to ignore powerful councilors who would be appalled by the decisions she made. The ambassador to a hated foreign empire does not have many allies. Yaotlek Nine Hibiscus, the empire's newest commander of commanders, is the spear the empire has thrust towards a newly-discovered alien threat. The aliens have already slaughtered all the inhabitants of a mining outpost for no obvious reason, and their captured communications are so strange as to provoke nausea in humans. Their cloaking technology makes the outcome of pitched warfare dangerously uncertain. Nine Hibiscus needs someone who can talk to aliens without mouths, and that means the Information Ministry. The Information Ministry means a newly promoted Three Seagrass, who is suffering from insomnia, desperately bored, and missing Mahit Dzmare. And who sees in Nine Hibiscus's summons an opportunity to address several of those problems at once. A Memory Called Empire had an SFnal premise and triggering plot machinery, but it was primarily a city political thriller. A Desolation Called Peace moves onto the more familiar SF ground of first contact with a very alien species, but Martine makes the unusual choice of revealing one of the secrets of the aliens to the reader at the start of the book. This keeps the reader's focus more on the political maneuvering than on the mystery, but with a classic first-contact communication problem as the motivating backdrop. That's only one of the threads of this book, though. Another is the unfinished business between Three Seagrass and Mahit Dzmare, and between Mahit Dzmare and the all-consuming culture of Teixcalaan. A third is the political education of a very exceptional boy, whose mere existence is a spoiler for A Memory Called Empire and therefore not something I will discuss in detail. And then there are the internal politics of Lsel Station, although I thought that was the least effective part of the book and never reached a satisfying conclusion. This is a lot to balance, and I think that's one of the reasons why A Desolation Called Peace doesn't replicate the magic that made me love A Memory Called Empire so much. Full-steam-ahead pacing with characters who are thinking on their feet and taking desperate risks has a glorious momentum. Here, there's too much going on (not to mention four major viewpoint characters) to maintain the same pace. Once Mahit and Three Seagrass get into the same room, there are moments that are as good as the highlights of A Memory Called Empire, but it's not as sustained as I was hoping for. This book also spends more time on Mahit and Three Seagrass's relationship, and despite liking both of the characters, this didn't entirely work for me. Martine uses them to make a subtle and powerful point about relationships across power gradients and the hurt that comes from someone trivializing a conflict that is central to your identity. It took me a while to understand the strength of Mahit's reaction, but it eventually felt right. But that fight wasn't what I was looking for in the book, and there was a bit too much of both of them failing (or refusing) to communicate for my taste. I appreciated what Martine was exploring, but personally I wanted a different sort of catharsis. That said, this is still a highly enjoyable book. Nine Hibiscus is a solid military SF character who is a good counterweight to the more devious approaches of the other characters. I enjoyed the subplot of the kid in the Teixcalaanli capital more than I expected, although it felt more like setup for future novels than critical to the plot of this one. And then there's Three Seagrass.
Three Seagrass always made decisions wholly and entire. All at once. choosing information as her aptitudes. Choosing the position of cultural liaison to the Lsel Ambassador. Choosing to trust her. choosing to come here, to take this assignment entirely, completely, and without pausing to look to see how deep the water was that she was leaping into.
Every word of this is true, and it's so much fun to read. Three Seagrass was a bit overshadowed in A Memory Called Empire, a supporting character in someone else's story. Here, she has moments where she can take the lead, and she's so delightfully different than Mahit. I loved every moment of her viewpoint. A Desolation Called Peace isn't as taut or as coherent as A Memory Called Empire. The plot sags in a few places, and I think there was a bit too much hopeless Lsel politics, nebulous alien horror, and injured silence between characters. But the high points are nearly as good as the high points of A Memory Called Empire and I adore these characters. If you liked the first book, I think you'll like this one too. More, please! Rating: 8 out of 10

