Search Results: "nore"

29 September 2022

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

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

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

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

Similar work The blueprint system is something similar to this:
It figures out what you ve done manually, stores it locally in a Git repository, generates code that s able to recreate your efforts, and helps you deploy those changes to production
That tool has unfortunately been abandoned for a decade at this point. Also note that the AutoRemove::RecommendsImportant and AutoRemove::SuggestsImportant are relevant here. If it is set to true (the default), a package will not be removed if it is (respectively) a Recommends or Suggests of another package (as opposed to the normal Depends). In other words, if you want to also auto-remove packages that are only Suggests, you would, for example, add this to apt.conf:
AutoRemove::SuggestsImportant false;
Paul Wise has tried to make the Debian installer and debootstrap properly mark packages as automatically installed in the past, but his bug reports were rejected. The other suggestions in this section are also from Paul, thanks!

25 September 2022

Sergio Talens-Oliag: Kubernetes Static Content Server

This post describes how I ve put together a simple static content server for kubernetes clusters using a Pod with a persistent volume and multiple containers: an sftp server to manage contents, a web server to publish them with optional access control and another one to run scripts which need access to the volume filesystem. The sftp server runs using MySecureShell, the web server is nginx and the script runner uses the webhook tool to publish endpoints to call them (the calls will come from other Pods that run backend servers or are executed from Jobs or CronJobs).

HistoryThe system was developed because we had a NodeJS API with endpoints to upload files and store them on S3 compatible services that were later accessed via HTTPS, but the requirements changed and we needed to be able to publish folders instead of individual files using their original names and apply access restrictions using our API. Thinking about our requirements the use of a regular filesystem to keep the files and folders was a good option, as uploading and serving files is simple. For the upload I decided to use the sftp protocol, mainly because I already had an sftp container image based on mysecureshell prepared; once we settled on that we added sftp support to the API server and configured it to upload the files to our server instead of using S3 buckets. To publish the files we added a nginx container configured to work as a reverse proxy that uses the ngx_http_auth_request_module to validate access to the files (the sub request is configurable, in our deployment we have configured it to call our API to check if the user can access a given URL). Finally we added a third container when we needed to execute some tasks directly on the filesystem (using kubectl exec with the existing containers did not seem a good idea, as that is not supported by CronJobs objects, for example). The solution we found avoiding the NIH Syndrome (i.e. write our own tool) was to use the webhook tool to provide the endpoints to call the scripts; for now we have three:
  • one to get the disc usage of a PATH,
  • one to hardlink all the files that are identical on the filesystem,
  • one to copy files and folders from S3 buckets to our filesystem.

Container definitions

mysecureshellThe mysecureshell container can be used to provide an sftp service with multiple users (although the files are owned by the same UID and GID) using standalone containers (launched with docker or podman) or in an orchestration system like kubernetes, as we are going to do here. The image is generated using the following Dockerfile:
ARG ALPINE_VERSION=3.16.2
FROM alpine:$ALPINE_VERSION as builder
LABEL maintainer="Sergio Talens-Oliag <sto@mixinet.net>"
RUN apk update &&\
 apk add --no-cache alpine-sdk git musl-dev &&\
 git clone https://github.com/sto/mysecureshell.git &&\
 cd mysecureshell &&\
 ./configure --prefix=/usr --sysconfdir=/etc --mandir=/usr/share/man\
 --localstatedir=/var --with-shutfile=/var/lib/misc/sftp.shut --with-debug=2 &&\
 make all && make install &&\
 rm -rf /var/cache/apk/*
FROM alpine:$ALPINE_VERSION
LABEL maintainer="Sergio Talens-Oliag <sto@mixinet.net>"
COPY --from=builder /usr/bin/mysecureshell /usr/bin/mysecureshell
COPY --from=builder /usr/bin/sftp-* /usr/bin/
RUN apk update &&\
 apk add --no-cache openssh shadow pwgen &&\
 sed -i -e "s ^.*\(AuthorizedKeysFile\).*$ \1 /etc/ssh/auth_keys/%u "\
 /etc/ssh/sshd_config &&\
 mkdir /etc/ssh/auth_keys &&\
 cat /dev/null > /etc/motd &&\
 add-shell '/usr/bin/mysecureshell' &&\
 rm -rf /var/cache/apk/*
COPY bin/* /usr/local/bin/
COPY etc/sftp_config /etc/ssh/
COPY entrypoint.sh /
EXPOSE 22
VOLUME /sftp
ENTRYPOINT ["/entrypoint.sh"]
CMD ["server"]
The /etc/sftp_config file is used to configure the mysecureshell server to have all the user homes under /sftp/data, only allow them to see the files under their home directories as if it were at the root of the server and close idle connections after 5m of inactivity:
etc/sftp_config
# Default mysecureshell configuration
<Default>
   # All users will have access their home directory under /sftp/data
   Home /sftp/data/$USER
   # Log to a file inside /sftp/logs/ (only works when the directory exists)
   LogFile /sftp/logs/mysecureshell.log
   # Force users to stay in their home directory
   StayAtHome true
   # Hide Home PATH, it will be shown as /
   VirtualChroot true
   # Hide real file/directory owner (just change displayed permissions)
   DirFakeUser true
   # Hide real file/directory group (just change displayed permissions)
   DirFakeGroup true
   # We do not want users to keep forever their idle connection
   IdleTimeOut 5m
</Default>
# vim: ts=2:sw=2:et
The entrypoint.sh script is the one responsible to prepare the container for the users included on the /secrets/user_pass.txt file (creates the users with their HOME directories under /sftp/data and a /bin/false shell and creates the key files from /secrets/user_keys.txt if available). The script expects a couple of environment variables:
  • SFTP_UID: UID used to run the daemon and for all the files, it has to be different than 0 (all the files managed by this daemon are going to be owned by the same user and group, even if the remote users are different).
  • SFTP_GID: GID used to run the daemon and for all the files, it has to be different than 0.
And can use the SSH_PORT and SSH_PARAMS values if present. It also requires the following files (they can be mounted as secrets in kubernetes):
  • /secrets/host_keys.txt: Text file containing the ssh server keys in mime format; the file is processed using the reformime utility (the one included on busybox) and can be generated using the gen-host-keys script included on the container (it uses ssh-keygen and makemime).
  • /secrets/user_pass.txt: Text file containing lines of the form username:password_in_clear_text (only the users included on this file are available on the sftp server, in fact in our deployment we use only the scs user for everything).
And optionally can use another one:
  • /secrets/user_keys.txt: Text file that contains lines of the form username:public_ssh_ed25519_or_rsa_key; the public keys are installed on the server and can be used to log into the sftp server if the username exists on the user_pass.txt file.
The contents of the entrypoint.sh script are:
entrypoint.sh
#!/bin/sh
set -e
# ---------
# VARIABLES
# ---------
# Expects SSH_UID & SSH_GID on the environment and uses the value of the
# SSH_PORT & SSH_PARAMS variables if present
# SSH_PARAMS
SSH_PARAMS="-D -e -p $ SSH_PORT:=22  $ SSH_PARAMS "
# Fixed values
# DIRECTORIES
HOME_DIR="/sftp/data"
CONF_FILES_DIR="/secrets"
AUTH_KEYS_PATH="/etc/ssh/auth_keys"
# FILES
HOST_KEYS="$CONF_FILES_DIR/host_keys.txt"
USER_KEYS="$CONF_FILES_DIR/user_keys.txt"
USER_PASS="$CONF_FILES_DIR/user_pass.txt"
USER_SHELL_CMD="/usr/bin/mysecureshell"
# TYPES
HOST_KEY_TYPES="dsa ecdsa ed25519 rsa"
# ---------
# FUNCTIONS
# ---------
# Validate HOST_KEYS, USER_PASS, SFTP_UID and SFTP_GID
_check_environment()  
  # Check the ssh server keys ... we don't boot if we don't have them
  if [ ! -f "$HOST_KEYS" ]; then
    cat <<EOF
We need the host keys on the '$HOST_KEYS' file to proceed.
Call the 'gen-host-keys' script to create and export them on a mime file.
EOF
    exit 1
  fi
  # Check that we have users ... if we don't we can't continue
  if [ ! -f "$USER_PASS" ]; then
    cat <<EOF
We need at least the '$USER_PASS' file to provision users.
Call the 'gen-users-tar' script to create a tar file to create an archive that
contains public and private keys for users, a 'user_keys.txt' with the public
keys of the users and a 'user_pass.txt' file with random passwords for them 
(pass the list of usernames to it).
EOF
    exit 1
  fi
  # Check SFTP_UID
  if [ -z "$SFTP_UID" ]; then
    echo "The 'SFTP_UID' can't be empty, pass a 'GID'."
    exit 1
  fi
  if [ "$SFTP_UID" -eq "0" ]; then
    echo "The 'SFTP_UID' can't be 0, use a different 'UID'"
    exit 1
  fi
  # Check SFTP_GID
  if [ -z "$SFTP_GID" ]; then
    echo "The 'SFTP_GID' can't be empty, pass a 'GID'."
    exit 1
  fi
  if [ "$SFTP_GID" -eq "0" ]; then
    echo "The 'SFTP_GID' can't be 0, use a different 'GID'"
    exit 1
  fi
 
