Search Results: "edd"

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.

Wouter Verhelst: Backing up my home server with Bacula and Amazon Storage Gateway

I have a home server. Initially conceived and sized so I could digitize my (rather sizeable) DVD collection, I started using it for other things; I added a few play VMs on it, started using it as a destination for the deja-dup-based backups of my laptop and the time machine-based ones of the various macs in the house, and used it as the primary location of all the photos I've taken with my cameras over the years (currently taking up somewhere around 500G) as well as those that were taking at our wedding (another 100G). To add to that, I've copied the data that my wife had on various older laptops and external hard drives onto this home server as well, so that we don't lose the data should something happen to one or more of these bits of older hardware. Needless to say, the server was running full, so a few months ago I replaced the 4x2T hard drives that I originally put in the server with 4x6T ones, and there was much rejoicing. But then I started considering what I was doing. Originally, the intent was for the server to contain DVD rips of my collection; if I were to lose the server, I could always re-rip the collection and recover that way (unless something happened that caused me to lose both at the same time, of course, but I consider that sufficiently unlikely that I don't want to worry about it). Much of the new data on the server, however, cannot be recovered like that; if the server dies, I lose my photos forever, with no way of recovering them. Obviously that can't be okay. So I started looking at options to create backups of my data, preferably in ways that make it easily doable for me to automate the backups -- because backups that have to be initiated are backups that will be forgotten, and backups that are forgotten are backups that don't exist. So let's not try that. When I was still self-employed in Belgium and running a consultancy business, I sold a number of lower-end tape libraries for which I then configured bacula, and I preferred a solution that would be similar to that without costing an arm and a leg. I did have a look at a few second-hand tape libraries, but even second hand these are still way outside what I can budget for this kind of thing, so that was out too. After looking at a few solutions that seemed very hackish and would require quite a bit of handholding (which I don't think is a good idea), I remembered that a few years ago, I had a look at the Amazon Storage Gateway for a customer. This gateway provides a virtual tape library with 10 drives and 3200 slots (half of which are import/export slots) over iSCSI. The idea is that you install the VM on a local machine, you connect it to your Amazon account, you connect your backup software to it over iSCSI, and then it syncs the data that you write to Amazon S3, with the ability to archive data to S3 Glacier or S3 Glacier Deep Archive. I didn't end up using it at the time because it required a VMWare virtualization infrastructure (which I'm not interested in), but I found out that these days, they also provide VM images for Linux KVM-based virtual machines (amongst others), so that changes things significantly. After making a few calculations, I figured out that for the amount of data that I would need to back up, I would require a monthly budget of somewhere between 10 and 20 USD if the bulk of the data would be on S3 Glacier Deep Archive. This is well within my means, so I gave it a try. The VM's technical requirements state that you need to assign four vCPUs and 16GiB of RAM, which just so happens to be the exact amount of RAM and CPU that my physical home server has. Obviously we can't do that. I tried getting away with 4GiB and 2 vCPUs, but that didn't work; the backup failed out after about 500G out of 2T had been written, due to the VM running out of resources. On the VM's console I found complaints that it required more memory, and I saw it mention something in the vicinity of 7GiB instead, so I decided to try again, this time with 8GiB of RAM rather than 4. This worked, and the backup was successful. As far as bacula is concerned, the tape library is just a (very big...) normal tape library, and I got data throughput of about 30M/s while the VM's upload buffer hadn't run full yet, with things slowing down to pretty much my Internet line speed when it had. With those speeds, Bacula finished the backup successfully in "1 day 6 hours 43 mins 45 secs", although the storage gateway was still uploading things to S3 Glacier for a few hours after that. All in all, this seems like a viable backup solution for large(r) amounts of data, although I haven't yet tried to perform a restore.

14 January 2022

Dirk Eddelbuettel: Rcpp 1.0.8: Updated, Strict Headers

rcpp logo The Rcpp team is thrilled to share the news of the newest release 1.0.8 of Rcpp which hit CRAN today, and has already been uploaded to Debian as well. Windows and macOS builds should appear at CRAN in the next few days. This release continues with the six-months cycle started with release 1.0.5 in July 2020. As a reminder, interim dev or rc releases will alwasys be available in the Rcpp drat repo; this cycle there were once again seven (!!) times two as we also tested the modified header (more below). These rolling release tend to work just as well, and are also fully tested against all reverse-dependencies. Rcpp has become the most popular way of enhancing R with C or C++ code. Right now, around 2478 packages on CRAN depend on Rcpp for making analytical code go faster and further, along with 242 in BioConductor. This release finally brings a change we have worked on quite a bit over the last few months. The idea of enforcing the setting of STRICT_R_HEADERS was prososed years ago in 2016 and again in 2018. But making such a chance against a widely-deployed code base has repurcussions, and we were not ready then. Last April, this was revisited in issue #1158. Over the course of numerous lengthy runs of tests of a changed Rcpp package against (essentially) all reverse-dependencies (i.e. packages which use Rcpp) we identified ninetyfour packages in total which needed a change. We provided either a patch we emailed, or a GitHub pull request, to all ninetyfour. And we are happy to say that eighty cases were resolved via a new CRAN upload, with a seven more having merged the pull request but not yet uploaded. Hence, we could make the case to CRAN (who were always CC ed on the monthly nag emails we sent to maintainers of packages needing a change) that an upload was warranted. And after a brief period for their checks and inspection, our January 11 release of Rcpp 1.0.8 arrived on CRAN on January 13. So with that, a big and heartfelt Thank You! to all eighty maintainers for updating their packages to permit this change at the Rcpp end, to CRAN for the extra checking, and to everybody else who I bugged with the numerous emails and updated to the seemingly never-ending issue #1158. We all got this done, and that is a Good Thing (TM). Other than the aforementioned change which will not automatically set STRICT_R_HEADERS (unless opted out which one can), a number of nice pull request by a number of contributors are included in this release: The full list of details follows.

