Search Results: "hle"

20 November 2021

Jonathan Dowland: hledger footguns

I wrote in budgeting tools that I was taking a look at Plain Text Accounting and in particular, hledger. My Jury's still out on the tools, but in the time I've been looking at them I've come across a couple of foot-guns I thought it was worth writing down. hledger's ledger format is derived from that of its predecessor ledger, and so some of the problems might be inherited. 1. significant white space delimiters The basic syntax for a transaction looks like this
2020-03-15 client payment
    assets:checking         $ 2000
    income:consulting       $-2000
There's some significant white space delimiters in play. The most subtle is what separates the account names from the values: it is two or more spaces. A single space, and the value is treated as part of the account name. For some reason I hit this frequently with trying to encode opening balances: the account name used as the source of the initial balances is something not otherwise generally referred to again (something like equity:opening balances) and the transaction amount is inferred where possible, so I ended up with a bunch of accounts named equity:opening balances 100 and similar. 2. flexible decimal delimiter The value of transactions can be interspersed with commas and periods to make it more readable: e.g. $2000 could be written as $2,000. Different locales have different conventions here: It seems some(/most/all?) of Europe use periods to separate out the units and a comma to delimit the fractional part, whereas the US and the UK do the opposite. There is no built-in association between the currency symbol you are using and the period/comma convention: it's quite possible to accidentally write a number which is interpreted differently to how you intended, and it doesn't matter if you are using $ or etc. 3. new syntax has unexpected results in old versions Finally, my favourite. hledger has a notion of rules that can be used to match transactions when importing from CSV. The format looks like this:
if (match rule)
& (another rule)
account1 some:account:from
account2 some:account:to
By default, multiple rules in sequence like above are OR'd: any of them can match. The & prefix switches the behaviour to AND. But, & is a relatively new addition: it's not supported in 1.18.1, the version in Debian stable, which upstream released in June 2020. In prior versions the & prefix is not a syntax error, or at least, not one that's reported: it's silently ignored; meaning, the line with the & does nothing, and any of the other rules in the set will match. This is easy to miss, and means imports could be incorrectly posted.

3 November 2021

Dirk Eddelbuettel: RDieHarder 0.2.2 on CRAN: Simpler Build, Fixes

An updated version 0.2.2 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. I should dub this the due to Brian Ripley release. He sent me a detailed five-point email a few days ago which detailed a change I could not have tested ( no access ), a change I would not have known ( somewhat obscure C language bit-level manipulation ), a change I had missed (how my build setup failed for M1mac), another advanced C level fix, and one more simple fix I actually knew. Speechless. The man (I presume) does not sleep and is just so generous with his time and expertise. So based on the input I rejigged the package over the weekend and made two more (substantial) changes. First, extending on what 0.2.0 brought, I will no longer attempt to use an external libdieharder library (or build one on the fly) that was issue one. Now we just declare all C files as dependents of the package shared library, and things are simpler and more consistent. Sadly, that also implies everything is in the package so I had to edit out a metric ton of stdout or exit() reference with the appropriate R C API hooks to appease the CRAN Policy deities. Win some, loose some. But the package is now simpler, and cleaner, and should be in good standing. (Or so one hopes. Earlier today, and within hours of it hitting CRAN, I got an issue ticket from a motivated user about yet another ( mostly harmless in the Douglas Adams sense) compiler warning Good now too.) 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.

22 October 2021

Enrico Zini: Scanning for imports in Python scripts

I had to package a nontrivial Python codebase, and I needed to put dependencies in setup.py. I could do git grep -h import sort -u, then review the output by hand, but I lacked the motivation for it. Much better to take a stab at solving the general problem The result is at https://github.com/spanezz/python-devel-tools. One fun part is scanning a directory tree, using ast to find import statements scattered around the code:
class Scanner:
    def __init__(self):
        self.names: Set[str] = set()
    def scan_dir(self, root: str):
        for dirpath, dirnames, filenames, dir_fd in os.fwalk(root):
            for fn in filenames:
                if fn.endswith(".py"):
                    with dirfd_open(fn, dir_fd=dir_fd) as fd:
                        self.scan_file(fd, os.path.join(dirpath, fn))
                st = os.stat(fn, dir_fd=dir_fd)
                if st.st_mode & (stat.S_IXUSR   stat.S_IXGRP   stat.S_IXOTH):
                    with dirfd_open(fn, dir_fd=dir_fd) as fd:
                        try:
                            lead = fd.readline()
                        except UnicodeDecodeError:
                            continue
                        if re_python_shebang.match(lead):
                            fd.seek(0)
                            self.scan_file(fd, os.path.join(dirpath, fn))
    def scan_file(self, fd: TextIO, pathname: str):
        log.info("Reading file %s", pathname)
        try:
            tree = ast.parse(fd.read(), pathname)
        except SyntaxError as e:
            log.warning("%s: file cannot be parsed", pathname, exc_info=e)
            return
        self.scan_tree(tree)
    def scan_tree(self, tree: ast.AST):
        for stm in tree.body:
            if isinstance(stm, ast.Import):
                for alias in stm.names:
                    if not isinstance(alias.name, str):
                        print("NAME", repr(alias.name), stm)
                    self.names.add(alias.name)
            elif isinstance(stm, ast.ImportFrom):
                if stm.module is not None:
                    self.names.add(stm.module)
            elif hasattr(stm, "body"):
                self.scan_tree(stm)
Another fun part is grouping the imported module names by where in sys.path they have been found:
    scanner = Scanner()
    scanner.scan_dir(args.dir)
    sys.path.append(args.dir)
    by_sys_path: Dict[str, List[str]] = collections.defaultdict(list)
    for name in sorted(scanner.names):
        spec = importlib.util.find_spec(name)
        if spec is None or spec.origin is None:
            by_sys_path[""].append(name)
        else:
            for sp in sys.path:
                if spec.origin.startswith(sp):
                    by_sys_path[sp].append(name)
                    break
            else:
                by_sys_path[spec.origin].append(name)
    for sys_path, names in sorted(by_sys_path.items()):
        print(f" sys_path or 'unidentified' :")
        for name in names:
            print(f"   name ")
An example. It's kind of nice how it can at least tell apart stdlib modules so one doesn't need to read through those:
$ ./scan-imports  /himblick
unidentified:
  changemonitor
  chroot
  cmdline
  mediadir
  player
  server
  settings
  static
  syncer
  utils
 /himblick:
  himblib.cmdline
  himblib.host_setup
  himblib.player
  himblib.sd
/usr/lib/python3.9:
  __future__
  argparse
  asyncio
  collections
  configparser
  contextlib
  datetime
  io
  json
  logging
  mimetypes
  os
  pathlib
  re
  secrets
  shlex
  shutil
  signal
  subprocess
  tempfile
  textwrap
  typing
/usr/lib/python3/dist-packages:
  asyncssh
  parted
  progressbar
  pyinotify
  setuptools
  tornado
  tornado.escape
  tornado.httpserver
  tornado.ioloop
  tornado.netutil
  tornado.web
  tornado.websocket
  yaml
built-in:
  sys
  time
Maybe such a tool already exists and works much better than this? From a quick search I didn't find it, and it was fun to (re)invent it. Updates: Jakub Wilk pointed out to an old python-modules script that finds Debian dependencies. The AST scanning code should be refactored to use ast.NodeVisitor.

19 August 2021

Jonathan Dowland: Budgeting tools

YNAB On the advice of many friends, I tried to use You Need A Budget. I gave it a seriously long, proper evaluation: over a year. But I just couldn't get it to work for me. I don't want to try and explain why. To be honest, those same friends who advocated for it fairly strongly, also gave me a pretty hard time for giving up on it! Despite it not clicking for me, there are a few concepts from YNAB that I quite like: GNUCash Jimmy Kaplowitz suggested back in 2012 that I should take a look at GNUCash. It took me a few more years before I did. The eventual trigger point for me was organising an event where I paid for a load of things on behalf of others and needed to track who had paid me back. It excelled for that. I've continued to use GNUCash to manage my personal money that is, my "play money" and anything I've accumulated but I haven't committed to it for my family finances. Practically speaking that would lock my wife out of them, which wouldn't be fair. But also because GNUCash's shortcomings (and despite its strengths, it certainly has some) mean that I don't expect I will be using it into the indefinite future, even for my personal stuff. The most significant drawback, in my opinion, is GNUCash's support for scripting. Sometimes, there's a laborious but easily-mechanisable (in theory) task I need to perform that would be ideal to script. GNUCash has built-in scripting support using Guile the GNU lisp/scheme dialect but this is limited to Reports only, I don't think it can be used for a task such as "match a series of transactions using one or more filters or regular expressions, and apply a transformation to them, such as change the account to which they are posted", etc. It also has a C library and auto-generated bindings for other languages. This has a horrible API, which is carried over into the language bindings. Documentation for the whole lot is basically non-existent too. Plain-text accounting For that reason I set out to find some better tools. There's a lot of interest and activity in plain-text accounting (PTA), including tools such as beancount, ledger or the Haskell re-implementation hledger. In a future post I'll write about PTA and hledger.