# Adjust ssh host keys
_setup_host_keys()  
  opwd="$(pwd)"
  tmpdir="$(mktemp -d)"
  cd "$tmpdir"
  ret="0"
  reformime <"$HOST_KEYS"   ret="1"
  for kt in $HOST_KEY_TYPES; do
    key="ssh_host_$ kt _key"
    pub="ssh_host_$ kt _key.pub"
    if [ ! -f "$key" ]; then
      echo "Missing '$key' file"
      ret="1"
    fi
    if [ ! -f "$pub" ]; then
      echo "Missing '$pub' file"
      ret="1"
    fi
    if [ "$ret" -ne "0" ]; then
      continue
    fi
    cat "$key" >"/etc/ssh/$key"
    chmod 0600 "/etc/ssh/$key"
    chown root:root "/etc/ssh/$key"
    cat "$pub" >"/etc/ssh/$pub"
    chmod 0600 "/etc/ssh/$pub"
    chown root:root "/etc/ssh/$pub"
  done
  cd "$opwd"
  rm -rf "$tmpdir"
  return "$ret"
 
# Create users
_setup_user_pass()  
  opwd="$(pwd)"
  tmpdir="$(mktemp -d)"
  cd "$tmpdir"
  ret="0"
  [ -d "$HOME_DIR" ]   mkdir "$HOME_DIR"
  # Make sure the data dir can be managed by the sftp user
  chown "$SFTP_UID:$SFTP_GID" "$HOME_DIR"
  # Allow the user (and root) to create directories inside the $HOME_DIR, if
  # we don't allow it the directory creation fails on EFS (AWS)
  chmod 0755 "$HOME_DIR"
  # Create users
  echo "sftp:sftp:$SFTP_UID:$SFTP_GID:::/bin/false" >"newusers.txt"
  sed -n "/^[^#]/   s/:/ /p  " "$USER_PASS"   while read -r _u _p; do
    echo "$_u:$_p:$SFTP_UID:$SFTP_GID::$HOME_DIR/$_u:$USER_SHELL_CMD"
  done >>"newusers.txt"
  newusers --badnames newusers.txt
  # Disable write permission on the directory to forbid remote sftp users to
  # remove their own root dir (they have already done it); we adjust that
  # here to avoid issues with EFS (see before)
  chmod 0555 "$HOME_DIR"
  # Clean up the tmpdir
  cd "$opwd"
  rm -rf "$tmpdir"
  return "$ret"
 
# Adjust user keys
_setup_user_keys()  
  if [ -f "$USER_KEYS" ]; then
    sed -n "/^[^#]/   s/:/ /p  " "$USER_KEYS"   while read -r _u _k; do
      echo "$_k" >>"$AUTH_KEYS_PATH/$_u"
    done
  fi
 
# Main function
exec_sshd()  
  _check_environment
  _setup_host_keys
  _setup_user_pass
  _setup_user_keys
  echo "Running: /usr/sbin/sshd $SSH_PARAMS"
  # shellcheck disable=SC2086
  exec /usr/sbin/sshd -D $SSH_PARAMS
 
# ----
# MAIN
# ----
case "$1" in
"server") exec_sshd ;;
*) exec "$@" ;;
esac
# vim: ts=2:sw=2:et
The container also includes a couple of auxiliary scripts, the first one can be used to generate the host_keys.txt file as follows:
$ docker run --rm stodh/mysecureshell gen-host-keys > host_keys.txt
Where the script is as simple as:
bin/gen-host-keys
#!/bin/sh
set -e
# Generate new host keys
ssh-keygen -A >/dev/null
# Replace hostname
sed -i -e 's/@.*$/@mysecureshell/' /etc/ssh/ssh_host_*_key.pub
# Print in mime format (stdout)
makemime /etc/ssh/ssh_host_*
# vim: ts=2:sw=2:et
And there is another script to generate a .tar file that contains auth data for the list of usernames passed to it (the file contains a user_pass.txt file with random passwords for the users, public and private ssh keys for them and the user_keys.txt file that matches the generated keys). To generate a tar file for the user scs we can execute the following:
$ docker run --rm stodh/mysecureshell gen-users-tar scs > /tmp/scs-users.tar
To see the contents and the text inside the user_pass.txt file we can do:
$ tar tvf /tmp/scs-users.tar
-rw-r--r-- root/root        21 2022-09-11 15:55 user_pass.txt
-rw-r--r-- root/root       822 2022-09-11 15:55 user_keys.txt
-rw------- root/root       387 2022-09-11 15:55 id_ed25519-scs
-rw-r--r-- root/root        85 2022-09-11 15:55 id_ed25519-scs.pub
-rw------- root/root      3357 2022-09-11 15:55 id_rsa-scs
-rw------- root/root      3243 2022-09-11 15:55 id_rsa-scs.pem
-rw-r--r-- root/root       729 2022-09-11 15:55 id_rsa-scs.pub
$ tar xfO /tmp/scs-users.tar user_pass.txt
scs:20JertRSX2Eaar4x
The source of the script is:
bin/gen-users-tar
#!/bin/sh
set -e
# ---------
# VARIABLES
# ---------
USER_KEYS_FILE="user_keys.txt"
USER_PASS_FILE="user_pass.txt"
# ---------
# MAIN CODE
# ---------
# Generate user passwords and keys, return 1 if no username is received
if [ "$#" -eq "0" ]; then
  return 1
fi
opwd="$(pwd)"
tmpdir="$(mktemp -d)"
cd "$tmpdir"
for u in "$@"; do
  ssh-keygen -q -a 100 -t ed25519 -f "id_ed25519-$u" -C "$u" -N ""
  ssh-keygen -q -a 100 -b 4096 -t rsa -f "id_rsa-$u" -C "$u" -N ""
  # Legacy RSA private key format
  cp -a "id_rsa-$u" "id_rsa-$u.pem"
  ssh-keygen -q -p -m pem -f "id_rsa-$u.pem" -N "" -P "" >/dev/null
  chmod 0600 "id_rsa-$u.pem"
  echo "$u:$(pwgen -s 16 1)" >>"$USER_PASS_FILE"
  echo "$u:$(cat "id_ed25519-$u.pub")" >>"$USER_KEYS_FILE"
  echo "$u:$(cat "id_rsa-$u.pub")" >>"$USER_KEYS_FILE"
done
tar cf - "$USER_PASS_FILE" "$USER_KEYS_FILE" id_* 2>/dev/null
cd "$opwd"
rm -rf "$tmpdir"
# vim: ts=2:sw=2:et

nginx-scsThe nginx-scs container is generated using the following Dockerfile:
ARG NGINX_VERSION=1.23.1
FROM nginx:$NGINX_VERSION
LABEL maintainer="Sergio Talens-Oliag <sto@mixinet.net>"
RUN rm -f /docker-entrypoint.d/*
COPY docker-entrypoint.d/* /docker-entrypoint.d/
Basically we are removing the existing docker-entrypoint.d scripts from the standard image and adding a new one that configures the web server as we want using a couple of environment variables:
  • AUTH_REQUEST_URI: URL to use for the auth_request, if the variable is not found on the environment auth_request is not used.
  • HTML_ROOT: Base directory of the web server, if not passed the default /usr/share/nginx/html is used.
Note that if we don t pass the variables everything works as if we were using the original nginx image. The contents of the configuration script are:
docker-entrypoint.d/10-update-default-conf.sh
#!/bin/sh
# Replace the default.conf nginx file by our own version.
set -e
if [ -z "$HTML_ROOT" ]; then
  HTML_ROOT="/usr/share/nginx/html"
fi
if [ "$AUTH_REQUEST_URI" ]; then
  cat >/etc/nginx/conf.d/default.conf <<EOF
server  
  listen       80;
  server_name  localhost;
  location /  
    auth_request /.auth;
    root  $HTML_ROOT;
    index index.html index.htm;
   
  location /.auth  
    internal;
    proxy_pass $AUTH_REQUEST_URI;
    proxy_pass_request_body off;
    proxy_set_header Content-Length "";
    proxy_set_header X-Original-URI \$request_uri;
   
  error_page   500 502 503 504  /50x.html;
  location = /50x.html  
    root /usr/share/nginx/html;
   
 
EOF
else
  cat >/etc/nginx/conf.d/default.conf <<EOF
server  
  listen       80;
  server_name  localhost;
  location /  
    root  $HTML_ROOT;
    index index.html index.htm;
   
  error_page   500 502 503 504  /50x.html;
  location = /50x.html  
    root /usr/share/nginx/html;
   
 
EOF
fi
# vim: ts=2:sw=2:et
As we will see later the idea is to use the /sftp/data or /sftp/data/scs folder as the root of the web published by this container and create an Ingress object to provide access to it outside of our kubernetes cluster.