Changes in Rcpp release version 1.0.8 (2022-01-11)
  • Changes in Rcpp API:
    • STRICT_R_HEADERS is now enabled by default, see extensive discussion in #1158 closing #898.
    • A new #define allows default setting of finalizer calls for external pointers (I aki in #1180 closing #1108).
    • Rcpp:::CxxFlags() now quotes the include path generated, (Kevin in #1189 closing #1188).
    • New header files Rcpp/Light, Rcpp/Lighter, Rcpp/Lightest and default Rcpp/Rcpp for fine-grained access to features (and compilation time) (Dirk #1191 addressing #1168).
  • Changes in Rcpp Attributes:
    • A new option signature allows customization of function signatures (Travers Ching in #1184 and #1187 fixing #1182)
  • Changes in Rcpp Documentation:
    • The Rcpp FAQ has a new entry on how not to grow a vector (Dirk in #1167).
    • Some long-spurious calls to RNGSope have been removed from examples (Dirk in #1173 closing #1172).
    • DOI reference in the bibtex files have been updated per JSS request (Dirk in #1186).
  • Changes in Rcpp Deployment:
    • Some continuous integration components have been updated (Dirk in #1174, #1181, and #1190).

Thanks to my CRANberries, you can also look at a diff to the previous release. Questions, comments etc should go to the rcpp-devel mailing list off the R-Forge page. Bugs reports are welcome at the GitHub issue tracker as well (where one can also search among open or closed issues); questions are also welcome under rcpp tag at StackOverflow which also allows searching among the (currently) 2822 previous questions. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can sponsor me at GitHub.

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

9 January 2022

Dirk Eddelbuettel: Rblpapi 0.3.13: Some Fixes and Documentation

A new version, now at 0.3.13, of the Rblpapi package just arrived at CRAN. Rblpapi provides a direct interface between R and the Bloomberg Terminal via the C++ API provided by Bloomberg (but note that a valid Bloomberg license and installation is required). This is the thirteenth release since the package first appeared on CRAN in 2016. It comprises the PRs from three different contributors (with special thanks once again to Michael Kerber), and extends test and documentation, and extends two function interfaces to control explicitly whether returned lists of length one should be simplified. The list of changes follow below.

Changes in Rblpapi version 0.3.13 (2022-01-09)
  • Add a test for bds (Michael Kerber in #352)
  • Add simplify argument (and option) to bdh and bds (Dirk in #354 closing #353, #351)
  • Improve documentation for bsearch (John in #357 closing #356)

Courtesy of my CRANberries, there is also a diffstat report for the this release. As always, more detailed information is on the Rblpapi page. Questions, comments etc should go to the issue tickets system at the GitHub repo. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can now sponsor me at GitHub.

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

6 January 2022

Jacob Adams: Linux Hibernation Documentation

Recently I ve been curious about how hibernation works on Linux, as it s an interesting interaction between hardware and software. There are some notes in the Arch wiki and the kernel documentation (as well as some kernel documentation on debugging hibernation and on sleep states more generally), and of course the ACPI Specification

The Formal Definition ACPI (Advanced Configuration and Power Interface) is, according to the spec, an architecture-independent power management and configuration framework that forms a subsystem within the host OS which defines a hardware register set to define power states. ACPI defines four global system states G0, working/on, G1, sleeping, G2, soft off, and G3, mechanical off1. Within G1 there are 4 sleep states, numbered S1 through S4. There are also S0 and S5, which are equivalent to G0 and G2 respectively2.

Sleep According to the spec, the ACPI S1-S4 states all do the same thing from the operating system s perspective, but each saves progressively more power, so the operating system is expected to pick the deepest of these states when entering sleep. However, most operating systems3 distinguish between S1-S3, which are typically referred to as sleep or suspend, and S4, which is typically referred to as hibernation.

S1: CPU Stop and Cache Wipe The CPU caches are wiped and then the CPU is stopped, which the spec notes is equivalent to the WBINVD instruction followed by the STPCLK signal on x86. However, nothing is powered off.

S2: Processor Power off The system stops the processor and most system clocks (except the real time clock), then powers off the processor. Upon waking, the processor will not continue what it was doing before, but instead use its reset vector4.

S3: Suspend/Sleep (Suspend-to-RAM) Mostly equivalent to S2, but hardware ensures that only memory and whatever other hardware memory requires are powered.

S4: Hibernate (Suspend-to-Disk) In this state, all hardware is completely powered off and an image of the system is written to disk, to be restored from upon reapplying power. Writing the system image to disk can be handled by the operating system if supported, or by the firmware.

Linux Sleep States Linux has its own set of sleep states which mostly correspond with ACPI states.

Suspend-to-Idle This is a software only sleep that puts all hardware into the lowest power state it can, suspends timekeeping, and freezes userspace processes. All userspace and some kernel threads5, except those tagged with PF_NOFREEZE, are frozen before the system enters a sleep state. Frozen tasks are sent to the __refrigerator(), where they set TASK_UNINTERRUPTIBLE and PF_FROZEN and infinitely loop until PF_FROZEN is unset6. This prevents these tasks from doing anything during the imaging process. Any userspace process running on a different CPU while the kernel is trying to create a memory image would cause havoc. This is also done because any filesystem changes made during this would be lost and could cause the filesystem and its related in-memory structures to become inconsistent. Also, creating a hibernation image requires about 50% of memory free, so no tasks should be allocating memory, which freezing also prevents.

Standby This is equivalent to ACPI S1.

Suspend-to-RAM This is equivalent to ACPI S3.