17 August 2021

Russ Allbery: Review: Black Sun

Review: Black Sun, by Rebecca Roanhorse
Series: Between Earth and Sky #1
Publisher: Saga Press
Copyright: October 2020
ISBN: 1-5344-3769-X
Format: Kindle
Pages: 454
Serapio has been crafted and trained to be the vessel for a god. He grew up in Obregi land, far from his ancestral home, but he will return to Tova at the appropriate time and carry the hopes of the Carrion Crow clan with him. Xiala is a ship captain, a woman, and a Teek. That means she's a target. Teek have magic, which makes them uncanny and dangerous. They're also said to carry that magic in their bones, which makes them valuable in ways that are not pleasant for the Teek. Running afoul of the moral codes of Cuecola is therefore even more dangerous to her than it would be to others, which is why she accepts a bargain to run errands for a local lord for twelve years, paid at the end of that time with ownership of a ship and crew. The first task: ferry a strange man to the city of Tova. Meanwhile, in Tova, the priestess Naranpa has clawed her way to the top of the Sky Made hierarchy from an inauspicious beginning in the poor district of Coyote's Maw. She's ruthlessly separated herself from her despised beginnings and focused her attention on calming Tova in advance of the convergence, a rare astronomical alignment at the same time as the winter solstice. But Carrion Crow holds a deep-seated grudge at their slaughter by the priesthood during the Night of Knives, and Naranpa's position atop the religious order that partly rules Tova's fractious politics is more precarious than she thinks. I am delighted that more fantasy is drawing on mythologies and histories other than the genre default of western European. It's long overdue for numerous reasons and a trend to be rewarded. But do authors writing fantasy in English who reach for Mesoamerican cultures have to gleefully embrace the excuse to add more torture? I'm developing an aversion to this setting (which I do not want to do!) because every book seems to feature human sacrifice, dismemberment, or some other horror show. Roanhorse at least does not fill the book with that (there's lingering child abuse but nothing as sickening as the first chapter), but that makes the authorial choice to make the torture one's first impression of this book even odder. Our introduction to Serapio is a scene that I would have preferred to have never read, and I don't think it even adds much to the plot. Huge warnings for people who don't want to read about a mother torturing her son, or about eyes in that context. Once past that introduction, Black Sun settles into a two-thread fantasy, one following Xiala and Serapio's sea voyage and the other following Naranpa and the political machinations in Tova. Both the magic systems and the political systems are different enough to be refreshing, and there are a few bits of world-building I enjoyed (a city built on top of rocks separated by deep canyons and connected with bridges, giant intelligent riding crows, everything about the Teek). My problem was that I didn't care what happened to any of the characters. Naranpa spends most of the book dithering and whining despite a backstory that should have promised more dynamic and decisive responses. The other character from Tova introduced somewhat later in the book is clearly "character whose story will appear in the next volume"; here, he's just station-keeping and representing the status quo. And while it's realistic given the plot that Serapio is an abused sociopath, that didn't mean I enjoyed reading his viewpoint or his childhood abuse. Xiala is the best character in the book by far and I was warming to the careful work she has to do to win over an unknown crew, but apparently Roanhorse was not interested in that. Instead, the focus of Xiala's characterization turns to a bad-boy romance that did absolutely nothing for me. This will be a matter of personal taste; I know this is a plot feature for many readers. But it had me rolling my eyes and turning the pages to get to something more interesting (which, sadly, was not forthcoming). It also plays heavily on magical disabled person cliches, like the blind man being the best fighter anyone has met. I did not enjoy this book very much, but there were some neat bits of world-building and I could see why other people might disagree. What pushed me into actively recommending against it (at least for now) is the publishing structure. This is the first book of a trilogy, so one can expect the major plot to not be resolved by the end of the book. But part of the contract with the reader when publishing a book series is that each volume should reach some sense of closure and catharsis. There will be cliffhangers and unanswered questions, but there should also be enough plot lines that are satisfactorily resolved to warrant publishing a book as a separate novel. There is none of that here. This is the first half (or third) of a novel. It introduces a bunch of plot lines, pulls them together, describes an intermediate crisis, and then simply stops. Not a single plot line is resolved. This is made worse by the fact this series (presumably, as I have only seen the first book) has a U-shaped plot: everything gets worse and worse until some point of crisis, and then presumably the protagonists will get their shit together and things will start to improve. I have soured on U-shaped plots since the first half of the story often feels like a tedious grind (eat your vegetables and then you can have dessert), but it's made much worse by cutting the book off at the bottom of the U. You get a volume, like Black Sun, that's all setup and horror and collapse, with no payoff or optimism. After two tries, I have concluded that Roanhorse is not for me. This is clearly a me problem rather than a Roanhorse problem, given how many other people love both Black Sun and her Sixth World series, but this is the second book of hers where I mildly enjoyed the world building but didn't care about any of the characters. Ah well, tastes will differ. Even if you get along with Roanhorse, though, I recommend against starting this book until the second half of it is published (currently scheduled for 2022). As it stands, it's a wholly unsatisfying reading experience. Followed by the not-yet-published Fevered Star. Rating: 4 out of 10