webhook-scsThe webhook-scs container is generated using the following Dockerfile:
ARG ALPINE_VERSION=3.16.2
ARG GOLANG_VERSION=alpine3.16
FROM golang:$GOLANG_VERSION AS builder
LABEL maintainer="Sergio Talens-Oliag <sto@mixinet.net>"
ENV WEBHOOK_VERSION 2.8.0
ENV WEBHOOK_PR 549
ENV S3FS_VERSION v1.91
WORKDIR /go/src/github.com/adnanh/webhook
RUN apk update &&\
 apk add --no-cache -t build-deps curl libc-dev gcc libgcc patch
RUN curl -L --silent -o webhook.tar.gz\
 https://github.com/adnanh/webhook/archive/$ WEBHOOK_VERSION .tar.gz &&\
 tar xzf webhook.tar.gz --strip 1 &&\
 curl -L --silent -o $ WEBHOOK_PR .patch\
 https://patch-diff.githubusercontent.com/raw/adnanh/webhook/pull/$ WEBHOOK_PR .patch &&\
 patch -p1 < $ WEBHOOK_PR .patch &&\
 go get -d && \
 go build -o /usr/local/bin/webhook
WORKDIR /src/s3fs-fuse
RUN apk update &&\
 apk add ca-certificates build-base alpine-sdk libcurl automake autoconf\
 libxml2-dev libressl-dev mailcap fuse-dev curl-dev
RUN curl -L --silent -o s3fs.tar.gz\
 https://github.com/s3fs-fuse/s3fs-fuse/archive/refs/tags/$S3FS_VERSION.tar.gz &&\
 tar xzf s3fs.tar.gz --strip 1 &&\
 ./autogen.sh &&\
 ./configure --prefix=/usr/local &&\
 make -j && \
 make install
FROM alpine:$ALPINE_VERSION
LABEL maintainer="Sergio Talens-Oliag <sto@mixinet.net>"
WORKDIR /webhook
RUN apk update &&\
 apk add --no-cache ca-certificates mailcap fuse libxml2 libcurl libgcc\
 libstdc++ rsync util-linux-misc &&\
 rm -rf /var/cache/apk/*
COPY --from=builder /usr/local/bin/webhook /usr/local/bin/webhook
COPY --from=builder /usr/local/bin/s3fs /usr/local/bin/s3fs
COPY entrypoint.sh /
COPY hooks/* ./hooks/
EXPOSE 9000
ENTRYPOINT ["/entrypoint.sh"]
CMD ["server"]
Again, we use a multi-stage build because in production we wanted to support a functionality that is not already on the official versions (streaming the command output as a response instead of waiting until the execution ends); this time we build the image applying the PATCH included on this pull request against a released version of the source instead of creating a fork. The entrypoint.sh script is used to generate the webhook configuration file for the existing hooks using environment variables (basically the WEBHOOK_WORKDIR and the *_TOKEN variables) and launch the webhook service:
entrypoint.sh
#!/bin/sh
set -e
# ---------
# VARIABLES
# ---------
WEBHOOK_BIN="$ WEBHOOK_BIN:-/webhook/hooks "
WEBHOOK_YML="$ WEBHOOK_YML:-/webhook/scs.yml "
WEBHOOK_OPTS="$ WEBHOOK_OPTS:--verbose "
# ---------
# FUNCTIONS
# ---------
print_du_yml()  
  cat <<EOF
- id: du
  execute-command: '$WEBHOOK_BIN/du.sh'
  command-working-directory: '$WORKDIR'
  response-headers:
  - name: 'Content-Type'
    value: 'application/json'
  http-methods: ['GET']
  include-command-output-in-response: true
  include-command-output-in-response-on-error: true
  pass-arguments-to-command:
  - source: 'url'
    name: 'path'
  pass-environment-to-command:
  - source: 'string'
    envname: 'OUTPUT_FORMAT'
    name: 'json'
EOF
 
print_hardlink_yml()  
  cat <<EOF
- id: hardlink
  execute-command: '$WEBHOOK_BIN/hardlink.sh'
  command-working-directory: '$WORKDIR'
  http-methods: ['GET']
  include-command-output-in-response: true
  include-command-output-in-response-on-error: true
EOF
 
print_s3sync_yml()  
  cat <<EOF
- id: s3sync
  execute-command: '$WEBHOOK_BIN/s3sync.sh'
  command-working-directory: '$WORKDIR'
  http-methods: ['POST']
  include-command-output-in-response: true
  include-command-output-in-response-on-error: true
  pass-environment-to-command:
  - source: 'payload'
    envname: 'AWS_KEY'
    name: 'aws.key'
  - source: 'payload'
    envname: 'AWS_SECRET_KEY'
    name: 'aws.secret_key'
  - source: 'payload'
    envname: 'S3_BUCKET'
    name: 's3.bucket'
  - source: 'payload'
    envname: 'S3_REGION'
    name: 's3.region'
  - source: 'payload'
    envname: 'S3_PATH'
    name: 's3.path'
  - source: 'payload'
    envname: 'SCS_PATH'
    name: 'scs.path'
  stream-command-output: true
EOF
 
print_token_yml()  
  if [ "$1" ]; then
    cat << EOF
  trigger-rule:
    match:
      type: 'value'
      value: '$1'
      parameter:
        source: 'header'
        name: 'X-Webhook-Token'
EOF
  fi
 
exec_webhook()  
  # Validate WORKDIR
  if [ -z "$WEBHOOK_WORKDIR" ]; then
    echo "Must define the WEBHOOK_WORKDIR variable!" >&2
    exit 1
  fi
  WORKDIR="$(realpath "$WEBHOOK_WORKDIR" 2>/dev/null)"   true
  if [ ! -d "$WORKDIR" ]; then
    echo "The WEBHOOK_WORKDIR '$WEBHOOK_WORKDIR' is not a directory!" >&2
    exit 1
  fi
  # Get TOKENS, if the DU_TOKEN or HARDLINK_TOKEN is defined that is used, if
  # not if the COMMON_TOKEN that is used and in other case no token is checked
  # (that is the default)
  DU_TOKEN="$ DU_TOKEN:-$COMMON_TOKEN "
  HARDLINK_TOKEN="$ HARDLINK_TOKEN:-$COMMON_TOKEN "
  S3_TOKEN="$ S3_TOKEN:-$COMMON_TOKEN "
  # Create webhook configuration
    
    print_du_yml
    print_token_yml "$DU_TOKEN"
    echo ""
    print_hardlink_yml
    print_token_yml "$HARDLINK_TOKEN"
    echo ""
    print_s3sync_yml
    print_token_yml "$S3_TOKEN"
   >"$WEBHOOK_YML"
  # Run the webhook command
  # shellcheck disable=SC2086
  exec webhook -hooks "$WEBHOOK_YML" $WEBHOOK_OPTS
 
# ----
# MAIN
# ----
case "$1" in
"server") exec_webhook ;;
*) exec "$@" ;;
esac
The entrypoint.sh script generates the configuration file for the webhook server calling functions that print a yaml section for each hook and optionally adds rules to validate access to them comparing the value of a X-Webhook-Token header against predefined values. The expected token values are taken from environment variables, we can define a token variable for each hook (DU_TOKEN, HARDLINK_TOKEN or S3_TOKEN) and a fallback value (COMMON_TOKEN); if no token variable is defined for a hook no check is done and everybody can call it. The Hook Definition documentation explains the options you can use for each hook, the ones we have right now do the following:
  • du: runs on the $WORKDIR directory, passes as first argument to the script the value of the path query parameter and sets the variable OUTPUT_FORMAT to the fixed value json (we use that to print the output of the script in JSON format instead of text).
  • hardlink: runs on the $WORKDIR directory and takes no parameters.
  • s3sync: runs on the $WORKDIR directory and sets a lot of environment variables from values read from the JSON encoded payload sent by the caller (all the values must be sent by the caller even if they are assigned an empty value, if they are missing the hook fails without calling the script); we also set the stream-command-output value to true to make the script show its output as it is working (we patched the webhook source to be able to use this option).

The du hook scriptThe du hook script code checks if the argument passed is a directory, computes its size using the du command and prints the results in text format or as a JSON dictionary:
hooks/du.sh
#!/bin/sh
set -e
# Script to print disk usage for a PATH inside the scs folder
# ---------
# FUNCTIONS
# ---------
print_error()  
  if [ "$OUTPUT_FORMAT" = "json" ]; then
    echo " \"error\":\"$*\" "
  else
    echo "$*" >&2
  fi
  exit 1
 
usage()  
  if [ "$OUTPUT_FORMAT" = "json" ]; then
    echo " \"error\":\"Pass arguments as '?path=XXX\" "
  else
    echo "Usage: $(basename "$0") PATH" >&2
  fi
  exit 1
 
# ----
# MAIN
# ----
if [ "$#" -eq "0" ]   [ -z "$1" ]; then
  usage
fi
if [ "$1" = "." ]; then
  DU_PATH="./"
else
  DU_PATH="$(find . -name "$1" -mindepth 1 -maxdepth 1)"   true
fi
if [ -z "$DU_PATH" ]   [ ! -d "$DU_PATH/." ]; then
  print_error "The provided PATH ('$1') is not a directory"
fi
# Print disk usage in bytes for the given PATH
OUTPUT="$(du -b -s "$DU_PATH")"
if [ "$OUTPUT_FORMAT" = "json" ]; then
  # Format output as  "path":"PATH","bytes":"BYTES" 
  echo "$OUTPUT"  
    sed -e "s%^\(.*\)\t.*/\(.*\)$% \"path\":\"\2\",\"bytes\":\"\1\" %"  
    tr -d '\n'
else
  # Print du output as is
  echo "$OUTPUT"
fi
# vim: ts=2:sw=2:et:ai:sts=2

The s3sync hook scriptThe s3sync hook script uses the s3fs tool to mount a bucket and synchronise data between a folder inside the bucket and a directory on the filesystem using rsync; all values needed to execute the task are taken from environment variables:
hooks/s3sync.sh
#!/bin/ash
set -euo pipefail
set -o errexit
set -o errtrace
# Functions
finish()  
  ret="$1"
  echo ""
  echo "Script exit code: $ret"
  exit "$ret"
 