4 May 2021

Erich Schubert: Machine Learning Lecture Recordings

I have uploaded most of my Machine Learning lecture to YouTube. The slides are in English, but the audio is in German. Some very basic contents (e.g., a demo of standard k-means clustering) were left out from this advanced class, and instead only a link to recordings from an earlier class were given. In this class, I wanted to focus on the improved (accelerated) algorithms instead. These are not included here (yet). I believe there are some contents covered in this class you will find nowhere else (yet). The first unit is pretty long (I did not split it further yet). The later units are shorter recordings. ML F1: Principles in Machine Learning ML F2/F3: Correlation does not Imply Causation & Multiple Testing Problem ML F4: Overfitting beranpassung ML F5: Fluch der Dimensionalit t Curse of Dimensionality ML F6: Intrinsische Dimensionalit t Intrinsic Dimensionality ML F7: Distanzfunktionen und hnlichkeitsfunktionen ML L1: Einf hrung in die Klassifikation ML L2: Evaluation und Wahl von Klassifikatoren ML L3: Bayes-Klassifikatoren ML L4: N chste-Nachbarn Klassifikation ML L5: N chste Nachbarn und Kerndichtesch tzung ML L6: Lernen von Entscheidungsb umen ML L7: Splitkriterien bei Entscheidungsb umen ML L8: Ensembles und Meta-Learning: Random Forests und Gradient Boosting ML L9: Support Vector Machinen - Motivation ML L10: Affine Hyperebenen und Skalarprodukte Geometrie f r SVMs ML L11: Maximum Margin Hyperplane die breitest m gliche Stra e ML L12: Training Support Vector Machines ML L13: Non-linear SVM and the Kernel Trick ML L14: SVM Extensions and Conclusions ML L15: Motivation of Neural Networks ML L16: Threshold Logic Units ML L17: General Artificial Neural Networks ML L18: Learning Neural Networks with Backpropagation ML L19: Deep Neural Networks ML L20: Convolutional Neural Networks ML L21: Recurrent Neural Networks and LSTM ML L22: Conclusion Classification ML U1: Einleitung Clusteranalyse ML U2: Hierarchisches Clustering ML U3: Accelerating HAC mit Anderberg s Algorithmus ML U4: k-Means Clustering ML U5: Accelerating k-Means Clustering ML U6: Limitations of k-Means Clustering ML U7: Extensions of k-Means Clustering ML U8: Partitioning Around Medoids (k-Medoids) ML U9: Gaussian Mixture Modeling (EM Clustering) ML U10: Gaussian Mixture Modeling Demo ML U11: BIRCH and BETULA Clustering ML U12: Motivation Density-Based Clustering (DBSCAN) ML U13: Density-reachable and density-connected (DBSCAN Clustering) ML U14: DBSCAN Clustering ML U15: Parameterization of DBSCAN ML U16: Extensions and Variations of DBSCAN Clustering ML U17: OPTICS Clustering ML U18: Cluster Extraction from OPTICS Plots ML U19: Understanding the OPTICS Cluster Order ML U20: Spectral Clustering ML U21: Biclustering and Subspace Clustering ML U22: Further Clustering Approaches

11 April 2021

Vishal Gupta: Sikkim 101 for Backpackers

Host to Kanchenjunga, the world s third-highest mountain peak and the endangered Red Panda, Sikkim is a state in northeastern India. Nestled between Nepal, Tibet (China), Bhutan and West Bengal (India), the state offers a smorgasbord of cultures and cuisines. That said, it s hardly surprising that the old spice route meanders through western Sikkim, connecting Lhasa with the ports of Bengal. Although the latter could also be attributed to cardamom (kali elaichi), a perennial herb native to Sikkim, which the state is the second-largest producer of, globally. Lastly, having been to and lived in India, all my life, I can confidently say Sikkim is one of the cleanest & safest regions in India, making it ideal for first-time backpackers.