Hibernation Hibernation is mostly equivalent to ACPI S4 but does not require S4, only requiring low-level code for resuming the system to be present for the underlying CPU architecture according to the Linux sleep state docs. To hibernate, everything is stopped and the kernel takes a snapshot of memory. Then, the system writes out the memory image to disk. Finally, the system either enters S4 or turns off completely. When the system restores power it boots a new kernel, which looks for a hibernation image and loads it into memory. It then overwrites itself with the hibernation image and jumps to a resume area of the original kernel7. The resumed kernel restores the system to its previous state and resumes all processes.

Hybrid Suspend Hybrid suspend does not correspond to an official ACPI state, but instead is effectively a combination of S3 and S4. The system writes out a hibernation image, but then enters suspend-to-RAM. If the system wakes up from suspend it will discard the hibernation image, but if the system loses power it can safely restore from the hibernation image.
  1. The difference between soft and mechanical off is that mechanical off is entered and left by a mechanical means (for example, turning off the system s power through the movement of a large red switch)
  2. It s unclear to me why G and S states overlap like this. I assume this is a relic of an older spec that only had S states, but I have not as yet found any evidence of this. If someone has any information on this, please let me know and I ll update this footnote.
  3. Of the operating systems I know of that support ACPI sleep states (I checked Windows, Mac, Linux, and the three BSDs8), only MacOS does not allow the user to deliberately enable hibernation, instead supporting a hybrid suspend it calls safe sleep
  4. The reset vector of a processor is the default location where, upon a reset, the processor will go to find the first instruction to execute. In other words, the reset vector is a pointer or address where the processor should always begin its execution. This first instruction typically branches to the system initialization code. Xiaocong Fan, Real-Time Embedded Systems, 2015
  5. All kernel threads are tagged with PF_NOFREEZE by default, so they must specifically opt-in to task freezing.
  6. This is not from the docs, but from kernel/freezer.c which also notes Refrigerator is place where frozen processes are stored :-).
  7. This is the operation that requires special architecture-specific low-level code .
  8. Interestingly NetBSD has a setting to enable hibernation, but does not actually support hibernation

3 January 2022

Paul Wise: FLOSS Activities December 2021

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

Changes

Issues

Review
  • Spam: reported 166 Debian mailing list posts
  • Patches: reviewed libpst upstream patches
  • Debian packages: sponsored nsis, memtest86+
  • Debian wiki: RecentChanges for the month
  • Debian BTS usertags: changes for the month
  • Debian screenshots:

Administration
  • libpst: setup GitHub presence, migrate from hg to git, requested details from bug reporters
  • plac: cleaned up git repo anomalies
  • Debian BTS: unarchive/reopen/triage bugs for reintroduced packages: stardict, node-carto
  • Debian wiki: unblock IP addresses, approve accounts

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

Sponsors The purple-discord, python-plac, sptag, smart-open, libpst, memtest86+, oci-python-sdk work was sponsored. All other work was done on a volunteer basis.

26 December 2021

Vincent Bernat: Custom screen saver with XSecureLock

i3lock is a popular X11 screen lock utility. As far as customization goes, it only allows one to set a background from a PNG file. This limitation is part of the design of i3lock: its primary goal is to keep the screen locked, something difficult enough with X11. Each additional feature would increase the attack surface and move away from this goal.1 Many are frustrated with these limitations and extend i3lock through simple wrapper scripts or by forking it.2 The first solution is usually safe, but the second goes against the spirit of i3lock. XSecureLock is a less-known alternative to i3lock. One of the most attractive features of this locker is to delegate the screen saver feature to another process. This process can be anything as long it can attach to an existing window provided by XSecureLock, which won t pass any input to it. It will also put a black window below it to ensure the screen stays locked in case of a crash. XSecureLock is shipped with a few screen savers, notably one using mpv to display photos or videos, like the Apple TV aerial videos. I have written my own saver using Python and GTK.3 It shows a background image, a clock, and the current weather.4
Custom screen saver for XSecureLock, displaying a clock and the current weather
Custom screen saver for XSecureLock
I add two patches over XSecureLock: XSecureLock also delegates the authentication window to another process, but I was less comfortable providing a custom one as it is a bit more security-sensitive. While basic, the shipped authentication application is fine by me. I think people should avoid modifying i3lock code and use XSecureLock instead. I hope this post will help a bit.

Update (2022-01) XScreenSaver can also run arbitrary programs as a screen saver.


  1. See for example this comment or this one explaining the rationale.
  2. This Reddit post enumerates many of these alternatives.
  3. Using GTK makes it a bit difficult to use some low-level features, like embedding an application into an existing window. However, the high-level features are easier, notably drawing an image and a text with a shadow.
  4. Weather is retrieved by another script running on a timer and written to a file. The screen saver watches this file for updates.