# Check variables
if [ -z "$AWS_KEY" ]   [ -z "$AWS_SECRET_KEY" ]   [ -z "$S3_BUCKET" ]  
  [ -z "$S3_PATH" ]   [ -z "$SCS_PATH" ]; then
  [ "$AWS_KEY" ]   echo "Set the AWS_KEY environment variable"
  [ "$AWS_SECRET_KEY" ]   echo "Set the AWS_SECRET_KEY environment variable"
  [ "$S3_BUCKET" ]   echo "Set the S3_BUCKET environment variable"
  [ "$S3_PATH" ]   echo "Set the S3_PATH environment variable"
  [ "$SCS_PATH" ]   echo "Set the SCS_PATH environment variable"
  finish 1
fi
if [ "$S3_REGION" ] && [ "$S3_REGION" != "us-east-1" ]; then
  EP_URL="endpoint=$S3_REGION,url=https://s3.$S3_REGION.amazonaws.com"
else
  EP_URL="endpoint=us-east-1"
fi
# Prepare working directory
WORK_DIR="$(mktemp -p "$HOME" -d)"
MNT_POINT="$WORK_DIR/s3data"
PASSWD_S3FS="$WORK_DIR/.passwd-s3fs"
# Check the moutpoint
if [ ! -d "$MNT_POINT" ]; then
  mkdir -p "$MNT_POINT"
elif mountpoint "$MNT_POINT"; then
  echo "There is already something mounted on '$MNT_POINT', aborting!"
  finish 1
fi
# Create password file
touch "$PASSWD_S3FS"
chmod 0400 "$PASSWD_S3FS"
echo "$AWS_KEY:$AWS_SECRET_KEY" >"$PASSWD_S3FS"
# Mount s3 bucket as a filesystem
s3fs -o dbglevel=info,retries=5 -o "$EP_URL" -o "passwd_file=$PASSWD_S3FS" \
  "$S3_BUCKET" "$MNT_POINT"
echo "Mounted bucket '$S3_BUCKET' on '$MNT_POINT'"
# Remove the password file, just in case
rm -f "$PASSWD_S3FS"
# Check source PATH
ret="0"
SRC_PATH="$MNT_POINT/$S3_PATH"
if [ ! -d "$SRC_PATH" ]; then
  echo "The S3_PATH '$S3_PATH' can't be found!"
  ret=1
fi
# Compute SCS_UID & SCS_GID (by default based on the working directory owner)
SCS_UID="$ SCS_UID:=$(stat -c "%u" "." 2>/dev/null) "   true
SCS_GID="$ SCS_GID:=$(stat -c "%g" "." 2>/dev/null) "   true
# Check destination PATH
DST_PATH="./$SCS_PATH"
if [ "$ret" -eq "0" ] && [ -d "$DST_PATH" ]; then
  mkdir -p "$DST_PATH"   ret="$?"
fi
# Copy using rsync
if [ "$ret" -eq "0" ]; then
  rsync -rlptv --chown="$SCS_UID:$SCS_GID" --delete --stats \
    "$SRC_PATH/" "$DST_PATH/"   ret="$?"
fi
# Unmount the S3 bucket
umount -f "$MNT_POINT"
echo "Called umount for '$MNT_POINT'"
# Remove mount point dir
rmdir "$MNT_POINT"
# Remove WORK_DIR
rmdir "$WORK_DIR"
# We are done
finish "$ret"
# vim: ts=2:sw=2:et:ai:sts=2

Deployment objectsThe system is deployed as a StatefulSet with one replica. Our production deployment is done on AWS and to be able to scale we use EFS for our PersistenVolume; the idea is that the volume has no size limit, its AccessMode can be set to ReadWriteMany and we can mount it from multiple instances of the Pod without issues, even if they are in different availability zones. For development we use k3d and we are also able to scale the StatefulSet for testing because we use a ReadWriteOnce PVC, but it points to a hostPath that is backed up by a folder that is mounted on all the compute nodes, so in reality Pods in different k3d nodes use the same folder on the host.

secrets.yamlThe secrets file contains the files used by the mysecureshell container that can be generated using kubernetes pods as follows (we are only creating the scs user):
$ kubectl run "mysecureshell" --restart='Never' --quiet --rm --stdin \
  --image "stodh/mysecureshell:latest" -- gen-host-keys >"./host_keys.txt"
$ kubectl run "mysecureshell" --restart='Never' --quiet --rm --stdin \
  --image "stodh/mysecureshell:latest" -- gen-users-tar scs >"./users.tar"
Once we have the files we can generate the secrets.yaml file as follows:
$ tar xf ./users.tar user_keys.txt user_pass.txt
$ kubectl --dry-run=client -o yaml create secret generic "scs-secret" \
  --from-file="host_keys.txt=host_keys.txt" \
  --from-file="user_keys.txt=user_keys.txt" \
  --from-file="user_pass.txt=user_pass.txt" > ./secrets.yaml
The resulting secrets.yaml will look like the following file (the base64 would match the content of the files, of course):
secrets.yaml
apiVersion: v1
data:
  host_keys.txt: TWlt...
  user_keys.txt: c2Nz...
  user_pass.txt: c2Nz...
kind: Secret
metadata:
  creationTimestamp: null
  name: scs-secret

pvc.yamlThe persistent volume claim for a simple deployment (one with only one instance of the statefulSet) can be as simple as this:
pvc.yaml
apiVersion: v1
kind: PersistentVolumeClaim
metadata:
  name: scs-pvc
  labels:
    app.kubernetes.io/name: scs
spec:
  accessModes:
  - ReadWriteOnce
  resources:
    requests:
      storage: 8Gi
On this definition we don t set the storageClassName to use the default one.

Volumes in our development environment (k3d)In our development deployment we create the following PersistentVolume as required by the Local Persistence Volume Static Provisioner (note that the /volumes/scs-pv has to be created by hand, in our k3d system we mount the same host directory on the /volumes path of all the nodes and create the scs-pv directory by hand before deploying the persistent volume):
k3d-pv.yaml
apiVersion: v1
kind: PersistentVolume
metadata:
  name: scs-pv
  labels:
    app.kubernetes.io/name: scs
spec:
  capacity:
    storage: 8Gi
  volumeMode: Filesystem
  accessModes:
  - ReadWriteOnce
  persistentVolumeReclaimPolicy: Delete
  claimRef:
    name: scs-pvc
  storageClassName: local-storage
  local:
    path: /volumes/scs-pv
  nodeAffinity:
    required:
      nodeSelectorTerms:
      - matchExpressions:
        - key: node.kubernetes.io/instance-type
          operator: In
          values:
          - k3s
And to make sure that everything works as expected we update the PVC definition to add the right storageClassName:
k3d-pvc.yaml
apiVersion: v1
kind: PersistentVolumeClaim
metadata:
  name: scs-pvc
  labels:
    app.kubernetes.io/name: scs
spec:
  accessModes:
  - ReadWriteOnce
  resources:
    requests:
      storage: 8Gi
  storageClassName: local-storage

Volumes in our production environment (aws)In the production deployment we don t create the PersistentVolume (we are using the aws-efs-csi-driver which supports Dynamic Provisioning) but we add the storageClassName (we set it to the one mapped to the EFS driver, i.e. efs-sc) and set ReadWriteMany as the accessMode:
efs-pvc.yaml
apiVersion: v1
kind: PersistentVolumeClaim
metadata:
  name: scs-pvc
  labels:
    app.kubernetes.io/name: scs
spec:
  accessModes:
  - ReadWriteMany
  resources:
    requests:
      storage: 8Gi
  storageClassName: efs-sc

statefulset.yamlThe definition of the statefulSet is as follows:
statefulset.yaml
apiVersion: apps/v1
kind: StatefulSet
metadata:
  name: scs
  labels:
    app.kubernetes.io/name: scs
spec:
  serviceName: scs
  replicas: 1
  selector:
    matchLabels:
      app: scs
  template:
    metadata:
      labels:
        app: scs
    spec:
      containers:
      - name: nginx
        image: stodh/nginx-scs:latest
        ports:
        - containerPort: 80
          name: http
        env:
        - name: AUTH_REQUEST_URI
          value: ""
        - name: HTML_ROOT
          value: /sftp/data
        volumeMounts:
        - mountPath: /sftp
          name: scs-datadir
      - name: mysecureshell
        image: stodh/mysecureshell:latest
        ports:
        - containerPort: 22
          name: ssh
        securityContext:
          capabilities:
            add:
            - IPC_OWNER
        env:
        - name: SFTP_UID
          value: '2020'
        - name: SFTP_GID
          value: '2020'
        volumeMounts:
        - mountPath: /secrets
          name: scs-file-secrets
          readOnly: true
        - mountPath: /sftp
          name: scs-datadir
      - name: webhook
        image: stodh/webhook-scs:latest
        securityContext:
          privileged: true
        ports:
        - containerPort: 9000
          name: webhook-http
        env:
        - name: WEBHOOK_WORKDIR
          value: /sftp/data/scs
        volumeMounts:
        - name: devfuse
          mountPath: /dev/fuse
        - mountPath: /sftp
          name: scs-datadir
      volumes:
      - name: devfuse
        hostPath:
          path: /dev/fuse
      - name: scs-file-secrets
        secret:
          secretName: scs-secrets
      - name: scs-datadir
        persistentVolumeClaim:
          claimName: scs-pvc
Notes about the containers:
  • nginx: As this is an example the web server is not using an AUTH_REQUEST_URI and uses the /sftp/data directory as the root of the web (to get to the files uploaded for the scs user we will need to use /scs/ as a prefix on the URLs).
  • mysecureshell: We are adding the IPC_OWNER capability to the container to be able to use some of the sftp-* commands inside it, but they are not really needed, so adding the capability is optional.
  • webhook: We are launching this container in privileged mode to be able to use the s3fs-fuse, as it will not work otherwise for now (see this kubernetes issue); if the functionality is not needed the container can be executed with regular privileges; besides, as we are not enabling public access to this service we don t define *_TOKEN variables (if required the values should be read from a Secret object).
Notes about the volumes:
  • the devfuse volume is only needed if we plan to use the s3fs command on the webhook container, if not we can remove the volume definition and its mounts.