30 June 2021

Enrico Zini: Systemd containers with unittest

This is part of a series of posts on ideas for an ansible-like provisioning system, implemented in Transilience. Unit testing some parts of Transilience, like the apt and systemd actions, or remote Mitogen connections, can really use a containerized system for testing. To have that, I reused my work on nspawn-runner. to build a simple and very fast system of ephemeral containers, with minimal dependencies, based on systemd-nspawn and btrfs snapshots: Setup To be able to use systemd-nspawn --ephemeral, the chroots needs to be btrfs subvolumes. If you are not running on a btrfs filesystem, you can create one to run the tests, even on a file:
fallocate -l 1.5G testfile
/usr/sbin/mkfs.btrfs testfile
sudo mount -o loop testfile test_chroots/
I created a script to setup the test environment, here is an extract:
mkdir -p test_chroots
cat << EOF > "test_chroots/CACHEDIR.TAG"
Signature: 8a477f597d28d172789f06886806bc55
# chroots used for testing transilience, can be regenerated with make-test-chroot
EOF
btrfs subvolume create test_chroots/buster
eatmydata debootstrap --variant=minbase --include=python3,dbus,systemd buster test_chroots/buster
CACHEDIR.TAG is a nice trick to tell backup software not to bother backing up the contents of this directory, since it can be easily regenerated. eatmydata is optional, and it speeds up debootstrap quite a bit. Running unittest with sudo Here's a simple helper to drop root as soon as possible, and regain it only when needed. Note that it needs $SUDO_UID and $SUDO_GID, that are set by sudo, to know which user to drop into:
class ProcessPrivs:
    """
    Drop root privileges and regain them only when needed
    """
    def __init__(self):
        self.orig_uid, self.orig_euid, self.orig_suid = os.getresuid()
        self.orig_gid, self.orig_egid, self.orig_sgid = os.getresgid()
        if "SUDO_UID" not in os.environ:
            raise RuntimeError("Tests need to be run under sudo")
        self.user_uid = int(os.environ["SUDO_UID"])
        self.user_gid = int(os.environ["SUDO_GID"])
        self.dropped = False
    def drop(self):
        """
        Drop root privileges
        """
        if self.dropped:
            return
        os.setresgid(self.user_gid, self.user_gid, 0)
        os.setresuid(self.user_uid, self.user_uid, 0)
        self.dropped = True
    def regain(self):
        """
        Regain root privileges
        """
        if not self.dropped:
            return
        os.setresuid(self.orig_suid, self.orig_suid, self.user_uid)
        os.setresgid(self.orig_sgid, self.orig_sgid, self.user_gid)
        self.dropped = False
    @contextlib.contextmanager
    def root(self):
        """
        Regain root privileges for the duration of this context manager
        """
        if not self.dropped:
            yield
        else:
            self.regain()
            try:
                yield
            finally:
                self.drop()
    @contextlib.contextmanager
    def user(self):
        """
        Drop root privileges for the duration of this context manager
        """
        if self.dropped:
            yield
        else:
            self.drop()
            try:
                yield
            finally:
                self.regain()
privs = ProcessPrivs()
privs.drop()
As soon as this module is loaded, root privileges are dropped, and can be regained for as little as possible using a handy context manager:
   with privs.root():
       subprocess.run(["systemd-run", ...], check=True, capture_output=True)
Using the chroot from test cases The infrastructure to setup and spin down ephemeral machine is relatively simple, once one has worked out the nspawn incantations:
class Chroot:
    """
    Manage an ephemeral chroot
    """
    running_chroots: Dict[str, "Chroot"] =  
    def __init__(self, name: str, chroot_dir: Optional[str] = None):
        self.name = name
        if chroot_dir is None:
            self.chroot_dir = self.get_chroot_dir(name)
        else:
            self.chroot_dir = chroot_dir
        self.machine_name = f"transilience- uuid.uuid4() "
    def start(self):
        """
        Start nspawn on this given chroot.
        The systemd-nspawn command is run contained into its own unit using
        systemd-run
        """
        unit_config = [
            'KillMode=mixed',
            'Type=notify',
            'RestartForceExitStatus=133',
            'SuccessExitStatus=133',
            'Slice=machine.slice',
            'Delegate=yes',
            'TasksMax=16384',
            'WatchdogSec=3min',
        ]
        cmd = ["systemd-run"]
        for c in unit_config:
            cmd.append(f"--property= c ")
        cmd.extend((
            "systemd-nspawn",
            "--quiet",
            "--ephemeral",
            f"--directory= self.chroot_dir ",
            f"--machine= self.machine_name ",
            "--boot",
            "--notify-ready=yes"))
        log.info("%s: starting machine using image %s", self.machine_name, self.chroot_dir)
        log.debug("%s: running %s", self.machine_name, " ".join(shlex.quote(c) for c in cmd))
        with privs.root():
            subprocess.run(cmd, check=True, capture_output=True)
        log.debug("%s: started", self.machine_name)
        self.running_chroots[self.machine_name] = self
    def stop(self):
        """
        Stop the running ephemeral containers
        """
        cmd = ["machinectl", "terminate", self.machine_name]
        log.debug("%s: running %s", self.machine_name, " ".join(shlex.quote(c) for c in cmd))
        with privs.root():
            subprocess.run(cmd, check=True, capture_output=True)
        log.debug("%s: stopped", self.machine_name)
        del self.running_chroots[self.machine_name]
    @classmethod
    def create(cls, chroot_name: str) -> "Chroot":
        """
        Start an ephemeral machine from the given master chroot
        """
        res = cls(chroot_name)
        res.start()
        return res
    @classmethod
    def get_chroot_dir(cls, chroot_name: str):
        """
        Locate a master chroot under test_chroots/
        """
        chroot_dir = os.path.abspath(os.path.join(os.path.dirname(__file__), "..", "test_chroots", chroot_name))
        if not os.path.isdir(chroot_dir):
            raise RuntimeError(f" chroot_dir  does not exists or is not a chroot directory")
        return chroot_dir
# We need to use atextit, because unittest won't run
# tearDown/tearDownClass/tearDownModule methods in case of KeyboardInterrupt
# and we need to make sure to terminate the nspawn containers at exit
@atexit.register
def cleanup():
    # Use a list to prevent changing running_chroots during iteration
    for chroot in list(Chroot.running_chroots.values()):
        chroot.stop()
And here's a TestCase mixin that starts a containerized systems and opens a Mitogen connection to it:
class ChrootTestMixin:
    """
    Mixin to run tests over a setns connection to an ephemeral systemd-nspawn
    container running one of the test chroots
    """
    chroot_name = "buster"
    @classmethod
    def setUpClass(cls):
        super().setUpClass()
        import mitogen
        from transilience.system import Mitogen
        cls.broker = mitogen.master.Broker()
        cls.router = mitogen.master.Router(cls.broker)
        cls.chroot = Chroot.create(cls.chroot_name)
        with privs.root():
            cls.system = Mitogen(
                    cls.chroot.name, "setns", kind="machinectl",
                    python_path="/usr/bin/python3",
                    container=cls.chroot.machine_name, router=cls.router)
    @classmethod
    def tearDownClass(cls):
        super().tearDownClass()
        cls.system.close()
        cls.broker.shutdown()
        cls.chroot.stop()
Running tests Once the tests are set up, everything goes on as normal, except one needs to run nose2 with sudo:
sudo nose2-3
Spin up time for containers is pretty fast, and the tests drop root as soon as possible, and only regain it for as little as needed. Also, dependencies for all this are minimal and available on most systems, and the setup instructions seem pretty straightforward

22 April 2021

Shirish Agarwal: The Great Train Robbery

I had a twitter fight few days back with a gentleman and the article is a result of that fight. Sadly, I do not know the name of the gentleman as he goes via a psuedo name and then again I ve not taken permission from him to quote him in either way. So I will just state the observations I was able to make from the conversations we had. As people who read this blog regularly would know, I am and have been against Railway Privatization which is happening in India. And will be sharing some of the case studies from other countries as to how it panned out for them.

UK Railways
How Privatization Fails : Railways
The Above video is by a gentleman called Shaun who basically shared that privatization as far as UK is concerned is nothing but monopolies and while there are complex reasons for the same, the design of the Railways is such that it will always be a monopoly structure. At the most what you can do is have several monopolies but that is all that can happen. The idea of competition just cannot happen. Even the idea that subsidies will be less or/and trains will run on time is far from fact. Both of these facts have been checked and found to be truthful by fullfact.org. It is and argued that UK is small and perhaps it doesn t have the right conditions. It is probably true but still we do deserve to have a glance at the UK railway map.
UK railway map with operatorsUK railway map with operators
The above map is copyrighted to Map Marketing where you could see it today . As can be seen above most companies had their own specified areas. Now if you had looked at the facts then you would have seen that UK fares have been higher. In fact, an oldish article from Metro (a UK publication) shares the same. In fact, UK nationalized its railways effectively as many large rail operators were running in red. Even Scotland is set to nationalised back in March 2022. Remember this is a country which hasn t seen inflation go upwards of 5% in nearly a decade. The only outlier was 2011 where they indeed breached the 5% mark. So from this, what we see is Private Gains and Private Gains Public Losses perhaps seem fit. But then maybe we didn t use the right example. Perhaps Japan would be better. They have bullet trains while UK is still thinking about it. (HS2).

Japanese Railway Below is the map of Japanese Railway
Railway map of Japan with private ownership courtesy Wikimedia commons
Japan started privatizing its railway in 1987 and to date it has not been fully privatized. And on top of it, amount as much as 24 trillion of the long-term JNR debt was shouldered by the government at the expense of taxpayers of Japan while also reducing almost 1/4th of it employees. To add to it, while some parts of Japanese Railways did make profits, many of them made profits by doing large-scale non-railway business mostly real estate of land adjacent to railway stations. In many cases, it seems this went all the way up to 60% of the revenue. The most profitable has been the Shinkansen though. And while it has been profitable, it has not been without safety scandals over the years, the biggest in recent years was the 2005 Amagasaki derailment. What was interesting to me was the Aftermath, while the Wikipedia page doesn t share much, I had read at the time and probably could be found how a lot of ordinary people stood up to the companies in a country where it is a known fact that most companies are owned by the Yakuza. And this is a country where people are loyal to their corporation or company no matter what. It is a strange culture to west and also here in India where people change jobs on drop of hat, although nowadays we have record unemployment. So perhaps Japan too does not meet our standard as it doesn t do competition with each other but each is a set monopoly in those regions. Also how much subsidy is there or not is not really transparent.