25 December 2021

Russ Allbery: Review: Shattered Pillars

Review: Shattered Pillars, by Elizabeth Bear
Series: Eternal Sky #2
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: March 2013
ISBN: 0-7653-2755-4
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 333
Shattered Pillars is the second book in the Eternal Sky series, which begins with Range of Ghosts. You should read them in order, and ideally close together, since they (along with the next book) form a single continuous story. I made the horrible mistake of reading the first book of an Elizabeth Bear series and then letting four years go by before reading the second one. Bear's trademark style is to underexplain things to the point that it can be hard to follow the plot when you remember it, let alone after more than sufficient time to forget even the general shape of the plot. I therefore spent most of this book (and a bit of Internet searching) trying to dig up pieces of my memory and reconstruct the story. Learn from my error and read the trilogy as one novel if you're going to read it. Please, authors and publishers, put a short plot synopsis at the start of series books. No, your hints about what happened previously that you weave into the first two chapters are not as good as a one-page plot synopsis. No, I don't want to have to re-read the first book; do you have any idea how many books I own but haven't read? No, the Internet doesn't provide plot synopses for every book. Give me a couple of paragraphs and help me enjoy your fiction! Argh. Possible spoiler warnings for the first book are in order because I don't remember the first book well enough to remember what plot details might be a spoiler. As Shattered Pillars opens, Temur, Samarkar, and their companions have reached the western city of Asitaneh, seeking help from Temur's grandfather to rescue Edene from the Nameless. This will require breaching the Nameless fortress of Ala-Din. That, in turn, will entangle Temur and Samarkar in the politics of the western caliphate, where al-Sepehr of the Nameless is also meddling. Far to the east, from where Samarkar came, a deadly plague breaks out in the city of Tsarepheth, one that follows an eerily reliable progression and is even more sinister than it may first appear. Al-Sepehr's plans to sow chaos and war using ancient evil magic and bend the results to his favor continue apace. But one of the chess pieces he thought he controlled has partly escaped his grasp. Behind all of this lurks the powers of Erem and its scorching, blinding, multi-sunned sky. Al-Sepehr believes he understands those powers well enough to use them. He may be wrong. This is entirely the middle book of a trilogy, in that essentially nothing is resolved here. All the pieces in motion at the start of this book are still in motion at the end of this book. We learn a lot more about the characters, get some tantalizing and obscure glances at Erem, and end the book with a firmer idea of the potential sides and powers in play, but there is barely any plot resolution and no proper intermediate climax. This is a book to read as part of a series, not on its own. That said, I enjoyed this book considerably more than I would have expected given how little is resolved. Bear's writing is vivid and engrossing and made me feel like I was present in this world even when nothing apparently significant was happening. And, as usual, her world-building is excellent if you like puzzles, stray hints, and complicated, multi-faceted mythology. This is a world in which the sky literally changes depending on which magical or mythological system reigns supreme in a given area, which in the Erem sections give it a science fiction flavor. If someone told me Bear could merge Silk Road historical fantasy with some of the feel of planetary romance (but far more sophisticated writing), I would have been dubious, but it works. Perhaps the best thing about this book is that all of the characters feel like adults. They make complex, nuanced decisions in pursuit of their goals, thoughtfully adjust to events, rarely make obviously stupid decisions, and generally act like the intelligent and experienced people that they are. This is refreshing in epic fantasy, where the plot tends to steamroll the characters and where often there's a young chosen one at the center of the plot whose courage and raw power overcomes repeated emotional stupidity. Shattered Pillars is careful, precise, and understated where epic fantasy is often brash, reckless, and over-explained. That plus the subtle and deep world-building makes this world feel older and more complex than most series of this sort. There's also a magical horse, who is delightfully uninterested in revealing anything about where it came from or why it's magical, and who was probably my favorite character of the book. Hrahima, the giant tiger-woman, is a close second. I was intrigued to learn more about her complicated relationship with her entirely separate mythology, and hope there's more about that the third book. The villain is still hissable, but a bit less blatantly so on camera. It helps that the scenes from the villains' perspective primarily focus on his more interesting servants. One of the problems with this book, and I think one of the reasons why it feels so transitional and intermediate, is that there are a lot of viewpoint characters and a lot of scene-switching. We're kept up-to-date with four separate threads of events, generally with more than one viewpoint character in each of those threads, and at times (particularly with the wizards of Tsarepheth) I had trouble keeping all the supporting characters straight. Hopefully the third book will quickly merge plot lines and bring some of this complexity together. I wish I'd read this more closely to Range of Ghosts. Either that or a plot synopsis would have helped me enjoy it more. But this is solid epic fantasy by one of SFF's better writers, and now I'm invested in the series again. Some unfortunate logistics are currently between me and the third book, but it won't be four years before I finish the series. Followed by Steles of the Sky. Rating: 7 out of 10

21 December 2021

Jonathan Dowland: Vim plugins by Tim Pope

I've been using Vim as my main text editor for 18 years, but for most of that time I've been using something very close to the default configuration: my vimrc contained not much more than preferences for indentation and how to visually indicate white space characters like tabs. Last but not least, I've used a single colour scheme for most of that time: Zenburn. In 20151 I started exploring a few Vim plugins2. To manage them, I started by choosing a plugin manager, Pathogen3. Recently I noticed that the plugin's author, Tim Pope, now recommends new users just use Vim's built in package management instead. I got curious about Tim Pope's other plugins: He has written a great deal of them. Given I've spent most of two decades with a barely-configured Vim, you can imagine that I don't want to radically alter the way it works, and so I did not expect to want to use a lot of plugins. The utility of a plugin would have to outweight the disadvantages of coming to rely on one. But when browsing Tim's plugins, time and time again, I found myself reacting to description with How did I manage without this?. And so, I've ended up installing all of the following, all by Tim Pope:

  1. I had to look this up, probably because I started at redhat
  2. I have opinions about Plugins, what supporting them means architecturally for your application, the interaction with Open Source, and stuff like that, perhaps for another post.
  3. To try out Vim plugins the first thing you need to figure out is how to manage them (install, activate, configure). Vim grew a Plugin manager in version 8 (2016). Prior to that, people wrote third-party ones. For this reason there is a frankly absurd number of Plugin managers, including: Vim's own; Vim Plug; Vundle; Dein; Volt and Pathogen.

20 December 2021

Dirk Eddelbuettel: RcppSMC 0.2.6 on CRAN: Compiler Update

A new maintenance RcppSMC release 0.2.6 arrived at CRAN yesterday. It chiefly updates the code to comply with g++-11 which default to C++17 which brings us std::data(). And if one is not careful, as we weren t in three files, this can clash with other uses of data as I tweeted a good week ago. Otherwise some JSS URLs now sport the preferred shorter doi form. RcppSMC provides Rcpp-based bindings to R for the Sequential Monte Carlo Template Classes (SMCTC) by Adam Johansen described in his JSS article. Sequential Monte Carlo is also referred to as Particle Filter in some contexts. The package features the Google Summer of Code work by Leah South in 2017, and by Ilya Zarubin in 2021. This release is summarized below.