Brief History
  • 17th century: The Kingdom of Sikkim is founded by the Namgyal dynasty and ruled by Buddhist priest-kings known as the Chogyal.
  • 1890: Sikkim becomes a princely state of British India.
  • 1947: Sikkim continues its protectorate status with the Union of India, post-Indian-independence.
  • 1973: Anti-royalist riots take place in front of the Chogyal's palace, by Nepalis seeking greater representation.
  • 1975: Referendum leads to the deposition of the monarchy and Sikkim joins India as its 22nd state.
Languages
  • Official: English, Nepali, Sikkimese/Bhotia and Lepcha
  • Though Hindi and Nepali share the same script (Devanagari), they are not mutually intelligible. Yet, most people in Sikkim can understand and speak Hindi.
Ethnicity
  • Nepalis: Migrated in large numbers (from Nepal) and soon became the dominant community
  • Bhutias: People of Tibetan origin. Major inhabitants in Northern Sikkim.
  • Lepchas: Original inhabitants of Sikkim

Food
  • Tibetan/Nepali dishes (mostly consumed during winter)
    • Thukpa: Noodle soup, rich in spices and vegetables. Usually contains some form of meat. Common variations: Thenthuk and Gyathuk
    • Momos: Steamed or fried dumplings, usually with a meat filling.
    • Saadheko: Spicy marinated chicken salad.
    • Gundruk Soup: A soup made from Gundruk, a fermented leafy green vegetable.
    • Sinki : A fermented radish tap-root product, traditionally consumed as a base for soup and as a pickle. Eerily similar to Kimchi.
  • While pork and beef are pretty common, finding vegetarian dishes is equally easy.
  • Staple: Dal-Bhat with Subzi. Rice is a lot more common than wheat (rice) possibly due to greater carb content and proximity to West Bengal, India s largest producer of Rice.
  • Good places to eat in Gangtok
    • Hamro Bhansa Ghar, Nimtho (Nepali)
    • Taste of Tibet
    • Dragon Wok (Chinese & Japanese)

Buddhism in Sikkim
  • Bayul Demojong (Sikkim), is the most sacred Land in the Himalayas as per the belief of the Northern Buddhists and various religious texts.
  • Sikkim was blessed by Guru Padmasambhava, the great Buddhist saint who visited Sikkim in the 8th century and consecrated the land.
  • However, Buddhism is said to have reached Sikkim only in the 17th century with the arrival of three Tibetan monks viz. Rigdzin Goedki Demthruchen, Mon Kathok Sonam Gyaltshen & Rigdzin Legden Je at Yuksom. Together, they established a Buddhist monastery.
  • In 1642 they crowned Phuntsog Namgyal as the first monarch of Sikkim and gave him the title of Chogyal, or Dharma Raja.
  • The faith became popular through its royal patronage and soon many villages had their own monastery.
  • Today Sikkim has over 200 monasteries.

Major monasteries
  • Rumtek Monastery, 20Km from Gangtok
  • Lingdum/Ranka Monastery, 17Km from Gangtok
  • Phodong Monastery, 28Km from Gangtok
  • Ralang Monastery, 10Km from Ravangla
  • Tsuklakhang Monastery, Royal Palace, Gangtok
  • Enchey Monastery, Gangtok
  • Tashiding Monastery, 35Km from Ravangla


Reaching Sikkim
  • Gangtok, being the capital, is easiest to reach amongst other regions, by public transport and shared cabs.
  • By Air:
    • Pakyong (PYG) :
      • Nearest airport from Gangtok (about 1 hour away)
      • Tabletop airport
      • Reserved cabs cost around INR 1200.
      • As of Apr 2021, the only flights to PYG are from IGI (Delhi) and CCU (Kolkata).
    • Bagdogra (IXB) :
      • About 20 minutes from Siliguri and 4 hours from Gangtok.
      • Larger airport with flights to most major Indian cities.
      • Reserved cabs cost about INR 3000. Shared cabs cost about INR 350.
  • By Train:
    • New Jalpaiguri (NJP) :
      • About 20 minutes from Siliguri and 4 hours from Gangtok.
      • Reserved cabs cost about INR 3000. Shared cabs from INR 350.
  • By Road:
    • NH10 connects Siliguri to Gangtok
    • If you can t find buses plying to Gangtok directly, reach Siliguri and then take a cab to Gangtok.
  • Sikkim Nationalised Transport Div. also runs hourly buses between Siliguri and Gangtok and daily buses on other common routes. They re cheaper than shared cabs.
  • Wizzride also operates shared cabs between Siliguri/Bagdogra/NJP, Gangtok and Darjeeling. They cost about the same as shared cabs but pack in half as many people in luxury cars (Innova, Xylo, etc.) and are hence more comfortable.