U.S. Railways Last, but not the least I share the U.S. Railway map. This is provided by A Mr. Tom Alison on reddit on channel maporn. As the thread itself is archived and I do not know the gentleman concerned, nor have taken permission for the map, hence sharing the compressed version


U.S. Railway lines with the different owners
Now the U.S. Railways is and has always been peculiar as unlike the above two the U.S. has always been more of a freight network. Probably, much of it has to do that in the 1960 s when oil was cheap, the U.S. made zillions of roadways and romanticized the road trip and has been doing it ever since. Also the creation of low-cost airlines definitely didn t help the railways to have more passenger services, in fact the opposite. There are and have been smaller services and attempts of privatization in both New Zealand and Australia and both have been failures. Please see papers in that regard. My simple point is this, as can be seen above, there have been various attempts at privatization of railways and most of them have been a mixed bag. The only one which comes close to what we think as good is Japanese but that also used a lot of public debt which we don t know what will happen on next. Also for higher-speed train services like a bullet train or whatever, you need to direct, no hair pen bends. In fact, a good talk on the topic is the TBD podcast which while it talks about hyperloop, the same questions is and would be asked if were to do in India. Another thing to be kept in mind is that the Japanese have been exceptional builders and this is because they have been forced to. They live in a seismically active zone which made Fukushima disaster a reality but at the same time, their buildings are earthquake-resistant. Standard Disclaimer The above is a simplified version of things. I could have added in financial accounts but that again has no set pattern. For e.g. some Railways use accrual, some use cash and some use hybrid. I could have also shared in either the guage or electrification but all have slightly different standards, although uniguage is something that all Railways aspire for and electrification is again something that all Railways want although in many cases it just isn t economically feasible.

Indian Railways Indian Railways itself recently made the move from Cash to Accrual couple of years back. In-between for a couple of years, it was hybrid. The sad part is and was you can now never measure against past performance in the old way because it is so different. Hence, whether the Railways will be making a loss or a profit, we would come to know only much later. Also, most accountants don t know the new system well, so it is gonna take more time, how much unknown. Sadly, what GOI did a few years back is merge the Railway budget into the Union Budget. Of course, the excuse they gave is too many pressures of new trains, while the truth is, by doing this, they decreased transparency about the whole thing. For e.g. for the last few years, the only state which had significant work being done is in U.P. (Uttar Pradesh) and a bit in Goa, although that is has been protested time and again. I being from the neighborly state of Maharashtra , and have been there several times. Now it does feels all like a dream, going to Goa :(.

Covid news Now before I jump on the news, I should share the movie Virus (2019) which was made by the talented Aashiq Abu. Even though, am not a Malayalee, I still have enjoyed many of his movies simply because he is a terrific director and Malayalam movies, at least most of them have English subtitles and lot of original content.. Interestingly, unlike the first couple of times when I saw it a couple of years back. The first time I saw it, I couldn t sleep a wink for a week. Even the next time, it was heavy. I had shared the movie with mum, and even she couldn t see it in one go. It is and was that powerful Now maybe because we are headlong in the pandemic, and the madness is all around us. There are two terms that helped me though understand a great deal of what is happening in the movie, the first term was altered sensorium which has been defined here. The other is saturation or to be more precise oxygen saturation . This term has also entered the Indian twitter lexicon quite a bit as India has started running out of oxygen. Just today Delhi High Court did an emergency hearing on the subject late at night. Although there is much to share about the mismanagement of the center, the best piece on the subject has been by Miss Priya Ramani. Yup, the same lady who has won against M.J. Akbar and this is when Mr. Akbar had 100 lawyers for this specific case. It would be interesting to see what happens ahead. There are however few things even she forgot in her piece, For e.g. reverse migration i.e. from urban to rural migration started again. Two articles from different entities sharing a similar outlook.Sadly, the right have no empathy or feeling for either the poor or the sick. Even the labor minister Santosh Gangwar s statement that around 1.04 crores were the only people who walked back home. While there is not much data, however some work/research has been done on migration to cites that the number could be easily 10 times as much. And this was in the lockdown of last year. This year, again the same issue has re-surfaced and migrants learning lessons started leaving cities. And I m ashamed to say I think they are doing the right thing. Most State Governments have not learned lessons nor have they done any work to earn the trust of migrants. This is true of almost all state Governments. Last year, just before the lockdown was announced, me and my friend spent almost 30k getting a cab all the way from Chennai to Pune, how much we paid for the cab, how much we bribed the various people just so we could cross the state borders to return home to our anxious families. Thankfully, unlike the migrants, we were better off although we did make a loss. I probably wouldn t be alive if I were in their situation as many didn t. That number is still in the air undocumented deaths  Vaccine issues Currently, though the issue has been the Vaccine and the pricing of the same. A good article to get a summation of the issues outlined has been shared on Economist. Another article that goes to the heart of the issue is at scroll. To buttress the argument, the SII chairman had shared this few weeks back
Adar Poonawala talking to Vishnu Som on Left, right center, 7th April 2021.
So, a licensee manufacturer wants to make super-profits during the pandemic. And now, as shared above they can very easily do it. Even the quotes given to nearby countries is smaller than the quotes given to Indian states

Prices of AstraZeneca among various states and countries.
The situation around beds, vaccines, oxygen, anything is so dire that people could go to any lengths to save their loved ones. Even if they know if a certain medicine doesn t work. For e.g. Remdesivir, 5 WHO trials have concluded that it doesn t increase mortality. Heck, even AIIMS chief said the same. But both doctors and relatives desperation to cling on hope has made Remdesivir as a black market drug with unoffical prices hovering anywhere between INR 14k/- to INR30k/- per vial. One of the executives of a top firm was also arrested in Gujarat. In Maharashtra, the opposition M.P. came to the rescue of the officials of Bruick pharms in Mumbai. Sadly, this strange affliction to the party in the center is also there in my extended family. At one end, they will heap praise on Mr. Modi, at the same time they can t get wait to get fast out of India. Many of them have settled in horrors of horror Dubai, as it is the best place to do business, get international schools for the young ones at decent prices, cheaper or maybe a tad more than what they paid in Delhi or elsewhere. Being an Agarwal or a Gupta makes it easier to compartmentalize both things. Ease of doing business, 5 days flat to get a business registered, up and running. And the paranoia is still there. They won t talk on the phone about him because they are afraid they may say something which comes back to bite them. As far as their decision to migrate, can t really blame them. If I were 20-25 yeas younger and my mum were in a better shape than she is, we probably would have migrated as well, although would have preferred Europe than anywhere else.

Internet Freedom and Aarogya Setu App.


Internet Freedom had shared the chilling effects of the Aarogya Setu App. This had also been shared by FSCI in the past, and recently had their handle being banned on Twitter. This was also apparent in a legal bail order which the high court judge gave. While I won t go into the merits and demerits of the bail order, it is astounding for the judge to say that the accused, even though he would be on bail install an app. so he can be surveilled. And this is a high court judge, such a sad state of affairs. We seem to be putting up new lows every day when it comes to judicial jurisprudence. One interesting aspect of the whole case was shared by Aishwarya Iyer. She shared a story that she and her team worked on quint which raises questions on the quality of the work done by Delhi Police. This is of course, up to Delhi Police to ascertain the truth of the matter because unless and until they are able to tie in the PMO s office in for a leak or POTUS s office it hardly seems possible. For e.g. the dates when two heads of state can meet each other would be decided by the secretaries of the two. Once the date is known, it would be shared with the press while at the same time some sort of security apparatus would kick in place. It is incumbent, especially on the host to take as much care as he can of the guest. We all remember that World War 1 (the war to end all wars) started due to the murder of Archduke Ferdinand.

As nobody wants that, the best way is to make sure that a political murder doesn t happen on your watch. Now while I won t comment on what it would be, it would be safe to assume that it would be z+ security along with higher readiness. Especially if it as somebody as important as POTUS. Now, it would be quite a reach for Delhi Police to connect the two dates. They either will have to get creative with the dates or some other way. Otherwise, with practically no knowledge in the public domain, they can t work in limbo. In either case, I do hope the case comes up for hearing soon and we see what the Delhi Police says and contends in the High Court about the same. At the very least, it would be irritating for them to talk of the dates unless they can contend some mass conspiracy which involves the PMO (and would bring into question the constant vetting done by the Intelligence dept. of all those who work in PMO). And this whole case is to kind of shelter to the Delhi riots which happened in which majorly the Muslims died but their deaths lay unaccounted till date

Conclusion In Conclusion, I would like to share a bit of humor because right now the atmosphere is humorless, both with authoritarian tendencies of the Central Govt. and the mass mismanagement of public health which they now have left to the state to do as they fit. The peice I am sharing is from arre, one of my goto sites whenever I feel low.