service.yamlTo be able to access the different services on the statefulset we publish the relevant ports using the following Service object:
service.yaml
apiVersion: v1
kind: Service
metadata:
  name: scs-svc
  labels:
    app.kubernetes.io/name: scs
spec:
  ports:
  - name: ssh
    port: 22
    protocol: TCP
    targetPort: 22
  - name: http
    port: 80
    protocol: TCP
    targetPort: 80
  - name: webhook-http
    port: 9000
    protocol: TCP
    targetPort: 9000
  selector:
    app: scs

ingress.yamlTo download the scs files from the outside we can add an ingress object like the following (the definition is for testing using the localhost name):
apiVersion: networking.k8s.io/v1
kind: Ingress
metadata:
  name: scs-ingress
  labels:
    app.kubernetes.io/name: scs
spec:
  ingressClassName: nginx
  rules:
  - host: 'localhost'
    http:
      paths:
      - path: /scs
        pathType: Prefix
        backend:
          service:
            name: scs-svc
            port:
              number: 80

DeploymentTo deploy the statefulSet we create a namespace and apply the object definitions shown before:
$ kubectl create namespace scs-demo
namespace/scs-demo created
$ kubectl -n scs-demo apply -f secrets.yaml
secret/scs-secrets created
$ kubectl -n scs-demo apply -f pvc.yaml
persistentvolumeclaim/scs-pvc created
$ kubectl -n scs-demo apply -f statefulset.yaml
statefulset.apps/scs created
$ kubectl -n scs-demo apply -f service.yaml
service/scs-svc created
$ kubectl -n scs-demo apply -f ingress.yaml
ingress.networking.k8s.io/scs-ingress created
Once the objects are deployed we can check that all is working using kubectl:
$ kubectl  -n scs-demo get all,secrets,ingress
NAME        READY   STATUS    RESTARTS   AGE
pod/scs-0   3/3     Running   0          24s
NAME            TYPE       CLUSTER-IP  EXTERNAL-IP  PORT(S)                  AGE
service/scs-svc ClusterIP  10.43.0.47  <none>       22/TCP,80/TCP,9000/TCP   21s

NAME                   READY   AGE
statefulset.apps/scs   1/1     24s
NAME                         TYPE                                  DATA   AGE
secret/default-token-mwcd7   kubernetes.io/service-account-token   3      53s
secret/scs-secrets           Opaque                                3      39s
NAME                                   CLASS  HOSTS      ADDRESS     PORTS   AGE
ingress.networking.k8s.io/scs-ingress  nginx  localhost  172.21.0.5  80      17s
At this point we are ready to use the system.

Usage examples

File uploadsAs previously mentioned in our system the idea is to use the sftp server from other Pods, but to test the system we are going to do a kubectl port-forward and connect to the server using our host client and the password we have generated (it is on the user_pass.txt file, inside the users.tar archive):
$ kubectl -n scs-demo port-forward service/scs-svc 2020:22 &
Forwarding from 127.0.0.1:2020 -> 22
Forwarding from [::1]:2020 -> 22
$ PF_PID=$!
$ sftp -P 2020 scs@127.0.0.1                                                 1
Handling connection for 2020
The authenticity of host '[127.0.0.1]:2020 ([127.0.0.1]:2020)' can't be \
  established.
ED25519 key fingerprint is SHA256:eHNwCnyLcSSuVXXiLKeGraw0FT/4Bb/yjfqTstt+088.
This key is not known by any other names
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no/[fingerprint])? yes
Warning: Permanently added '[127.0.0.1]:2020' (ED25519) to the list of known \
  hosts.
scs@127.0.0.1's password: **********
Connected to 127.0.0.1.
sftp> ls -la
drwxr-xr-x    2 sftp     sftp         4096 Sep 25 14:47 .
dr-xr-xr-x    3 sftp     sftp         4096 Sep 25 14:36 ..
sftp> !date -R > /tmp/date.txt                                               2
sftp> put /tmp/date.txt .
Uploading /tmp/date.txt to /date.txt
date.txt                                      100%   32    27.8KB/s   00:00
sftp> ls -l
-rw-r--r--    1 sftp     sftp           32 Sep 25 15:21 date.txt
sftp> ln date.txt date.txt.1                                                 3
sftp> ls -l
-rw-r--r--    2 sftp     sftp           32 Sep 25 15:21 date.txt
-rw-r--r--    2 sftp     sftp           32 Sep 25 15:21 date.txt.1
sftp> put /tmp/date.txt date.txt.2                                           4
Uploading /tmp/date.txt to /date.txt.2
date.txt                                      100%   32    27.8KB/s   00:00
sftp> ls -l                                                                  5
-rw-r--r--    2 sftp     sftp           32 Sep 25 15:21 date.txt
-rw-r--r--    2 sftp     sftp           32 Sep 25 15:21 date.txt.1
-rw-r--r--    1 sftp     sftp           32 Sep 25 15:21 date.txt.2
sftp> exit
$ kill "$PF_PID"
[1]  + terminated  kubectl -n scs-demo port-forward service/scs-svc 2020:22
  1. We connect to the sftp service on the forwarded port with the scs user.
  2. We put a file we have created on the host on the directory.
  3. We do a hard link of the uploaded file.
  4. We put a second copy of the file we created locally.
  5. On the file list we can see that the two first files have two hardlinks

File retrievalsIf our ingress is configured right we can download the date.txt file from the URL http://localhost/scs/date.txt:
$ curl -s http://localhost/scs/date.txt
Sun, 25 Sep 2022 17:21:51 +0200

Use of the webhook containerTo finish this post we are going to show how we can call the hooks directly, from a CronJob and from a Job.

Direct script call (du)In our deployment the direct calls are done from other Pods, to simulate it we are going to do a port-forward and call the script with an existing PATH (the root directory) and a bad one:
$ kubectl -n scs-demo port-forward service/scs-svc 9000:9000 >/dev/null &
$ PF_PID=$!
$ JSON="$(curl -s "http://localhost:9000/hooks/du?path=.")"
$ echo $JSON
 "path":"","bytes":"4160" 
$ JSON="$(curl -s "http://localhost:9000/hooks/du?path=foo")"
$ echo $JSON
 "error":"The provided PATH ('foo') is not a directory" 
$ kill $PF_PID
As we only have files on the base directory we print the disk usage of the . PATH and the output is in json format because we export OUTPUT_FORMAT with the value json on the webhook configuration.

Jobs (s3sync)The following job can be used to synchronise the contents of a directory in a S3 bucket with the SCS Filesystem:
job.yaml
apiVersion: batch/v1
kind: Job
metadata:
  name: s3sync
  labels:
    cronjob: 's3sync'
spec:
  template:
    metadata:
      labels:
        cronjob: 's3sync'
    spec:
      containers:
      - name: s3sync-job
        image: alpine:latest
        command: 
        - "wget"
        - "-q"
        - "--header"
        - "Content-Type: application/json"
        - "--post-file"
        - "/secrets/s3sync.json"
        - "-O-"
        - "http://scs-svc:9000/hooks/s3sync"
        volumeMounts:
        - mountPath: /secrets
          name: job-secrets
          readOnly: true
      restartPolicy: Never
      volumes:
      - name: job-secrets
        secret:
          secretName: webhook-job-secrets
The file with parameters for the script must be something like this:
s3sync.json
 
  "aws":  
    "key": "********************",
    "secret_key": "****************************************"
   ,
  "s3":  
    "region": "eu-north-1",
    "bucket": "blogops-test",
    "path": "test"
   ,
  "scs":  
    "path": "test"
   
 
Once we have both files we can run the Job as follows:
$ kubectl -n scs-demo create secret generic webhook-job-secrets \            1
  --from-file="s3sync.json=s3sync.json"
secret/webhook-job-secrets created
$ kubectl -n scs-demo apply -f webhook-job.yaml                              2
job.batch/s3sync created
$ kubectl -n scs-demo get pods -l "cronjob=s3sync"                           3
NAME           READY   STATUS      RESTARTS   AGE
s3sync-zx2cj   0/1     Completed   0          12s
$ kubectl -n scs-demo logs s3sync-zx2cj                                      4
Mounted bucket 's3fs-test' on '/root/tmp.jiOjaF/s3data'
sending incremental file list
created directory ./test
./
kyso.png
Number of files: 2 (reg: 1, dir: 1)
Number of created files: 2 (reg: 1, dir: 1)
Number of deleted files: 0
Number of regular files transferred: 1
Total file size: 15,075 bytes
Total transferred file size: 15,075 bytes
Literal data: 15,075 bytes
Matched data: 0 bytes
File list size: 0
File list generation time: 0.147 seconds
File list transfer time: 0.000 seconds
Total bytes sent: 15,183
Total bytes received: 74
sent 15,183 bytes  received 74 bytes  30,514.00 bytes/sec
total size is 15,075  speedup is 0.99
Called umount for '/root/tmp.jiOjaF/s3data'
Script exit code: 0
$ kubectl -n scs-demo delete -f webhook-job.yaml                             5
job.batch "s3sync" deleted
$ kubectl -n scs-demo delete secrets webhook-job-secrets                     6
secret "webhook-job-secrets" deleted
  1. Here we create the webhook-job-secrets secret that contains the s3sync.json file.
  2. This command runs the job.
  3. Checking the label cronjob=s3sync we get the Pods executed by the job.
  4. Here we print the logs of the completed job.
  5. Once we are finished we remove the Job.
  6. And also the secret.

Final remarksThis post has been longer than I expected, but I believe it can be useful for someone; in any case, next time I ll try to explain something shorter or will split it into multiple entries.