Changes in RcppSMC version 0.2.6 (2021-12-17)
  • Updated URLs to JSS for the new DOI scheme upon their request
  • Adjusted three source files for C++17 compilation under g++-11

Courtesy of my CRANberries, there is a diffstat report for this release. More information is on the RcppSMC page. Issues and bugreports should go to the GitHub issue tracker. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can now sponsor me at GitHub.

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

17 December 2021

Dirk Eddelbuettel: RcppArmadillo 0.10.7.5.0 on CRAN: Bugfixes

armadillo image Armadillo is a powerful and expressive C++ template library for linear algebra aiming towards a good balance between speed and ease of use with a syntax deliberately close to a Matlab. RcppArmadillo integrates this library with the R environment and language and is widely used by (currently) 937 other packages on CRAN, and downloaded over 22 million times (per the partial logs from the cloud mirrors of CRAN). This release brings another bug fix release 10.7.5 by Conrad in the long-term support 10.7.* series we started with 0.10.7.0 on September 30. As the bug fixes can come a little quicker than the desired monthly cadence CRAN aims for, we skipped a few of those release for CRAN only but of course still provide them via the Rcpp drat repo. The full set of changes (since the last CRAN release 0.10.7.3.0) follows. It includes the nice fixes to the fields type mentioned right after the last release.

Changes in RcppArmadillo version 0.10.7.5.0 (2021-12-16)
  • Upgraded to Armadillo release 10.7.5
    • fix aliasing bug in diagmat()
    • fix detection of 2x2 triangular matrices

Changes in RcppArmadillo version 0.10.7.4.0 (2021-11-23)
  • Upgraded to Armadillo release 10.7.4
    • faster handling of diagonal matrices by inv_sympd(), pinv(), rank()
    • more robust detection of incorrect data format by .load()
  • Correct dimensions setting in import/export of arma::field types, protected by #define (Jonathan Berrisch in #352 fixing #351)
  • Add unit tests for fields both with and without new #define (Dirk)

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

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

16 December 2021

Dirk Eddelbuettel: RProtoBuf 0.4.18: Multiple Updates

A new release 0.4.18 of RProtoBuf arrived on CRAN earlier today. RProtoBuf provides R with bindings for the Google Protocol Buffers ( ProtoBuf ) data encoding and serialization library used and released by Google, and deployed very widely in numerous projects as a language and operating-system agnostic protocol. This release, the first since March of last year, contains two contributed pull requests improving or extending the package, some internal maintance updating the CI setup as well as retiring an old-yet-unused stub interface for RPC, as well as an update for UCRT builds on Windows. The following section from the NEWS.Rd file has more details.

Changes in RProtoBuf version 0.4.18 (2021-12-15)
  • Support string_view in FindMethodByName() (Adam Cozzette in #72).
  • CI use was updated first at Travis, later at GitHub and now uses r-ci (Dirk in #74 and (parts of) #76).
  • The (to the best of our knowledge) unused minimal RPC mechanism has been removed, retiring one method and one class as well as the import of the RCurl package (Dirk in #76).
  • The toJSON() method supports two (upstream) formatting toggles (Vitali Spinu in #79 with minor edit by Dirk).
  • Windows UCRT builds are now supported (Jeroen in #81, Dirk and Tomas Kalibera in #82).

Thanks to my CRANberries, there is a diff to the previous release. The RProtoBuf page has copies of the (older) package vignette, the quick overview vignette, and the pre-print of our JSS paper. Questions, comments etc should go to the GitHub issue tracker off the GitHub repo. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can now sponsor me at GitHub.

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

Dirk Eddelbuettel: BH 1.78.0-0: New Upstream, Two New Libraries

Boost Boost is a very large and comprehensive set of (peer-reviewed) libraries for the C++ programming language, containing well over 100 individual libraries. The BH package provides a sizeable subset of header-only libraries for (easier, no linking required) use by R. It is fairly widely used: the (partial) CRAN mirror logs (aggregated from the cloud mirrors) show over 28 million package downloads. Version 1.78.0 of Boost was released in a few days ago on their schedule with April, August and December releases. We follow these releases at a lower (annual) cadence, and BH 1.78.0-0 catches up to Boost 1.78 from the 1.75 version packaged last winter. Three reverse-depends checks revealed only minors needs for changes (after I corrected a fat-finger typo, whoops) in a handful of packages whose maintainers I contacted via PRs or emails. With that, CRAN permitted the upload yesterday. My thanks once again to the maintainers of these packages for helping it along promptly, and of course to the CRAN team. This release adds the new header-only library Boost Lambda2 offering simple but functional lambda functions (for C++14 and later), as well as Boost Process to manage system processes.

Changes in version 1.78.0-0 (2020-12-14)

Via my CRANberries, there is a diffstat report relative to the previous release. Comments and suggestions about BH are welcome via the issue tracker at the GitHub repo. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can now sponsor me at GitHub.

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

Dirk Eddelbuettel: BH 1.78.0-0: New Upstream, Two New Libraries

Boost Boost is a very large and comprehensive set of (peer-reviewed) libraries for the C++ programming language, containing well over 100 individual libraries. The BH package provides a sizeable subset of header-only libraries for (easier, no linking required) use by R. It is fairly widely used: the (partial) CRAN mirror logs (aggregated from the cloud mirrors) show over 28 million package downloads. Version 1.78.0 of Boost was released in a few days ago on their schedule with April, August and December releases. We follow these releases at a lower (annual) cadence, and BH 1.78.0-0 catches up to Boost 1.78 from the 1.75 version packaged last winter. Three reverse-depends checks revealed only minors needs for changes (after I corrected a fat-finger typo, whoops) in a handful of packages whose maintainers I contacted via PRs or emails. With that, CRAN permitted the upload yesterday. My thanks once again to the maintainers of these packages for helping it along promptly, and of course to the CRAN team. This release adds the new header-only library Boost Lambda2 offering simple but functional lambda functions (for C++14 and later), as well as Boost Process to manage system processes.