15 April 2021

Martin Michlmayr: ledger2beancount 2.6 released

I released version 2.6 of ledger2beancount, a ledger to beancount converter. Here are the changes in 2.6: Thanks to Alexander Baier, Daniele Nicolodi, and GitHub users bratekarate, faaafo and mefromthepast for various bug reports and other input. Thanks to Dennis Lee for adding a Dockerfile and to Vinod Kurup for fixing a bug. Thanks to Stefano Zacchiroli for testing. You can get ledger2beancount from GitHub.

20 March 2021

Russ Allbery: pam-krb5 4.10

pam-krb5 is a relatively simple Kerberos PAM module with no dependencies on larger infrastructure such as sssd. This is a small bug-fix release that fixes a possible double-free if krb5_cc_get_principal fails on the newly-acquired ticket cache during authentication. I am dubious this is exploitable because this temporary ticket cache should not be under the control of an attacker, but I'm putting out a release just in case. Thanks to Michael Muehle for the report. You can get the latest release from the pam-krb5 distribution page.

7 February 2021

Chris Lamb: Favourite books of 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 February 2021

Ulrike Uhlig: On anger, misunderstandings, and hearing with different ears

Anger Anger is a feeling that is mostly taboo in our society. People tend to think that anger and rage are the same thing and reject anger. We are taught to suppress it. But: The suppression of anger can cause a lot of trouble, giving rise to virulent progeny such as malice, passive aggression, hostility, rage, sabotage, hate, blame, guilt, controlling behavior, shame, self-blame, and self-destruction. (Quoted from: Anne Katherine, Where to draw the line ). When we talk about anger, we need to distinguish between acting out anger, and feeling anger. In general, when you hear me talking about anger, I m talking about the feeling named anger in English. Anger is a normal feeling with a super power: it gives us the energy to change a situation that we consider to be unsustainable. We can express the feeling of anger verbally by saying for example: That thing makes me really angry , I can t talk right now, I am very angry about what I just heard . Let s also note that there may be other feelings lying below anger, such as sadness, frustration, grief, fear, etc. Mixing emotions This is a page from the wonderful Making Comics by Scott McCloud. (Yes, emotions are complex! See some more of Scott McCloud s pages about emotion in comics)

Bottling up feelings Most of the time, people don t get angry suddenly, even though it might seem like that from the outside. Instead, they ve been bottling up feelings for a while, and at some point, a small trigger is enough to make the bottle overflow. The reasons for bottling up feelings can be as diverse as people:
  • Low self-esteem: not thinking one has the right and the capacity to express unpleasant feelings
  • Not knowing how to express unpleasant feelings. For example not having learnt to say: I am not comfortable, I ll leave now, I ll get back to you once I know what s going on / if this is about me / if I feel like it.
  • Not trusting one s own feelings, specifically common in people who have been victims of gaslighting
  • Repressing emotions, specifically anger, sometimes to the point of not being able to feel one s own feelings anymore
  • Not being able to express disagreement and instead applying the fawn response: trying to please the other in order to avoid further conflict. See: Fight, flight, freeze, or fawn
  • Not being able to express boundaries: stop , this is enough , I don t accept this , etc.
  • Not being in a situation or a space in which feelings can be expressed freely, for example a workplace or a hierarchical situation where this might be disadvantageous
These are just some examples I can come up with in 3 minutes, the list is non exhaustive. When someone s bottle overflows, their peers can be confused and not know how to react to what they perceive as a sudden outburst while what they are seeing might just be the other person s first time tentative of saying no or stop . Oftentimes, the responsibility for the situation is then put on the shoulders of the person who supposedly exploded : they have been behaving differently than usual or not within the expectations, right? Well, it s not that simple. Conflicts are relational. The other party might have ignored signs, requests, feelings, and needs of the angry person for a while. Maybe the relationship has been deteriorating since some time? Maybe there was a power imbalance, that has never been revisited, updated, questioned? Or maybe their bottle is being filled by something else in their life and getting too small to contain all the drops of suppressed emotions. People change, and relationships change. We cannot assume that because a person has accepted something for months or years, that they always will. I think that anger can be a sign of such change or need thereof.

A message has four sides and that creates misunderstandings Friedemann Schulz von Thun has created a theory, the four-sides model, that establishes four facets of a message:
  • Fact: What is the message about?
  • Self-disclosure: What does the speaker reveal about herself (with or without intention)?
  • Relation: What is the speaker s relationship towards the receiver of the message?
  • Appeal: What does the speaker want to obtain?
Let me adapt Schulz von Thun s example to a situation that happened to me once: I came to a friend s house and I smelled some unknown thing when I entered the apartment. I asked: what s that smell? I actually never bake, so I don t know anything about whatever it is people put into cakes. I wanted to say: I don t know what that smell is, tell me what it is? She replied: You never like anything I do, my furniture gets criticized, my cake s not right, and you criticize me all the time. We ended up in such a big misunderstanding that I left her house 5 minutes after I arrived. With Schulz von Thun s model we can understand what happened here: The speaker s question What s that smell in the kitchen? has four sides:
  1. Factual: There is a smell.
  2. Self-disclosure: I don t know what it is.
  3. Relational: You know what it is.
  4. Appeal: Tell me what it is!
The receiver can hear the question with 4 different ears:
  1. Factual part: There is a smell.
  2. Self-disclosure: I don t like the smell.
  3. Relationship: You re not good at baking cake.
  4. Appeal: Don t bake cake anymore.
At this point, the receiver will probably reply: Bake the cake yourself next time!

Behind the message Sometimes, we hear more strongly with one ear than with the other ears. For example, some people hear more on the relational side and they will always hear You re not good at . Other people hear more on the appeal side and will always try to guess into a message what the other person wants or expects of them.

Form and contents of a message Getting back to anger, I think that it s often not the contents i.e. the factual facet of a message that triggers our bottle to overflow, but the (perceived) intention of the speaker, i.e. the appeal facet. For example, a speaker might have an intention to silence us by using gaslighting, or tone policing. Or a speaker wants to explicitly hurt us because that s how they learnt to deal with their own feelings of hurt. The actual relation between speaker and receiver also seems to play a role in how anger can get triggered, when we hear with the relational ear. There are many nonverbal underlying layers to our communication:
  • The position of both speaker and receiver to each other: are they equals or is there any kind of power imbalance between them? A power imbalance can be a (perceived) dependency: For example, one person in a friendship has a kid and the other one regularly helps them so that the parent has some time to advance their work or career: this can create a feeling of not being good enough by oneself and having to rely on others. Or there is indeed a dependency in which the speaker is a team lead and the receiver a subordinate.
  • The needs of each person: a need to solve problems quickly for one person might conflict with the need to be involved in decision making of the other person. (See Taibi Kahler s drivers)
  • The inner beliefs of each person: in childhood we might have constructed the inner belief: You re okay, I m not okay , or Nobody cares about what I want , or I have to be nice (friendly, hardworking, strong, etc.) all the time otherwise nobody loves me - as some examples.
So, suppose person A offers to help person B, and what person B hears instead is their overprotective mother instead of their friend. Person A might be surprised to see B overreact or disappear for a while to get back their feelings of autonomy and integrity as an adult. Or person C expresses she d like to handle problem X like this while person D might well not hear this as a proposal to handle a problem, but as a decision made without involving her. Which might propel D back to her childhood in which she could also not take decisions autonomously. Then D might react like she would react as a child, slamming a door, shout, run away, freeze, or fawn.

Communication is complex! So, whenever we hear a message, not only do we hear the message with four ears, but also, we hear it with our position, our needs, and our inner beliefs. And sometimes, our bottle is already full, and then it overflows. At that point, I find it important that both sides reflect on the situation and stay in contact. Using empathy and compassion, we can try to better understand what s going on, where we might have hurt the other person, for example, or what was being misunderstood. Did we hear only one side of the message? Do our respective strategies conflict with each other? If we cannot hear each other anymore or always hear only one side of the message, we can try to do a mediation. Obviously, if at that point one side does not actually want to solve the problem, or thinks it s not their problem, then there s not much we can do, and mediation would not help. The examples above might sound familiar to you. I chose them because I ve seen them happen around me often, and I understand them as shared patterns. While all beings on this planets are unique, we share a common humanity, for example through such patterns and common experiences.