Gangtok
  • Time needed: 1D/1N
  • Places to visit:
    • Hanuman Tok
    • Ganesh Tok
    • Tashi View Point [6,800ft]
    • MG Marg
    • Sikkim Zoo
    • Gangtok Ropeway
    • Enchey Monastery
    • Tsuklakhang Palace & Monastery
  • Hostels: Tagalong Backpackers (would strongly recommend), Zostel Gangtok
  • Places to chill: Travel Cafe, Caf Live & Loud and Gangtok Groove
  • Places to shop: Lal Market and MG Marg

Getting Around
  • Taxis operate on a reserved or shared basis. In case of the latter, you can pool with other commuters your taxis will pick up and drop en-route.
  • Naturally shared taxis only operate on popular routes. The easiest way to get around Gangtok is to catch a shared cab from MG Marg.
  • Reserved taxis for Gangtok sightseeing cost around INR 1000-1500, depending upon the spots you d like to see
  • Key taxi/bus stands :
    • Deorali stand: For Darjeeling, Siliguri, Kalimpong
    • Vajra stand: For North & East Sikkim (Tsomgo Lake & Nathula)
    • Rumtek taxi: For Ravangla, Pelling, Namchi, Geyzing, Jorethang and Singtam.
Exploring Gangtok on an MTB

North Sikkim
  • The easiest & most economical way to explore North Sikkim is the 3D/2N package offered by shared-cab drivers.
  • This includes food, permits, cab rides and accommodation (1N in Lachen and 1N in Lachung)
  • The accommodation on both nights are at homestays with bare necessities, so keep your hopes low.
  • In the spirit of sustainable tourism, you ll be asked to discard single-use plastic bottles, so please carry a bottle that you can refill along the way.
  • Zero Point and Gurdongmer Lake are snow-capped throughout the year
3D/2N Shared-cab Package Itinerary
  • Day 1
    • Gangtok (10am) - Chungthang - Lachung (stay)
  • Day 2
    • Pre-lunch : Lachung (6am) - Yumthang Valley [12,139ft] - Zero Point - Lachung [15,300ft]
    • Post-lunch : Lachung - Chungthang - Lachen (stay)
  • Day 3
    • Pre-lunch : Lachen (5am) - Kala Patthar - Gurdongmer Lake [16,910ft] - Lachen
    • Post-lunch : Lachen - Chungthang - Gangtok (7pm)
  • This itinerary is idealistic and depends on the level of snowfall.
  • Some drivers might switch up Day 2 and 3 itineraries by visiting Lachen and then Lachung, depending upon the weather.
  • Areas beyond Lachen & Lachung are heavily militarized since the Indo-China border is only a few miles away.

East Sikkim

Zuluk and Silk Route
  • Time needed: 2D/1N
  • Zuluk [9,400ft] is a small hamlet with an excellent view of the eastern Himalayan range including the Kanchenjunga.
  • Was once a transit point to the historic Silk Route from Tibet (Lhasa) to India (West Bengal).
  • The drive from Gangtok to Zuluk takes at least four hours. Hence, it makes sense to spend the night at a homestay and space out your trip to Zuluk

Tsomgo Lake and Nathula
  • Time Needed : 1D
  • A Protected Area Permit is required to visit these places, due to their proximity to the Chinese border
  • Tsomgo/Chhangu Lake [12,313ft]
    • Glacial lake, 40 km from Gangtok.
    • Remains frozen during the winter season.
    • You can also ride on the back of a Yak for INR 300
  • Baba Mandir
    • An old temple dedicated to Baba Harbhajan Singh, a Sepoy in the 23rd Regiment, who died in 1962 near the Nathu La during Indo China war.
  • Nathula Pass [14,450ft]
    • Located on the Indo-Tibetan border crossing of the Old Silk Route, it is one of the three open trading posts between India and China.
    • Plays a key role in the Sino-Indian Trade and also serves as an official Border Personnel Meeting(BPM) Point.
    • May get cordoned off by the Indian Army in event of heavy snowfall or for other security reasons.