Changes in version 1.78.0-0 (2020-12-14)

Via my CRANberries, there is a diffstat report relative to the previous release. Comments and suggestions about BH are welcome via the issue tracker at the GitHub repo. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can now sponsor me at GitHub.

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

15 December 2021

Dirk Eddelbuettel: nanotime 0.3.5 on CRAN: Update

Another (minor) nanotime release, now at version 0.3.5, just arrived at CRAN. It follows the updates RDieHarder 0.2.3 and RcppCCTZ 0.2.10 earlier today in bringing a patch kindly prepared by Tomas Kalibera for the upcoming (and very useful) UCRT changes for Windows involving small build changes for the updated Windows toolchain. nanotime relies on the RcppCCTZ package for (efficient) high(er) resolution time parsing and formatting up to nanosecond resolution, and the bit64 package for the actual integer64 arithmetic. Initially implemented using the S3 system, it has benefitted greatly from a rigorous refactoring by Leonardo who not only rejigged nanotime internals in S4 but also added new S4 types for periods, intervals and durations. The NEWS snippet adds more details.

Changes in version 0.3.5 (2021-12-14)
  • Applied patch by Tomas Kalibera for Windows UCRT under the upcoming R 4.2.0 expected for April.

Thanks to my CRANberries there is also a diff to the previous version. More details and examples are at the nanotime page; code, issue tickets etc at the GitHub repository. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can now sponsor me at GitHub.

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

Dirk Eddelbuettel: RcppCCTZ 0.2.10: Updates

A new release 0.2.10 of RcppCCTZ is now on CRAN. RcppCCTZ uses Rcpp to bring CCTZ to R. CCTZ is a C++ library for translating between absolute and civil times using the rules of a time zone. In fact, it is two libraries. One for dealing with civil time: human-readable dates and times, and one for converting between between absolute and civil times via time zones. And while CCTZ is made by Google(rs), it is not an official Google product. The RcppCCTZ page has a few usage examples and details. This package was the first CRAN package to use CCTZ; by now four others packages include its sources too. Not ideal, but beyond our control. This version switches to r-ci, and just like RDieHarder includes a patch kindly prepared by Tomas Kalibera for the upcoming (and very useful) UCRT changes for Windows involving small build changes for the updated Windows toolchain.

Changes in version 0.2.10 (2021-12-14)
  • Switch CI use to r-ci
  • Applied patch by Tomas Kalibera for Windows UCRT under the upcoming R 4.2.0 expected for April.

We also have a diff to the previous version thanks to my CRANberries. More details are at the RcppCCTZ page; code, issue tickets etc at the GitHub repository. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can now sponsor me at GitHub.

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

14 December 2021

Dirk Eddelbuettel: RDieHarder 0.2.3 on CRAN: Packaging Updates

An new version 0.2.3 of the random-number generator tester RDieHarder (based on the DieHarder suite developed / maintained by Robert Brown with contributions by David Bauer and myself) is now on CRAN. This release comes only about one and half months after the previous release 0.2.2 and is once again related to R and CRAN changes. The upcoming (and very useful) UCRT changes for Windows involve small build changes for the updated Windows toolchain so this release includes a patch kindly prepared by Tomas Kalibera. And because compilers get cleverer and cleverer over time, I also address a warning and error found by the newest gcc in what is otherwise unchanged and years old C code In addition, two other warnings were fixed right after the previous release. Thanks to CRANberries, you can also look at the most recent diff. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can now sponsor me at GitHub.

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

9 December 2021

Dirk Eddelbuettel: qlcal 0.0.1 on CRAN: New Package

A new package of mine arrived on CRAN yesterday in its inaugural 0.0.1 upload: qlcal. qlcal is based on the calendaring subset of QuantLib. It is provided (for the R package) as a set of included files, so the package is self-contained and does not depend on an external QuantLib library (which can be challenging to build). The only build requirements are Rcpp for the seamless R/C++ integration, and BH for Boost headers. qlcal covers over sixty country / market calendars and can compute holiday lists, its complement (i.e. business day lists) and much more. As a teaser see this two-liner for 2022 holiday for the Federal Reserve calendar in the United States, now including Juneteenth (on June 20 next year) as the most recently added holiday:
> library(qlcal)
> setCalendar("UnitedStates/FederalReserve")
> getHolidays(as.Date("2022-01-01"), as.Date("2022-12-31"))
 [1] "2022-01-17" "2022-02-21" "2022-05-30" "2022-06-20" "2022-07-04" "2022-09-05" "2022-10-10"
 [8] "2022-11-11" "2022-11-24" "2022-12-26"
> 
See the project page and package documentation for more details, and more examples. Going forward, and time permitting, it would be nice to slowly reduce the Boost dependency to make the underlying qlcal C++ library more self-sufficient. If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can now sponsor me at GitHub.