10 January 2021

Dirk Eddelbuettel: RcppArmadillo 0.10.1.2.2: Minor update

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) 802 other packages on CRAN. This release was needed because we use the Matrix package for some (optional) tests related to sparse matrices, and a small and subtle change and refinement in the recent 1.3.0 release of Matrix required us to make an update for the testing. Nothing has changed in how we set up, or operate on, sparse matrices. My thanks to Binxiang and Martin Maechler for feedback and suggestion on the initial fix both Binxiang and I set up independently. At the same time we upgrade some package internals related to continuous integration (for that, also see my blog post and video from earlier this week). Lastly Conrad sent in a one-line upstream fix for dealing with NaN in sign(). The full set of changes follows.

Changes in RcppArmadillo version 0.10.1.2.2 (2021-01-08)
  • Correct one unit test for Matrix 1.3.0-caused changed (Binxiang in #319 and Dirk in #322).
  • Suppress one further warning from Matrix (Dirk)
  • Apply an upstream NaN correction (Conrad in #321)
  • Added GitHub Actions CI using run.sh from r-ci (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.

9 January 2021

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

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

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

4 January 2021

Russ Allbery: Review: The Once and Future Witches

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

10 December 2020

John Goerzen: How the Attention Economy Hurts You via Social Media Sites like Facebook

There is a whole science to manipulating our attention. And because there is a lot of money to be made by doing this well, it means we all encounter attempts to manipulate what we pay attention to each day. What is this, and how is it harmful? This post will be the first on a series on the topic. Why is attention so important? When people use Facebook, they use it for free. Facebook generally doesn t even try to sell them anything, yet has billions in revenues. What, then, is Facebook s product? Well, really, it s you. Or, more specifically, your attention. Facebook sells your attention to advertisers. Everything they do is in service to that. They want you to spend more time on the site so they can show you more ads. (I should say here that I m using Facebook as an example, but this applies to other social media companies too.) Seeking to maximize attention So if your attention is so important to their profit, it follows naturally that they would seek ways to get people to spend more time on their site. And they do. They track all sorts of metrics, including engagement (if you click like , comment, share, or otherwise interact with content). They know which sorts of things are likely to capture your (and I mean you in specific!) attention and show you that. Your neighbor may have different interests and Facebook judges different things are likely to capture their attention. Manipulating your attention Attention turning into money isn t unique for social media. In fact, in the article If It Bleeds, It Leads: Understanding Fear-Based Media, Psychology Today writes:
In previous decades, the journalistic mission was to report the news as it actually happened, with fairness, balance, and integrity. However, capitalistic motives associated with journalism have forced much of today s television news to look to the spectacular, the stirring, and the controversial as news stories. It s no longer a race to break the story first or get the facts right. Instead, it s to acquire good ratings in order to get advertisers, so that profits soar. News programming uses a hierarchy of if it bleeds, it leads. Fear-based news programming has two aims. The first is to grab the viewer s attention. In the news media, this is called the teaser. The second aim is to persuade the viewer that the solution for reducing the identified fear will be in the news story. If a teaser asks, What s in your tap water that YOU need to know about? a viewer will likely tune in to get the up-to-date information to ensure safety.
You ve probably seen fear-based messages a lot on Facebook. They will highlight messages to liberals about being afraid of what Trump is doing, and to conservatives about being afraid of what Biden is doing. They may or may not even intentionally be doing this; it is their algorithm predicts that those would maximize time and engagement for certain people, so that s what they see. Fear leads to controversy It s not just fear, though. Social media also loves controversy. There s nothing that makes people really want to stay on Facebook like anger. See something controversial and you ll see hundreds or thousands of people are there arguing about it and in the process, giving Facebook their attention. A quick Internet search will show you numerous articles on how marketing companes can leverage controvery to get attention and engagement with their campaigns. Consequences of maximizing fear and controversy What does it mean to society at large and to you personally that large companies make a lot of money by maximizing fear and controversy? The most obvious way is it leads to less common ground. If the posts and reactions that show common ground are never seen because they don t drive engagement, it poisons the well; left and right hate each other with ever more vigor a profitable outcome to Facebook, but a poisonous one to all of us. I have had several friendships lost because I a liberal in agreement with these friends on political matters still talk to Trump voters. On the other side, we ve seen people storm the Michigan statehouse with weapons. How did that level of disagreement and even fear behind it get so firmly embedded in our society? Surely the fact that social media shows us things designed to stimulate fear and anger must play a role. What does it do to our ability to have empathy for, and understand, others? The Facebook groups I ve been in for like-minded people have largely been flooded with memes calling the President rump and other things clearly designed to make people angry or fearful. It s a worthless experience, and not just that, but it s a harmful experience. When our major media TV and social networks all are optimizing for fear, anger, and controvesry, we have a society beholden to fear, anger, and controvesy. In my next installment, I m going to talk about what to do about this, including the decentralized social networks of the Fediverse that are specifically designed to put you back in charge of your attention. Update 2020-12-16: There are two followup articles for this: how to join the Fediverse and non-creepy technology purchasing and gifting guides. The latter references the FSF s page on software manipulation towards addiction, which is particularly relevant to this topic.

23 November 2020

Shirish Agarwal: White Hat Senior and Education

I had been thinking of doing a blog post on RCEP which China signed with 14 countries a week and a day back but this new story has broken and is being viraled a bit on the interwebs, especially twitter and is pretty much in our domain so thought would be better to do a blog post about it. Also, there is quite a lot packed so quite a bit of unpacking to do.

Whitehat, Greyhat and Blackhat For those of you who may not, there are actually three terms especially in computer science that one comes across. Those are white hats, grey hats and black hats. Now clinically white hats are like the fiery angels or the good guys who basically take permissions to try and find out weakness in an application, program, website, organization and so on and so forth. A somewhat dated reference to hacker could be Sandra Bullock (The Net 1995) , Sneakers (1992), Live Free or Die Hard (2007) . Of the three one could argue that Sandra was actually into viruses which are part of computer security but still she showed some bad-ass skills, but then that is what actors are paid to do  Sneakers was much more interesting for me because in that you got the best key which can unlock any lock, something like quantum computing is supposed to do. One could equate both the first movies in either as a White hat or a Grey hat . A Grey hat is more flexible in his/her moral values, and they are plenty of such people. For e.g. Julius Assange could be described as a Grey hat, but as you can see and understand those are moral issues.

A black hat on the other hand is one who does things for profit even if it harms the others. The easiest fictitious examples are all Die Hard series, all of them except the 4th one, all had bad guys or black hats. The 4th also had but is the odd one out as it had Matthew Farell (Justin Long) as a Grey hat hacker. In real life Kevin Mitnick, Kevin Poulsen, Robert Tappan Morris, George Hotz, Gary McKinnon are some examples of hackers, most of whom were black hats, most of them reformed into white hats and security specialists. There are many other groups and names but that perhaps is best for another day altogether. Now why am I sharing this. Because in all of the above, the people who are using and working with the systems have better than average understanding of systems and they arguably would be better than most people at securing their networks, systems etc. but as we shall see in this case there has been lots of issues in the company.

WhiteHat Jr. and 300 Million Dollars Before I start this, I would like to share that for me this suit in many ways seems to be similar to the suit filed against Krishnaraj Rao . Although the difference is that Krishnaraj Rao s case/suit is that it was in real estate while this one is in education although many things are similar to those cases but also differ in some obvious ways. For e.g. in the suit against Krishnaraj Rao, the plaintiff s first approached the High Court and then the Supreme Court. Of course Krishnaraj Rao won in the High Court and then in the SC plaintiff s agreed to Krishnaraj Rao s demands as they knew they could not win in SC. In that case, a compromise was reached by the plaintiff just before judgement was to be delivered. In this case, the plaintiff have directly approached the Delhi High Court. The charges against Mr. Poonia (the defendant in this case) are very much similar to those which were made in Krishnaraj Rao s suit hence won t be going into those details. They have claimed defamation and filed a 20 crore suit. The idea is basically to silence any whistle-blowers.

Fictional Character Wolf Gupta The first issue in this case or perhaps one of the most famous or infamous character is an unknown. While he has been reportedly hired by Google India, BJYU, Chandigarh. This has been reported by Yahoo News. I did a cursory search on LinkedIn to see if there indeed is a wolf gupta but wasn t able to find any person with such a name. I am not even talking the amount of money/salary the fictitious gentleman is supposed to have got and the various variations on the salary figures at different times and the different ads.