West Sikkim
  • Time needed: 3N/1N
  • Hostels at Pelling : Mochilerro Ostillo

Itinerary

Day 1: Gangtok - Ravangla - Pelling
  • Leave Gangtok early, for Ravangla through the Temi Tea Estate route.
  • Spend some time at the tea garden and then visit Buddha Park at Ravangla
  • Head to Pelling from Ravangla

Day 2: Pelling sightseeing
  • Hire a cab and visit Skywalk, Pemayangtse Monastery, Rabdentse Ruins, Kecheopalri Lake, Kanchenjunga Falls.

Day 3: Pelling - Gangtok/Siliguri
  • Wake up early to catch a glimpse of Kanchenjunga at the Pelling Helipad around sunrise
  • Head back to Gangtok on a shared-cab
  • You could take a bus/taxi back to Siliguri if Pelling is your last stop.

Darjeeling
  • In my opinion, Darjeeling is lovely for a two-day detour on your way back to Bagdogra/Siliguri and not any longer (unless you re a Bengali couple on a honeymoon)
  • Once a part of Sikkim, Darjeeling was ceded to the East India Company after a series of wars, with Sikkim briefly receiving a grant from EIC for gifting Darjeeling to the latter
  • Post-independence, Darjeeling was merged with the state of West Bengal.

Itinerary

Day 1 :
  • Take a cab from Gangtok to Darjeeling (shared-cabs cost INR 300 per seat)
  • Reach Darjeeling by noon and check in to your Hostel. I stayed at Hideout.
  • Spend the evening visiting either a monastery (or the Batasia Loop), Nehru Road and Mall Road.
  • Grab dinner at Glenary whilst listening to live music.

Day 2:
  • Wake up early to catch the sunrise and a glimpse of Kanchenjunga at Tiger Hill. Since Tiger Hill is 10km from Darjeeling and requires a permit, book your taxi in advance.
  • Alternatively, if you don t want to get up at 4am or shell out INR1500 on the cab to Tiger Hill, walk to the Kanchenjunga View Point down Mall Road
  • Next, queue up outside Keventers for breakfast with a view in a century-old cafe
  • Get a cab at Gandhi Road and visit a tea garden (Happy Valley is the closest) and the Ropeway. I was lucky to meet 6 other backpackers at my hostel and we ended up pooling the cab at INR 200 per person, with INR 1400 being on the expensive side, but you could bargain.
  • Get lunch, buy some tea at Golden Tips, pack your bags and hop on a shared-cab back to Siliguri. It took us about 4hrs to reach Siliguri, with an hour to spare before my train.
  • If you ve still got time on your hands, then check out the Peace Pagoda and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (Toy Train). At INR 1500, I found the latter to be too expensive and skipped it.


Tips and hacks
  • Download offline maps, especially when you re exploring Northern Sikkim.
  • Food and booze are the cheapest in Gangtok. Stash up before heading to other regions.
  • Keep your Aadhar/Passport handy since you need permits to travel to North & East Sikkim.
  • In rural areas and some cafes, you may get to try Rhododendron Wine, made from Rhododendron arboreum a.k.a Gurans. Its production is a little hush-hush since the flower is considered holy and is also the National Flower of Nepal.
  • If you don t want to invest in a new jacket, boots or a pair of gloves, you can always rent them at nominal rates from your hotel or little stores around tourist sites.
  • Check the weather of a region before heading there. Low visibility and precipitation can quite literally dampen your experience.
  • Keep your itinerary flexible to accommodate for rest and impromptu plans.
  • Shops and restaurants close by 8pm in Sikkim and Darjeeling. Plan for the same.