Shirish Agarwal: Rama II, Arthur C. Clarke, Aliens

Rama II This would be more of a short post about the current book I am reading. Now people who have seen Arrival would probably be more at home. People who have also seen Avatar would also be familiar to the theme or concept I am sharing about. Now before I go into detail, it seems that Arthur C. Clarke wanted to use a powerful god or mythological character for the name and that is somehow the RAMA series started. Now the first book in the series explores an extraterrestrial spaceship that earth people see/connect with. The spaceship is going somewhere and is doing an Earth flyby so humans don t have much time to explore the spaceship and it is difficult to figure out how the spaceship worked. The spaceship is around 40 km. long. They don t meet any living Ramans but mostly automated systems and something called biots. As I m still reading it, I can t really say what happens next. Although in Rama or Rama I, the powers that be want to destroy it while in the end last they don t. Whether they could have destroyed it or not would be whole another argument. What people need to realize is that the book is a giant What IF scenario.

Aliens If there were any intelligent life in the Universe, I don t think they will take the pain of visiting Earth. And the reasons are far more mundane than anything else. Look at how we treat each other. One of the largest democracies on Earth, The U.S. has been so divided. While the progressives have made some good policies, the Republicans are into political stunts, consider the political stunt of sending Refugees to Martha s Vineyard. The ex-president also made a statement that he can declassify anything just by thinking about it. Now understand this, a refugee is a legal migrant whose papers would be looked into by the American Govt. and till the time he/she/their application is approved or declined they can work, have a house, or do whatever to support themselves. There is a huge difference between having refugee status and being an undocumented migrant. And it isn t as if the Republicans don t know this, they did it because they thought they will be able to get away with it. Both the above episodes don t throw us in a good light. If we treat others like the above, how can we expect to be treated? And refugees always have a hard time, not just in the U.S, , the UK you name it. The UK just some months ago announced a controversial deal where they will send Refugees to Rwanda while their refugee application is accepted or denied, most of them would be denied. The Indian Government is more of the same. A friend, a casual acquaintance Nishant Shah shared the same issues as I had shared a few weeks back even though he s an NRI. So, it seems we are incapable of helping ourselves as well as helping others. On top of it, we have the temerity of using the word alien for them. Now, just for a moment, imagine you are an intelligent life form. An intelligent life-form that could coax energy from the stars, why would you come to Earth, where the people at large have already destroyed more than half of the atmosphere and still arguing about it with the other half. On top of it, we see a list of authoritarian figures like Putin, Xi Jinping whose whole idea is to hold on to power for as long as they can, damn the consequences. Mr. Modi is no different, he is the dumbest of the lot and that s saying something. Most of the projects made by him are in disarray, Pune Metro, my city giving an example. And this is when Pune was the first applicant to apply for a Metro. Just like the UK, India too has tanked the economy under his guidance. Every time they come closer to target dates, the targets are put far into the future, for e.g. now they have said 2040 for a good economy. And just like in other countries, he has some following even though he has a record of failure in every sector of the economy, education, and defense, the list is endless. There isn t a single accomplishment by him other than screwing with other religions. Most of my countrymen also don t really care or have a bother to see how the economy grows and how exports play a crucial part otherwise they would be more alert. Also, just like the UK, India too gave tax cuts to the wealthy, most people don t understand how economies function and the PM doesn t care. The media too is subservient and because nobody asks the questions, nobody seems to be accountable :(.

Religion There is another aspect that also has been to the fore, just like in medieval times, I see a great fervor for religion happening here, especially since the pandemic and people are much more insecure than ever before. Before, I used to think that insecurity and religious appeal only happen in the uneducated, and I was wrong. I have friends who are highly educated and yet still are blinded by religion. In many such cases or situations, I find their faith to be a sham. If you have faith, then there shouldn t be any room for doubt or insecurity. And if you are not in doubt or insecure, you won t need to talk about your religion. The difference between the two is that a person is satiated himself/herself/themselves with thirst and hunger. That person would be in a relaxed mode while the other person would continue to create drama as there is no peace in their heart. Another fact is none of the major religions, whether it is Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or even Hinduism has allowed for the existence of extraterrestrials. We have already labeled them as aliens even before meeting them & just our imagination. And more often than not, we end up killing them. There are and have been scores of movies that have explored the idea. Independence day, Aliens, Arrival, the list goes on and on. And because our religions have never thought about the idea of ET s and how they will affect us, if ET s do come, all the religions and religious practices would panic and die. That is the possibility why even the 1947 Roswell Incident has been covered up . If the above was not enough, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the Americans would always be a black mark against humanity. From the alien perspective, if you look at the technology that they have vis-a-vis what we have, they will probably think of us as spoilt babies and they wouldn t be wrong. Spoilt babies with nuclear weapons are not exactly a healthy mix

Earth To add to our fragile ego, we didn t even leave earth even though we have made sure we exploit it as much as we can. We even made the anthropocentric or homocentric view that makes man the apex animal and to top it we have this weird idea that extraterrestrials come here or will invade for water. A species that knows how to get energy out of stars but cannot make a little of H2O. The idea belies logic and again has been done to death. Why we as humans are so insecure even though we have been given so much I fail to understand. I have shared on numerous times the Kardeshev Scale on this blog itself. The above are some of the reasons why Arthur C. Clarke s works are so controversial and this is when I haven t even read the whole book. It forces us to ask questions that we normally would never think about. And I have to repeat that when these books were published for the first time, they were new ideas. All the movies, from Stanley Kubrick s 2001: Space Odyssey, Aliens, Arrival, and Avatar, somewhere or the other reference some aspect of this work. It is highly possible that I may read and re-read the book couple of times before beginning the next one. There is also quite a bit of human drama, but then that is to be expected. I have to admit I did have some nice dreams after reading just the first few pages, imagining being given the opportunity to experience an Extraterrestrial spaceship that is beyond our wildest dreams. While the Governments may try to cover up or something, the ones who get to experience that spacecraft would be unimaginable. And if they were able to share the pictures or a Livestream, it would be nothing short of amazing. For those who want to, there is a lot going on with the New James Webb Telescope. I am sure it would give rise to more questions than answers.

20 September 2022

Matthew Garrett: Handling WebAuthn over remote SSH connections

Being able to SSH into remote machines and do work there is great. Using hardware security tokens for 2FA is also great. But trying to use them both at the same time doesn't work super well, because if you hit a WebAuthn request on the remote machine it doesn't matter how much you mash your token - it's not going to work.

But could it?

The SSH agent protocol abstracts key management out of SSH itself and into a separate process. When you run "ssh-add .ssh/id_rsa", that key is being loaded into the SSH agent. When SSH wants to use that key to authenticate to a remote system, it asks the SSH agent to perform the cryptographic signatures on its behalf. SSH also supports forwarding the SSH agent protocol over SSH itself, so if you SSH into a remote system then remote clients can also access your keys - this allows you to bounce through one remote system into another without having to copy your keys to those remote systems.

More recently, SSH gained the ability to store SSH keys on hardware tokens such as Yubikeys. If configured appropriately, this means that even if you forward your agent to a remote site, that site can't do anything with your keys unless you physically touch the token. But out of the box, this is only useful for SSH keys - you can't do anything else with this support.

Well, that's what I thought, at least. And then I looked at the code and realised that SSH is communicating with the security tokens using the same library that a browser would, except it ensures that any signature request starts with the string "ssh:" (which a genuine WebAuthn request never will). This constraint can actually be disabled by passing -O no-restrict-websafe to ssh-agent, except that was broken until this weekend. But let's assume there's a glorious future where that patch gets backported everywhere, and see what we can do with it.

First we need to load the key into the security token. For this I ended up hacking up the Go SSH agent support. Annoyingly it doesn't seem to be possible to make calls to the agent without going via one of the exported methods here, so I don't think this logic can be implemented without modifying the agent module itself. But this is basically as simple as adding another key message type that looks something like:
type ecdsaSkKeyMsg struct  
       Type        string  sshtype:"17 25" 
       Curve       string
       PubKeyBytes []byte
       RpId        string
       Flags       uint8
       KeyHandle   []byte
       Reserved    []byte
       Comments    string
       Constraints []byte  ssh:"rest" 
 
Where Type is ssh.KeyAlgoSKECDSA256, Curve is "nistp256", RpId is the identity of the relying party (eg, "webauthn.io"), Flags is 0x1 if you want the user to have to touch the key, KeyHandle is the hardware token's representation of the key (basically an opaque blob that's sufficient for the token to regenerate the keypair - this is generally stored by the remote site and handed back to you when it wants you to authenticate). The other fields can be ignored, other than PubKeyBytes, which is supposed to be the public half of the keypair.

This causes an obvious problem. We have an opaque blob that represents a keypair. We don't have the public key. And OpenSSH verifies that PubKeyByes is a legitimate ecdsa public key before it'll load the key. Fortunately it only verifies that it's a legitimate ecdsa public key, and does nothing to verify that it's related to the private key in any way. So, just generate a new ECDSA key (ecdsa.GenerateKey(elliptic.P256(), rand.Reader)) and marshal it ( elliptic.Marshal(ecKey.Curve, ecKey.X, ecKey.Y)) and we're good. Pass that struct to ssh.Marshal() and then make an agent call.