If I wanted to, I could have asked few of the kind souls whom I know are working in Google to see if they can find such a person using their own credentials but it probably would have been a waste of time. When you show a LinkedIn profile in your social media, it should come up in the results, in this case it doesn t. I also tried to find out if somehow BJYU was a partner to Google and came up empty there as well. There is another story done by Kan India but as I m not a subscriber, I don t know what they have written but the beginning of the story itself does not bode well. While I can understand marketing, there is a line between marketing something and being misleading. At least to me, all of the references shared seems misleading at least to me.

Taking down dissent One of the big no-nos at least from what I perceive, you cannot and should not take down dissent or critique. Indians, like most people elsewhere around the world, critique and criticize day and night. Social media like twitter, mastodon and many others would not exist in the place if criticisms are not there. In fact, one could argue that Twitter and most social media is used to drive engagements to a person, brand etc. It is even an official policy in Twitter. Now you can t drive engagements without also being open to critique and this is true of all the web, including of WordPress and me  . What has been happening is that whitehatjr with help of bjyu have been taking out content of people citing copyright violation which seems laughable. When citizens critique anything, we are obviously going to take the name of the product otherwise people would have to start using new names similar to how Tom Riddle was known as Dark Lord , Voldemort and He who shall not be named . There have been quite a few takedowns, I just provide one for reference, the rest of the takedowns would probably come in the ongoing suit/case.
Whitehat Jr. ad showing investors fighting

Now a brief synopsis of what the ad. is about. The ad is about a kid named Chintu who makes an app. The app. Is so good that investors come to his house and right in the lawn and start fighting each other. The parents are enjoying looking at the fight and to add to the whole thing there is also a nosy neighbor who has his own observations. Simply speaking, it is a juvenile ad but it works as most parents in India, as elsewhere are insecure.
Jihan critiquing the whitehatjr ad
Before starting, let me assure that I asked Jihan s parents if it s ok to share his ad on my blog and they agreed. What he has done is broken down the ad and showed how juvenile the ad is and using logic and humor as a template for the same. He does make sure to state that he does not know how the product is as he hasn t used it. His critique was about the ad and not the product as he hasn t used that.

The Website If you look at the website, sadly, most of the site only talks about itself rather than giving examples that people can look in detail. For e.g. they say they have few apps. on Google play-store but no link to confirm the same. The same is true of quite a few other things. In another ad a Paralympic star says don t get into sports and get into coding. Which athlete in their right mind would say that? And it isn t that we (India) are brimming with athletes at the international level. In the last outing which was had in 2016, India sent a stunning 117 athletes but that was an exception as we had the women s hockey squad which was of 16 women, and even then they were overshadowed in numbers by the bureaucratic and support staff. There was criticism about the staff bit but that is probably a story for another date. Most of the site doesn t really give much value and the point seems to be driving sales to their courses. This is pressurizing small kids as well as teenagers and better who are in the second and third year science-engineering whose parents don t get that it is advertising and it is fake and think that their kids are incompetent. So this pressurizes both small kids as well as those who are learning, doing in whatever college or educational institution . The teenagers more often than not are unable to tell/share with them that this is advertising and fake. Also most of us have been on a a good diet of ads. Fair and lovely still sells even though we know it doesn t work. This does remind me of a similar fake academy which used very much similar symptoms and now nobody remembers them today. There used to be an academy called Wings Academy or some similar name. They used to advertise that you come to us and we will make you into a pilot or an airhostess and it was only much later that it was found out that most kids were doing laundry work in hotels and other such work. Many had taken loans, went bankrupt and even committed suicide because they were unable to pay off the loans due to the dreams given by the company and the harsh realities that awaited them. They were sued in court but dunno what happened but soon they were off the radar so we never came to know what happened to those million of kids whose life dreams were shattered.

Security Now comes the security part. They have alleged that Mr. Poonia broke into their systems. While this may be true, what I find funny is that with the name Whitehat, how can they justify it? If you are saying you are white hat you are supposed to be much better than this. And while I have not tried to penetrate their systems, I did find it laughable that the site is using an expired https:// certificate. I could have tried further to figure out the systems but I chose not to. How they could not have an automated script to get the certificate fixed is beyond me, this is known as certificate outage and is very well understood in the industry. There are tools like Let s Encrypt and Certbot (both EFF) and many others. But that is their concern, not mine.

Comparison A similar offering would be unacademy but as can be seen they neither try to push you in any way and nor do they make any ridiculous claims. In fact how genuine unacademy is can be gauged from the fact that many of its learning resources are available to people to see on YT and if they have tools they can also download it. Now, does this mean that every educational website should have their content for free, of course not. But when a channel has 80% 90% of it YT content as ads and testimonials then they surely should give a reason to pause both for parents and students alike. But if parents had done that much research, then things would not be where they are now.

Allegations Just to complete, there are allegations by Mr. Poonia with some screenshots which show the company has been doing a lot of bad things. For e.g. they were harassing an employee at night 2 a.m. who was frustrated and working in the company at the time. Many of the company staff routinely made sexist and offensive, sexual abusive remarks privately between themselves for prospective women who came to interview via webcam (due to the pandemic). There also seems to be a bit of porn on the web/mobile server of the company as well. There also have been allegations that while the company says refund is done next day, many parents who have demanded those refunds have not got it. Now while Mr. Poonia has shared some quotations of the staff while hiding the identities of both the victims and the perpetrators, the language being used in itself tells a lot. I am in two minds whether to share those photos or not hence atm choosing not to. Poonia has also contended that all teachers do not know programming, and they are given scripts to share. There have been some people who did share that experience with him
Suruchi Sethi
From the company s side they are alleging he has hacked the company servers and would probably be using the Fruit of the poisonous tree argument which we have seen have been used in many arguments.

Conclusion Now that lies in the eyes of the Court whether the single bench chooses the literal meaning or use the spirit of the law or the genuine concerns of the people concerned. While in today s hearing while the company asked for a complete sweeping injunction they were unable to get it. Whatever may happen, we may hope to see some fireworks in the second hearing which is slated to be on 6.01.2021 where all of this plays out. Till later.

13 November 2020

Martin Michlmayr: beancount2ledger 1.3 released

I released version 1.3 of beancount2ledger, the beancount to ledger converter that was moved from bean-report ledger into a standalone tool. You can get beancount2ledger from GitHub or via pip install. Here are the changes in 1.3:

3 November 2020

Martin Michlmayr: ledger2beancount 2.5 released

I released version 2.5 of ledger2beancount, a ledger to beancount converter. Here are the changes in 2.5: Thanks to input from Remco R nders, Yuri Khan, and Thierry. Thanks to Stefano Zacchiroli and Kirill Goncharov for testing my changes. You can get ledger2beancount from GitHub

6 October 2020

Iustin Pop: Late report for Nationalpark Bike Marathon 2020

I don t have to mention that 2020 is a special year, so all the normal race plan was out the window, and I was very happy and fortunate to be able to do even one race. And only delayed 3 weeks to write this race report :/ So, here s the story

Preparing for the race Because it was a special year, and everything was crazy, I actually managed to do more sports than usual, at least up to end of July. So my fitness, and even body weight, was relatively fine, so I subscribed to the mid-distance race (official numbers: 78km distance, 1570 meters altitude), and then off it went to a proper summer vacation in a hotel, even. And while I did do some bike rides during that vacation, from then on my training regime went just off? I did train, I did ride, I did get significant PRs, but it didn t click anymore. Plus, due to well, actually not sure what, work or coffee or something my sleep regime also got completely ruined On top of that, I didn t think about the fact that the race was going to be mid-September, and that high up in the mountains, the weather could have be bad enough (I mean, in 2018 the weather was really bad even in August ) such that I d need to seriously think about clothing.