Carry
  • a couple of extra pairs of socks (woollen, if possible)
  • a pair of slippers to wear indoors
  • a reusable water bottle
  • an umbrella
  • a power bank
  • a couple of tablets of Diamox. Helps deal with altitude sickness
  • extra clothes and wet bags since you may not get a chance to wash/dry your clothes
  • a few passport size photographs

Shared-cab hacks
  • Intercity rides can be exhausting. If you can afford it, pay for an additional seat.
  • Call shotgun on the drives beyond Lachen and Lachung. The views are breathtaking.
  • Return cabs tend to be cheaper (WB cabs travelling from SK and vice-versa)

Cost
  • My median daily expenditure (back when I went to Sikkim in early March 2021) was INR 1350.
  • This includes stay (bunk bed), food, wine and transit (shared cabs)
  • In my defence, I splurged on food, wine and extra seats in shared cabs, but if you re on a budget, you could easily get by on INR 1 - 1.2k per day.
  • For a 9-day trip, I ended up shelling out nearly INR 15k, including 2AC trains to & from Kolkata
  • Note : Summer (March to May) and Autumn (October to December) are peak seasons, and thereby more expensive to travel around.

Souvenirs and things you should buy

Buddhist souvenirs :
  • Colourful Prayer Flags (great for tying on bikes or behind car windshields)
  • Miniature Prayer/Mani Wheels
  • Lucky Charms, Pendants and Key Chains
  • Cham Dance masks and robes
  • Singing Bowls
  • Common symbols: Om mani padme hum, Ashtamangala, Zodiac signs

Handicrafts & Handlooms
  • Tibetan Yak Wool shawls, scarfs and carpets
  • Sikkimese Ceramic cups
  • Thangka Paintings

Edibles
  • Darjeeling Tea (usually brewed and not boiled)
  • Wine (Arucha Peach & Rhododendron)
  • Dalle Khursani (Chilli) Paste and Pickle

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31 March 2021

Timo Jyrinki: MotionPhoto / MicroVideo File Formats on Pixel Phones

Google Pixel phones support what they call Motion Photo which is essentially a photo with a short video clip attached to it. They are quite nice since they bring the moment alive, especially as the capturing of the video starts a small moment before the shutter button is pressed. For most viewing programs they simply show as static JPEG photos, but there is more to the files.
I d really love proper Shotwell support for these file formats, so I posted a longish explanation with many of the details in this blog post to a ticket there too. Examples of the newer format are linked there too.
Info posted to Shotwell ticket

There are actually two different formats, an old one that is already obsolete, and a newer current format. The older ones are those that your Pixel phone recorded as MVIMG_[datetime].jpg", and they have the following meta-data:
Xmp.GCamera.MicroVideo                       XmpText     1  1
Xmp.GCamera.MicroVideoVersion XmpText 1 1
Xmp.GCamera.MicroVideoOffset XmpText 7 4022143
Xmp.GCamera.MicroVideoPresentationTimestampUs XmpText 7 1331607
The offset is actually from the end of the file, so one needs to calculate accordingly. But it is exact otherwise, so one simply extract a file with that meta-data information:
#!/bin/bash
#
# Extracts the microvideo from a MVIMG_*.jpg file

# The offset is from the ending of the file, so calculate accordingly
offset=$(exiv2 -p X "$1" grep MicroVideoOffset sed 's/.*\"\(.*\)"/\1/')
filesize=$(du --apparent-size --block=1 "$1" sed 's/^\([0-9]*\).*/\1/')
extractposition=$(expr $filesize - $offset)
echo offset: $offset
echo filesize: $filesize
echo extractposition=$extractposition
dd if="$1" skip=1 bs=$extractposition of="$(basename -s .jpg $1).mp4"
The newer format is recorded in filenames called PXL_[datetime].MP.jpg , and they have a _lot_ of additional metadata:
Xmp.GCamera.MotionPhoto                      XmpText     1  1
Xmp.GCamera.MotionPhotoVersion XmpText 1 1
Xmp.GCamera.MotionPhotoPresentationTimestampUs XmpText 6 233320
Xmp.xmpNote.HasExtendedXMP XmpText 32 E1F7505D2DD64EA6948D2047449F0FFA
Xmp.Container.Directory XmpText 0 type="Seq"
Xmp.Container.Directory[1] XmpText 0 type="Struct"
Xmp.Container.Directory[1]/Container:Item XmpText 0 type="Struct"
Xmp.Container.Directory[1]/Container:Item/Item:Mime XmpText 10 image/jpeg
Xmp.Container.Directory[1]/Container:Item/Item:Semantic XmpText 7 Primary
Xmp.Container.Directory[1]/Container:Item/Item:Length XmpText 1 0
Xmp.Container.Directory[1]/Container:Item/Item:Padding XmpText 1 0
Xmp.Container.Directory[2] XmpText 0 type="Struct"
Xmp.Container.Directory[2]/Container:Item XmpText 0 type="Struct"
Xmp.Container.Directory[2]/Container:Item/Item:Mime XmpText 9 video/mp4
Xmp.Container.Directory[2]/Container:Item/Item:Semantic XmpText 11 MotionPhoto
Xmp.Container.Directory[2]/Container:Item/Item:Length XmpText 7 1679555
Xmp.Container.Directory[2]/Container:Item/Item:Padding XmpText 1 0
Sounds like fun and lots of information. However I didn t see why the length in first item is 0 and I didn t see how to use the latter Length info. But I can use the mp4 headers to extract it:
#!/bin/bash
#
# Extracts the motion part of a MotionPhoto file PXL_*.MP.mp4