Now you can use the standard agent interfaces to trigger a signature event. You want to pass the raw challenge (not the hash of the challenge!) - the SSH code will do the hashing itself. If you're using agent forwarding this will be forwarded from the remote system to your local one, and your security token should start blinking - touch it and you'll get back an ssh.Signature blob. ssh.Unmarshal() the Blob member to a struct like
type ecSig struct  
        R *big.Int
        S *big.Int
 
and then ssh.Unmarshal the Rest member to
type authData struct  
        Flags    uint8
        SigCount uint32
 
The signature needs to be converted back to a DER-encoded ASN.1 structure (eg,
var b cryptobyte.Builder
b.AddASN1(asn1.SEQUENCE, func(b *cryptobyte.Builder)  
        b.AddASN1BigInt(ecSig.R)
        b.AddASN1BigInt(ecSig.S)
 )
signatureDER, _ := b.Bytes()
, and then you need to construct the Authenticator Data structure. For this, take the RpId used earlier and generate the sha256. Append the one byte Flags variable, and then convert SigCount to big endian and append those 4 bytes. You should now have a 37 byte structure. This needs to be CBOR encoded (I used github.com/fxamacker/cbor and just called cbor.Marshal(data, cbor.EncOptions )).

Now base64 encode the sha256 of the challenge data, the DER-encoded signature and the CBOR-encoded authenticator data and you've got everything you need to provide to the remote site to satisfy the challenge.

There are alternative approaches - you can use USB/IP to forward the hardware token directly to the remote system. But that means you can't use it locally, so it's less than ideal. Or you could implement a proxy that communicates with the key locally and have that tunneled through to the remote host, but at that point you're just reinventing ssh-agent.

And you should bear in mind that the default behaviour of blocking this sort of request is for a good reason! If someone is able to compromise a remote system that you're SSHed into, they can potentially trick you into hitting the key to sign a request they've made on behalf of an arbitrary site. Obviously they could do the same without any of this if they've compromised your local system, but there is some additional risk to this. It would be nice to have sensible MAC policies that default-denied access to the SSH agent socket and only allowed trustworthy binaries to do so, or maybe have some sort of reasonable flatpak-style portal to gate access. For my threat model I think it's a worthwhile security tradeoff, but you should evaluate that carefully yourself.

Anyway. Now to figure out whether there's a reasonable way to get browsers to work with this.

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17 September 2022

Shirish Agarwal: Books and Indian Tourism

Fiction A few days ago somebody asked me and I think it is an often requested to perhaps all fiction readers as to why we like fiction? First of all, reading in itself is told as food for the soul. Because, whenever you write or read anything you don t just read it, you also visualize it. And that visualization is and would be far greater than any attempt in cinema as there are no budget constraints and it takes no more than a minute to visualize a scenario if the writer is any good. You just close your eyes and in a moment you are transported to a different world. This is also what is known as world building . Something fantasy writers are especially gifted in. Also, with the whole parallel Universes being a reality, it is just so much fertile land for imagination that I just cannot believe that it hasn t been worked to death to date. And you do need a lot of patience to make a world, to make characters, to make characters a bit eccentric one way or the other. And you have to know to put into a three, five, or whatever number of acts you want to put in. And then, of course, they have readers like us who dream and add more color to the story than the author did. As we take his, her, or their story and weave countless stories depending on where we are, where we are and who we are. What people need to understand is that not just readers want escapism but writers too want to escape from the human condition. And they find solace in whatever they write. The well-known example of J.R.R. Tolkien is always there. How he must have felt each day coming after war, to somehow find the strength and just dream away, transport himself to a world of hobbits, elves, and other mysterious beings. It surely must have taken a lot of pain from him that otherwise, he would have felt. There are many others. What also does happen now and then, is authors believe in their own intelligence so much, that they commit crimes, but that s par for the course.

Dean Koontz, Odd Apocalypse Currently, I am reading the above title. It is perhaps one of the first horror title books that I have read which has so much fun. The hero has a great sense of wit, humor, and sarcasm that you can cut butter with it. Now if you got that, this is par for the wordplay happening every second paragraph and I m just 100 pages in of the 500-page Novel. Now, while I haven t read the whole book and I m just speculating, what if at the end we realize that the hero all along was or is the villain. Sadly, we don t have many such twisted stories and that too is perhaps because most people used to have black and white rather than grey characters. From all my reading, and even watching web series and whatnot, it is only the Europeans who seem to have a taste for exploring grey characters and giving twists at the end that people cannot anticipate. Even their heroes or heroines are grey characters. and they can really take you for a ride. It is also perhaps how we humans are, neither black nor white but more greyish. Having grey characters also frees the author quite a bit as she doesn t have to use so-called tropes and just led the characters to lead themselves.

Indian Book publishing Industry I do know Bengali stories do have a lot of grey characters, but sadly most of the good works are still in Bengali and not widely published compared to say European or American authors. While there is huge potential in the Indian publishing market for English books and there is also hunger, getting good and cheap publishers is the issue. Just recently SAGE publishing division shut down and this does not augur well for the Indian market. In the past few years, I and other readers have seen some very good publishing houses quit India for one reason or the other. GST has also made the sector more expensive. The only thing that works now and has been for some time is the seconds and thirds market. For e.g. I just bought today about 15-20 books @INR 125/- a kind of belated present for the self. That would be what, at the most 2 USD or 2 Euros per book. I bet even a burger costs more than that, but again India being a price-sensitive market, at these prices the seconds book sells. And these are all my favorite authors, Lee Child, Tom Clancy, Dean Koontz, and so on and so forth. I also saw a lot of fantasy books but they would have to wait for another day.

Tourism in India for Debconf 23 I had shared a while back that I would write a bit about tourism as Debconf or Annual Debian Conference will happen in India next year around this time. I was supposed to write it in the FAQ but couldn t find a place or a corner where I could write it. There are actually two things that people need to be aware of. The one thing that people need to be very aware of is food poisoning or Delhi Belly. This is a far too common sight that I have witnessed especially with westerners when they come to visit India. I am somewhat shocked that it hasn t been shared in the FAQ but then perhaps we cannot cover all the bases therein. I did find this interesting article and would recommend the suggestions given in it wholeheartedly. I would suggest people coming to India to buy and have purifying water tablets with them if they decide to stay back and explore India. Now the problem with tourism is, that one can have as much tourism as one wants. One of the unique ways I found some westerners having the time of their life is buying an Indian Rickshaw or Tuk-Tuk and traveling with it. A few years ago, when I was more adventourous-spirited I was able to meet a few of them. There is also the Race with Rickshaws that happens in Rajasthan and you get to see about 10 odd cities in and around Rajasthan state and get to see the vibrancy in the North. If somebody really wants to explore India, then I would suggest getting down to Goa, specifically, South Goa, meeting with the hippie crowd, and getting one of the hippie guidebooks to India. Most people forget that the Hippies came to India in the 1960s and many of them just never left. Tap water in Pune is ok, have seen and experienced the same in Himachal, Garwhal, and Uttarakhand, although it has been a few years since I have been to those places. North-East is a place I have yet to venture into. India does have a lot of beauty but most people are not clean-conscious so if you go to common tourist destinations, you will find a lot of garbage. Most cities in India do give you an option of homestays and some even offer food, so if you are on a budget as well as wanna experience life with an Indian family, that could be something you could look into. So you can see and share about India with different eyes. There is casteism, racism, and all that. Generally speaking, you would see it wielded a lot more in your face in North India than in South India where it is there but far more subtle. About food, what has been shared in the India BOF. Have to say, it doesn t even scratch the surface. If you stay with an Indian family, there is probably a much better chance of exploring the variety of food that India has to offer. From the western perspective, we tend to overcook stuff and make food with Masalas but that s the way most people like it. People who have had hot sauces or whatnot would probably find India much easier to adjust to as tastes might be similar to some extent. If you want to socialize with young people, while discos are an option, meetup.com also is a good place. You can share your passions and many people have taken to it with gusto. We also have been hosting Comiccons in India, but I haven t had the opportunity to attend them so far. India has a rich oral culture reach going back a few thousand years, but many of those who are practicing those reside more in villages rather than in cities. And while there have been attempts in the past to record them, most of those have come to naught as money runs out as there is no commercial viability to such projects, but that probably is for another day. In the end, what I have shared is barely a drop in the ocean that is India. Come, have fun, explore, enjoy and invigorate yourself and others