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

David Kalnischkies: APT for Advent of Code

Screenshot of my Advent of Code 2021 status page as of today Advent of Code 2021
Advent of Code, for those not in the know, is a yearly Advent calendar (since 2015) of coding puzzles many people participate in for a plenary of reasons ranging from speed coding to code golf with stops at learning a new language or practicing already known ones. I usually write boring C++, but any language and then some can be used. There are reports of people implementing it in hardware, solving them by hand on paper or using Microsoft Excel so, after solving a puzzle the easy way yesterday, this time I thought: CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! as I somehow remembered an old 2008 article about solving Sudoku with aptitude (Daniel Burrows via archive.org as the blog is long gone) and the good same old a package management system that can solve [puzzles] based on package dependency rules is not something that I think would be useful or worth having (Russell Coker). Day 8 has a rather lengthy problem description and can reasonably be approached in a bunch of different way. One unreasonable approach might be to massage the problem description into Debian packages and let apt help me solve the problem (specifically Part 2, which you unlock by solving Part 1. You can do that now, I will wait here.) Be warned: I am spoiling Part 2 in the following, so solve it yourself first if you are interested. I will try to be reasonable consistent in naming things in the following and so have chosen: The input we get are lines like acedgfb cdfbe gcdfa fbcad dab cefabd cdfgeb eafb cagedb ab cdfeb fcadb cdfeb cdbaf. The letters are wires mixed up and connected to the segments of the displays: A group of these letters is hence a digit (the first 10) which represent one of the digits 0 to 9 and (after the pipe) the four displays which match (after sorting) one of the digits which means this display shows this digit. We are interested in which digits are displayed to solve the puzzle. To help us we also know which segments form which digit, we just don't know the wiring in the back. So we should identify which wire maps to which segment! We are introducing the packages wire-X-connects-to-Y for this which each provide & conflict1 with the virtual packages segment-Y and wire-X-connects. The later ensures that for a given wire we can only pick one segment and the former ensures that not multiple wires map onto the same segment. As an example: wire a's possible association with segment b is described as:
Package: wire-a-connects-to-b
Provides: segment-b, wire-a-connects
Conflicts: segment-b, wire-a-connects
Note that we do not know if this is true! We generate packages for all possible (and then some) combinations and hope dependency resolution will solve the problem for us. So don't worry, the hard part will be done by apt, we just have to provide all (im)possibilities! What we need now is to translate the 10 digits (and 4 outputs) from something like acedgfb into digit-0-is-eight and not, say digit-0-is-one. A clever solution might realize that a one consists only of two segments so a digit wiring up seven segments can not be a 1 (and must be 8 instead), but again we aren't here to be clever: We want apt to figure that out for us! So what we do is simply making every digit-0-is-N (im)possible choice available as a package and apply constraints: A given digit-N can only display one number and each N is unique as digit so for both we deploy Provides & Conflicts again. We also need to reason about the segments in the digits: Each of the digit packages gets Depends on wire-X-connects-to-Y where X is each possible wire (e.g. acedgfb) and Y each segment forming the digit (e.g. cf for one). The different choices for X are or'ed together, so that either of them satisfies the Y. We know something else too through: The segments which are not used by the digit can not be wired to any of the Xs. We model this with Conflicts on wire-X-connects-to-Y. As an example: If digit-0s acedgfb would be displaying a one (remember, it can't) the following package would be installable:
Package: digit-0-is-one
Version: 1
Depends: wire-a-connects-to-c   wire-c-connects-to-c   wire-e-connects-to-c   wire-d-connects-to-c   wire-g-connects-to-c   wire-f-connects-to-c   wire-b-connects-to-c,
         wire-a-connects-to-f   wire-c-connects-to-f   wire-e-connects-to-f   wire-d-connects-to-f   wire-g-connects-to-f   wire-f-connects-to-f   wire-b-connects-to-f
Provides: digit-0, digit-is-one
Conflicts: digit-0, digit-is-one,
  wire-a-connects-to-a, wire-c-connects-to-a, wire-e-connects-to-a, wire-d-connects-to-a, wire-g-connects-to-a, wire-f-connects-to-a, wire-b-connects-to-a,
  wire-a-connects-to-b, wire-c-connects-to-b, wire-e-connects-to-b, wire-d-connects-to-b, wire-g-connects-to-b, wire-f-connects-to-b, wire-b-connects-to-b,
  wire-a-connects-to-d, wire-c-connects-to-d, wire-e-connects-to-d, wire-d-connects-to-d, wire-g-connects-to-d, wire-f-connects-to-d, wire-b-connects-to-d,
  wire-a-connects-to-e, wire-c-connects-to-e, wire-e-connects-to-e, wire-d-connects-to-e, wire-g-connects-to-e, wire-f-connects-to-e, wire-b-connects-to-e,
  wire-a-connects-to-g, wire-c-connects-to-g, wire-e-connects-to-g, wire-d-connects-to-g, wire-g-connects-to-g, wire-f-connects-to-g, wire-b-connects-to-g
Repeat such stanzas for all 10 possible digits for digit-0 and then repeat this for all the other nine digit-N. We produce pretty much the same stanzas for display-0(-is-one), just that we omit the second Provides & Conflicts from above (digit-is-one) as in the display digits can be repeated. The rest is the same (modulo using display instead of digit as name of course). Lastly we create a package dubbed solution which depends on all 10 digit-N and 4 display-N all of them virtual packages apt will have to choose an installable provider from and we are nearly done! The resulting Packages file2 we can give to apt while requesting to install the package solution and it will spit out not only the display values we are interested in but also which number each digit represents and which wire is connected to which segment. Nifty!
$ ./skip-aoc 'acedgfb cdfbe gcdfa fbcad dab cefabd cdfgeb eafb cagedb ab   cdfeb fcadb cdfeb cdbaf'
[ ]
The following additional packages will be installed:
  digit-0-is-eight digit-1-is-five digit-2-is-two digit-3-is-three
  digit-4-is-seven digit-5-is-nine digit-6-is-six digit-7-is-four
  digit-8-is-zero digit-9-is-one display-1-is-five display-2-is-three
  display-3-is-five display-4-is-three wire-a-connects-to-c
  wire-b-connects-to-f wire-c-connects-to-g wire-d-connects-to-a
  wire-e-connects-to-b wire-f-connects-to-d wire-g-connects-to-e
[ ]
0 upgraded, 22 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
We are only interested in the numbers on the display through, so grepping the apt output (-V is our friend here) a bit should let us end up with what we need as calculating3 is (unsurprisingly) not a strong suit of our package relationship language so we need a few shell commands to help us with the rest.
$ ./skip-aoc 'acedgfb cdfbe gcdfa fbcad dab cefabd cdfgeb eafb cagedb ab   cdfeb fcadb cdfeb cdbaf' -qq
5353
I have written the skip-aoc script as a testcase for apt, so to run it you need to place it in /path/to/source/of/apt/test/integration and built apt first, but that is only due to my laziness. We could write a standalone script interfacing with the system installed apt directly and in any apt version since ~2011. To hand in the solution for the puzzle we just need to run this on each line of the input (~200 lines) and add all numbers together. In other words: Behold this beautiful shell one-liner: parallel -I ' ' ./skip-aoc ' ' -qq < input.txt paste -s -d'+' - bc (You may want to run parallel with -P to properly grill your CPU as that process can take a while otherwise and it still does anyhow as I haven't optimized it at all the testing framework does a lot of pointless things wasting time here, but we aren't aiming for the leaderboard so ) That might or even likely will fail through as I have so far omitted a not unimportant detail: The default APT resolver is not able to solve this puzzle with the given problem description we need another solver! Thankfully that is as easy as installing apt-cudf (and with it aspcud) which the script is using via --solver aspcud to make apt hand over the puzzle to a "proper" solver (or better: A solver who is supposed to be good at "answering set" questions). The buildds are using this for experimental and/or backports builds and also for installability checks via dose3 btw, so you might have encountered it before. Be careful however: Just because aspcud can solve this puzzle doesn't mean it is a good default resolver for your day to day apt. One of the reasons the default resolver has such a hard time solving this here is that or-groups have usually an order in which the first is preferred over every later option and so fort. This is of no concern here as all these alternatives will collapse to a single solution anyhow, but if there are multiple viable solutions (which is often the case) picking the "wrong" alternative can have bad consequences. A classic example would be exim4 postfix nullmailer. They are all MTAs but behave very different. The non-default solvers also tend to lack certain features like keeping track of auto-installed packages or installing Recommends/Suggests. That said, Julian is working on another solver as I write this which might deal with more of these issues. And lastly: I am also relatively sure that with a bit of massaging the default resolver could be made to understand the problem, but I can't play all day with this maybe some other day. Disclaimer: Originally posted in the daily megathread on reddit, the version here is just slightly better understandable as I have hopefully renamed all the packages to have more conventional names and tried to explain what I am actually doing. No cows were harmed in this improved version, either.