extractposition=$(grep --binary --byte-offset --only-matching --text \
-P "\x00\x00\x00\x18\x66\x74\x79\x70\x6d\x70\x34\x32" $1 sed 's/^\([0-9]*\).*/\1/')

dd if="$1" skip=1 bs=$extractposition of="$(basename -s .jpg $1).mp4"
UPDATE: I wrote most of this blog post earlier. When now actually getting to publishing it a week later, I see the obvious ie the Length is again simply the offset from the end of the file so one could do the same less brute force approach as for MVIMG. I ll leave the above as is however for the of binary grepping.(cross-posted to my other blog)

7 March 2021

Louis-Philippe V ronneau: New Year, New OpenPGP Key

-----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----
Hash: SHA512
Sun, 07 Mar 2021 13:00:17 -0500
I've recently set up a new OpenPGP key and will be transitioning away from my
old one.
It is a chance for me to start using a OpenPGP hardware token and to transition
to a new personal email address (my main public contact is still my
 @debian.org  address).
Please note that I've partially redacted some email addresses from this
statement to minimise the amount of spam I receive. It shouldn't be hard for
actual humans to follow the instructions below to find the complete addresses.
The old key will continue to be valid for a few months, but will eventually be
revoked.
You might know my old OpenPGP certificate as:
pub   rsa4096/0x7AEAC4EC6AAA0A97 2014-12-22 [expires: 2021-06-02]
      Key fingerprint = 677F 54F1 FA86 81AD 8EC0  BCE6 7AEA C4EC 6AAA 0A97
uid       Louis-Philippe V ronneau <REDACTED@riseup.net>
uid       Louis-Philippe V ronneau (alias) <REDACTED@riseup.net>
uid       Louis-Philippe V ronneau (debian) <REDACTED@debian.org>
My new OpenPGP certificate is:
pub   ed25519/0xE1E5457C8BAD4113 2021-03-06 [expires: 2022-03-06]
      Key fingerprint = F64D 61D3 21F3 CB48 9156  753D E1E5 457C 8BAD 4113
uid       Louis-Philippe V ronneau <REDACTED@veronneau.org>
uid       Louis-Philippe V ronneau <REDACTED@debian.org>
These days, I mostly use my key for Debian and to sign git commit. I don't
really expect you to sign my new key if you had signed my old one.
I've published the new certificate on keys.openpgp.org as well as on my
personal website. You can fetch it like this:
    $ wget -O- https://veronneau.org/media/openpgp.key   gpg --import
-----BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE-----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=onl0
-----END PGP SIGNATURE-----

16 November 2020

Adnan Hodzic: Degiro trading tracker Simplified tracking of your investments

TL;DRVisit degiro-trading-tracker on Github I was always interested in stocks and investing. While I wanted to get into trading for long time, I could never... The post Degiro trading tracker Simplified tracking of your investments appeared first on FoolControl: Phear the penguin.

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