Race week I arrive in Scuol two days before the race, very tired (I think I got only 6 hours of sleep the night before), and definitely not in a good shape. I was feeling bad enough that I was not quite sure I was going to race. At least weather was OK, such that normal summer clothing would suffice. But the race info was mentioning dangerous segments, to be very careful, etc. etc. so I was quite anxious. Note 1: my wife says, this was not the first time, and likely not the last time that two days before the race I feel like quitting. And as I m currently on-and-off reading the interesting The Brave Athlete: Calm the Fuck Down and Rise to the Occasion book (by Lesley Paterson and Simon Marshall; it s an interesting book, not sure if I recommend it or not), I am beginning to think that this is my reaction to races where I have overshot my usual distance. Or, in general, races where I fear the altitude gain. Not quite sure, but I think it is indeed the actual cause. So I spend Thursday evening feeling unwell, and thinking I ll see how Friday goes. Friday comes, and having slept reasonably well entire night, I pick up my race number, then I take another nap in the afternoon - in total, I ve slept around 13 hours that day. So I felt much better, and was looking forward to the race. Saturday morning comes, I manage to wake up early, and get ready in time; almost didn t panic at all that I m going to be late. Note 2: my wife also says that this is the usual way I behave. Hence, it must be most of it a mental issue, rather than real physical one

Race I reach the train station in time, I get on the train, and by the time the train reached Zernez, I fully calm down. There was am entire hour wait though before the race, and it was quite chilly. Of course I didn t bring anything beside what I was wearing, relying on temperature getting better later in the day. During the wait, there were two interesting things happening. First, we actually got there (in Zernez) before the first people from the long distance passed by, both men and women. Seeing them pass by was cool, thinking they already had ~1 200m altitude in just 30-ish kilometres. The second thing was, as this was the middle and not the shortest distance, the people in the group looked differently than in previous years. More precisely, they were looking very fit, and I was feeling fat. Well, I am overweight, so it was expected, but I was feeling it even more than usual. I think only one or two in ten people were looking as fit as me or less And of course, the pictures post-race show me even less fit-looking than I thought. Ah, self-deception is a sweet thing And yes, we all had to wear masks, up until the last minute. It was interesting, but not actually annoying - and small enough price for being able to race! Then the race starts, and as opposed to many other years, it starts slow. I didn t feel that rush of people starting fast, it was reasonable?

First part of the race (good) Thus started the first part of the race, on a new route that I was unfamiliar with. There was not too much climbing, to be honest, and there was some tricky single-trail through the woods, with lots of the roots. I actually had to get off the bike and push it, since it was too difficult to pedal uphill on that path. Other than that, I was managing so far to adjust my efforts well enough that my usual problems related to climbing (lower back pain) didn t yet appear, even as the overall climbed meters were increasing. I was quite happy at that, and had lots of reserves. To my (pleasant) surprise, two positive things happened:
  • I was never alone, a sign that I wasn t too far back.
  • I was passing/being passed by people, both on climbs but also on descents! It s rare, but I did overtake a few people on a difficult trail downhill.
With all the back and forth, a few people became familiar (or at least their kit), and it was fun seeing who is better uphill vs. downhill.

And second part (not so good) I finally get to (around) S-chanf, on a very nice but small descent, and on flat roads, and start the normal route for the short race. Something was off though - I knew from past years that these last ~47km have around 700-800m altitude, but I had already done around 1000m. So the promised 1571m were likely to be off, by at least 100-150m. I set myself a new target of 1700m, and adjust my efforts based on that. And then, like clockwork on the 3:00:00 mark, the route exited the forest, the sun got out of the clouds, and the temperature started to increase from 16-17 C to 26 +, with peaks of 31 C. I m not joking: at 2:58:43, temp was 16 , at 3:00:00, it was 18 , at 3:05:45, it was 26 . Heat and climbing are my two nemeses, and after having a pretty good race for the first 3 hours and almost exactly 1200m of climbing, I started feeling quite miserable. Well, it was not all bad. There were some nice stretches of flat, where I knew I can pedal strongly and keep up with other people, until my chain dropped, so I had to stop, re-set it, and lose 2 minutes. Sigh. But, at least, I was familiar with this race, or so I thought. I completely mis-remembered the last ~20km as a two-punch climb, Guarda and Ftan, whereas it is actually a three-punch one: Guarda, Ardez, and only then Ftan. Doesn t help that Ardez has the nice ruins that I was remembering and which threw me off. The saddest part of the day was here, on one of the last climbs - not sure if to Guarda or to Arddez, where a guy overtakes me, and tells me he s glad he finally caught up with me, he almost got me five or six times (!), but I always managed to break off. Always, until now. Now, this was sad (I was huffing and puffing like a steam locomotive now), but also positive, as I never had that before. One good, one bad? And of course, it was more than 1 700m altitude, it was 1 816m. And the descent to Scuol shorter and it didn t end as usual with the small but sharp climb which I just love, due to Covid changes. But, I finished, and without any actual issues, and no dangerous segments as far as I saw. I was anxious for no good reason

Conclusion (or confusion?) So this race was interesting: three hours (to the minute) in which I went 43.5km, climbed 1200m, felt great, and was able to push and push. And then the second part, only ~32km, climbed only 600m, but which felt quite miserable. I don t know if it was mainly heat, mainly my body giving up after that much climbing (or time?), or both. But it s clear that I can t reliably race for more than around these numbers: 3 hours, ~1000+m altitude, in >20 C temperature. One thing that I managed to achieve though: except due to the technically complex trail at the beginning where I pushed the bike, I did not ever stop and push the bike uphill because I was too tired. Instead, I managed (badly) to do the switch sitting/standing as much as I could motivate myself, and thus continue pushing uphill. This is an achievement for me, since mentally it s oh so easy to stop and push the bike, so I was quite glad. As to the race results, they were quite atrocious:
  • age category (men), 38 out of 52 finishers, 4h54m, with first finisher doing 3h09m, so 50% slower (!)
  • overall (men), 138 out of 173 finishers, with first finisher 2h53m.
These results clearly don t align with my feeling of a good first half of the race, so either it was purely subjective, or maybe in this special year, only really strong people registered for the race, or something else One positive aspect though, compared to most other years, was the consistency of my placement (age and overall):
  • Zuoz: 38 / 141
  • S-Chanf: 39 / 141
  • Zernez: 39 / 141
  • Guarda: 38 / 138
  • Ftan: 38 / 138
  • ( next - whatever this is): 38 / 138
  • Finish: 38 / 138
So despite all my ranting above, and all the stats I m pulling out of my own race, it looks like my position in the race was fully settled in the really first part, and I didn t gain nor lose practically anything afterwards. I did dip one place but then gained it back (on the climb to Guarda, even). The split times (per-segment rankings) are a bit more variable, and show that I was actually fast on the climbs but losing speed on the descents, which I really don t understand anymore:
  • Zernez-Zuoz (unclear type): 38 / 141
  • Zuoz-S-Chanf (unclear type): 40 / 141
  • S-Chanf-Zernez (mostly downhill): 39 / 143
  • Zernez-Guarda (mostly uphill): 37 / 136
  • Guarda-Ftan (mostly uphill): 37 / 131
  • Ftan-Scuol (mostly downhill): 43 / 156
The difference at the end is striking. I m visually matching the map positions to km and then use VeloViewer for computing the altitude gain, but Zernez to Guarda is 420m altitude, and Guarda to Ftan is 200m altitude gain, and yet on both, I was faster than my final place, and by quite a few places on overall, only to lose that on the descent (Ftan-Scuol), and by a large margin. So, amongst all the confusion here, I think the story overall is:
  • indeed I was quite fit for me, so the climbs were better than my place in the race (if that makes sense).
  • however, I m not actually good at climbing nor fit (watts/kg), so I m still way back in the pack (oops!).
  • and I do suck at descending, both me (skills) and possible my bike setup as well (too high tyre pressure, etc.) so I lose even more time here
As usual, the final take-away points are: lose the extra weight that is not needed, get better skills, get better core to be better at climbing. I ll finish here with one pic, taken in Guarda (4 hours into the race, more or less):
Climbing in Guarda Climbing in Guarda
Until next year!

31 August 2020

Chris Lamb: Free software activities in August 2020

Here is another monthly update covering what I have been doing in the free software world during August 2020 (previous month): I uploaded Lintian versions 2.86.0, 2.87.0, 2.88.0, 2.89.0, 2.90.0, 2.91.0 and 2.92.0, as well as made the following changes:

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

diffoscope I made the following changes to diffoscope, including preparing and uploading versions 155, 156, 157 and 158 to Debian:

Debian Debian LTS This month I have worked 18 hours on Debian Long Term Support (LTS) and 12 hours on its sister Extended LTS project. You can find out more about the project via the following video:


Uploads to Debian

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