  1. If you would upload those packages somewhere, it would be good style to add Replaces as well, but it is of minor concern for apt so I am leaving them out here for readability.
  2. We have generated 49 wires, 100 digits, 40 display and 1 solution package for a grant total of 190 packages. We are also making use of a few purely virtual ones, but that doesn't add up to many packages in total. So few packages are practically childs play for apt given it usually deals with thousand times more. The instability for those packages tends to be a lot better through as only 22 of 190 packages we generated can (and will) be installed. Britney will hate you if your uploads to Debian unstable are even remotely as bad as this.
  3. What we could do is introduce 10.000 packages which denote every possible display value from 0000 to 9999. We would then need to duplicate our 10.190 packages for each line (namespace them) and then add a bit more than a million packages with the correct dependencies for summing up the individual packages for apt to be able to display the final result all by itself. That would take a while through as at that point we are looking at working with ~22 million packages with a gazillion amount of dependencies probably overworking every solver we would throw at it a bit of shell glue seems the better option for now.
This article was written by David Kalnischkies on apt-get a life and republished here by pulling it from a syndication feed. You should check there for updates and more articles about apt and EDSP.

8 December 2021

Dirk Eddelbuettel: #34: Less Is More

Less Is More. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Welcome to the 34th post in the rambunctiously refreshing R recitations, or R4. Today s post is about architecture. Mies defined modernism. When still in Europe, I had been to the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin which provides a gorgeous space for the arts. Twenty-five years ago, I worked next to his Toronto-Dominion Center in Toronto. Here in Chicago we have numerous buildings: the Federal Center (the Dirksen, the Kluczynski and the US Post Office rounding out the square in the Loop), multiple buildings on the Illinois Tech (aka IIT) Campus where he taught in the architecture department he created and lead, the (formerly called) IBM Plaza building at the river and more. Structure and minimalism, often based on the same core elements of black steel beams and glass, are a landmark of these buildings. One immediately senses that there is nothing left to take away. Code and programming can be similar. We too compose based on parts we assemble and combine to create something hopefully larger than the parts. The difficulty arising from too many dependencies is something we discussed before both here in this 2018 post but also via the tinyverse site. Over the last seven days, and via uploads to new versions to CRAN, I have switched the vignettes of seven packages from using minidown (which in turn requires rmarkdown and knitr, plus their aggregate dependencies) to using simplermarkdown with its sole dependency. That is, of course, a personal choice. I tend to not even knit much in my vignettes (and simplermarkdown supports what I do) but to rely mostly on pandoc for code rendering. So I only need a small subset of the functionality provided, but I can not access just that as the default comes with numerous bells, whistles as well as enough other instruments to form a small marching band. A picture may express this better: (courtesy of the deepdep package for the figures). Which of these two setups is less likely to surprise you with random breaks, say in continuous integration? Which takes less time to install, and burns fewer cpu cycles just to be set up, each time we run a new test? Which is taxing your students, colleagues, collaborators, users, less on setup for use or replication? The first, comprises a total of 29 dependencies, or the second with just one? My money is on the second choice. Less is more.

Next.