13 September 2022

Alberto Garc a: Adding software to the Steam Deck with systemd-sysext

Yakuake on SteamOS Introduction: an immutable OS The Steam Deck runs SteamOS, a single-user operating system based on Arch Linux. Although derived from a standard package-based distro, the OS in the Steam Deck is immutable and system updates replace the contents of the root filesystem atomically instead of using the package manager. An immutable OS makes the system more stable and its updates less error-prone, but users cannot install additional packages to add more software. This is not a problem for most users since they are only going to run Steam and its games (which are stored in the home partition). Nevertheless, the OS also has a desktop mode which provides a standard Linux desktop experience, and here it makes sense to be able to install more software. How to do that though? It is possible for the user to become root, make the root filesytem read-write and install additional software there, but any changes will be gone after the next OS update. Modifying the rootfs can also be dangerous if the user is not careful. Ways to add additional software The simplest and safest way to install additional software is with Flatpak, and that s the method recommended in the Steam Deck Desktop FAQ. Flatpak is already installed and integrated in the system via the Discover app so I won t go into more details here. However, while Flatpak works great for desktop applications not every piece of software is currently available, and Flatpak is also not designed for other types of programs like system services or command-line tools. Fortunately there are several ways to add software to the Steam Deck without touching the root filesystem, each one with different pros and cons. I will probably talk about some of them in the future, but in this post I m going to focus on one that is already available in the system: systemd-sysext. About systemd-sysext This is a tool included in recent versions of systemd and it is designed to add additional files (in the form of system extensions) to an otherwise immutable root filesystem. Each one of these extensions contains a set of files. When extensions are enabled (aka merged ) those files will appear on the root filesystem using overlayfs. From then on the user can open and run them normally as if they had been installed with a package manager. Merged extensions are seamlessly integrated with the rest of the OS. Since extensions are just collections of files they can be used to add new applications but also other things like system services, development tools, language packs, etc. Creating an extension: yakuake I m using yakuake as an example for this tutorial since the extension is very easy to create, it is an application that some users are demanding and is not easy to distribute with Flatpak. So let s create a yakuake extension. Here are the steps: 1) Create a directory and unpack the files there:
$ mkdir yakuake
$ wget https://steamdeck-packages.steamos.cloud/archlinux-mirror/extra/os/x86_64/yakuake-21.12.1-1-x86_64.pkg.tar.zst
$ tar -C yakuake -xaf yakuake-*.tar.zst usr
2) Create a file called extension-release.NAME under usr/lib/extension-release.d with the fields ID and VERSION_ID taken from the Steam Deck s /etc/os-release file.
$ mkdir -p yakuake/usr/lib/extension-release.d/
$ echo ID=steamos > yakuake/usr/lib/extension-release.d/extension-release.yakuake
$ echo VERSION_ID=3.3.1 >> yakuake/usr/lib/extension-release.d/extension-release.yakuake
3) Create an image file with the contents of the extension:
$ mksquashfs yakuake yakuake.raw
That s it! The extension is ready. A couple of important things: image files must have the .raw suffix and, despite the name, they can contain any filesystem that the OS can mount. In this example I used SquashFS but other alternatives like EroFS or ext4 are equally valid. NOTE: systemd-sysext can also use extensions from plain directories (i.e skipping the mksquashfs part). Unfortunately we cannot use them in our case because overlayfs does not work with the casefold feature that is enabled on the Steam Deck. Using the extension Once the extension is created you simply need to copy it to a place where systemd-systext can find it. There are several places where they can be installed (see the manual for a list) but due to the Deck s partition layout and the potentially large size of some extensions it probably makes more sense to store them in the home partition and create a link from one of the supported locations (/var/lib/extensions in this example):
(deck@steamdeck ~)$ mkdir extensions
(deck@steamdeck ~)$ scp user@host:/path/to/yakuake.raw extensions/
(deck@steamdeck ~)$ sudo ln -s $PWD/extensions /var/lib/extensions
Once the extension is installed in that directory you only need to enable and start systemd-sysext:
(deck@steamdeck ~)$ sudo systemctl enable systemd-sysext
(deck@steamdeck ~)$ sudo systemctl start systemd-sysext
After this, if everything went fine you should be able to see (and run) /usr/bin/yakuake. The files should remain there from now on, also if you reboot the device. You can see what extensions are enabled with this command:
$ systemd-sysext status
HIERARCHY EXTENSIONS SINCE
/opt      none       -
/usr      yakuake    Tue 2022-09-13 18:21:53 CEST
If you add or remove extensions from the directory then a simple systemd-sysext refresh is enough to apply the changes. Unfortunately, and unlike distro packages, extensions don t have any kind of post-installation hooks or triggers, so in the case of Yakuake you probably won t see an entry in the KDE application menu immediately after enabling the extension. You can solve that by running kbuildsycoca5 once from the command line. Limitations and caveats Using systemd extensions is generally very easy but there are some things that you need to take into account:
  1. Using extensions is easy (you put them in the directory and voil !). However, creating extensions is not necessarily always easy. To begin with, any libraries, files, etc., that your extensions may need should be either present in the root filesystem or provided by the extension itself. You may need to combine files from different sources or packages into a single extension, or compile them yourself.
  2. In particular, if the extension contains binaries they should probably come from the Steam Deck repository or they should be built to work with those packages. If you need to build your own binaries then having a SteamOS virtual machine can be handy. There you can install all development files and also test that everything works as expected. One could also create a Steam Deck SDK extension with all the necessary files to develop directly on the Deck
  3. Extensions are not distribution packages, they don t have dependency information and therefore they should be self-contained. They also lack triggers and other features available in packages. For desktop applications I still recommend using a system like Flatpak when possible.
  4. Extensions are tied to a particular version of the OS and, as explained above, the ID and VERSION_ID of each extension must match the values from /etc/os-release. If the fields don t match then the extension will be ignored. This is to be expected because there s no guarantee that a particular extension is going to work with a different version of the OS. This can happen after a system update. In the best case one simply needs to update the extension s VERSION_ID, but in some cases it might be necessary to create the extension again with different/updated files.
  5. Extensions only install files in /usr and /opt. Any other file in the image will be ignored. This can be a problem if a particular piece of software needs files in other directories.
  6. When extensions are enabled the /usr and /opt directories become read-only because they are now part of an overlayfs. They will remain read-only even if you run steamos-readonly disable !!. If you really want to make the rootfs read-write you need to disable the extensions (systemd-sysext unmerge) first.
  7. Unlike Flatpak or Podman (including toolbox / distrobox), this is (by design) not meant to isolate the contents of the extension from the rest of the system, so you should be careful with what you re installing. On the other hand, this lack of isolation makes systemd-sysext better suited to some use cases than those container-based systems.
Conclusion systemd extensions are an easy way to add software (or data files) to the immutable OS of the Steam Deck in a way that is seamlessly integrated with the rest of the system. Creating them can be more or less easy depending on the case, but using them is extremely simple. Extensions are not packages, and systemd-sysext is not a package manager or a general-purpose tool to solve all problems, but if you are aware of its limitations it can be a practical tool. It is also possible to share extensions with other users, but here the usual warning against installing binaries from untrusted sources applies. Use with caution, and enjoy!

11 September 2022

Dirk Eddelbuettel: RcppArmadillo 0.11.2.4.0 on CRAN: Bugfix and Deprecation

armadillo image Armadillo is a powerful and expressive C++ template library for linear algebra and scientific computing. It aims towards a good balance between speed and ease of use, has a syntax deliberately close to Matlab, and is useful for algorithm development directly in C++, or quick conversion of research code into production environments. RcppArmadillo integrates this library with the R environment and language and is widely used by (currently) 1016 packages other packages on CRAN, downloaded 26.2 million times (per the partial logs from the cloud mirrors of CRAN), and the CSDA paper (preprint / vignette) by Conrad and myself has been cited 493 times according to Google Scholar. This new release (made yesterday) brings three changes. First, it updates the release to the upstream 11.2.4 bugfix release made days ago by Conrad. Second, it contains support for the deprecation transition we are managing in issue #391. In short, the (convenient but non-standard) initialization via use of << has been deprecated upstream. Until all packages are updated, we override this in the RcppArmadillo but aim to become compliant . Out of the over 1000 packages, a mere 25 need small adjustments. I reached out email and PRs, and the response has been great. Eight packages are already updated on CRAN, and several others have already in integrated or merged the change. Lastly, Conrad pointed out that the fastLm() example and application can be written more concisely by using arma::dot(). The full set of changes (since the last CRAN release 0.11.2.3.1) follows.

Changes in RcppArmadillo version 0.11.2.4.0 (2022-09-09)
  • Upgraded to Armadillo release 11.2.4 (Classic Roast)
    • fix handling of std::move() involving matrices constructed with auxiliary memory
  • In the fastLm() examples, use arma::dot() to compute to the inner product (as proposed by Conrad), plus small edits
  • Support optional #define named RCPPARMADILLO_FORCE_DEPRECATE to suppress use of ARMA_IGNORE_DEPRECATED_MARKER permitting use and development under deprecation

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.

Shirish Agarwal: Politics, accessibility, books

Politics I have been reading books, both fiction and non-fiction for a long long time. My first book was a comic most probably when I was down with Malaria when I was a kid. I must be around 4-5 years old. Over the years, books have given me great joy and I continue to find nuggets of useful information, both in fiction as well as non-fiction books. So here s to sharing something and how that can lead you to a rabbit hole. This entry would be a bit NSFW as far as language is concerned. NYPD Red 5 by James Patterson First of all, have no clue as to why James Patterson s popularity has been falling. He used to be right there with Lee Child and others, but not so much now. While I try to be mysterious about books, I would give a bit of heads-up so people know what to expect. This is probably more towards the Adult crowd as there is a bit of sex as well as quite a few grey characters. The NYPD Red is a sort of elite police task force that basically is for celebrities. In the book series, they do a lot of ass-kissing (figuratively more than literally). Now the reason I have always liked fiction is that however wild the assumption or presumption is, it does have somewhere a grain of truth. And each and every time I read a book or two, that gets cemented. One of the statements in the book told something about how 9/11 took a lot of police personnel out of the game. First, there were a number of policemen who were patrolling the Two Towers, so they perished literally during the explosion. Then there were policemen who were given the cases to close the cases (bring the cases to conclusion). When you are investigating your own brethren or even civilians who perished 9/11 they must have experienced emotional trauma and no outlet. Mental health even in cops is the same and given similar help as you and me (i.e. next to none.) But both of these were my assumptions. The only statement that was in the book was they lost a lot of bench strength. Even NYFD (New York Fire Department). This led me to me to With Crime At Record Lows, Should NYC Have Fewer Cops? This is more right-wing sentiment and in fact, there have been calls to defund the police. This led me to https://cbcny.org/ and one specific graph. Unfortunately, this tells the story from 2010-2022 but not before. I was looking for data from around 1999 to 2005 because that will tell whether or not it happened. Then I remembered reading in newspapers the year or two later how 9/11 had led NYC to recession. I looked up online and for sure NY was booming before 9/11. One can argue that NYC could come down and that is pretty much possible, everything that goes up comes down, it s a law of nature but it would have been steady rather than abrupt. And once you are in recession, the first thing to go is personnel. So people both from NYPD and NYFD were let go, even though they were needed the most then. As you can see, a single statement in a book can take you to places & time literally. Edit: Addition 11th September There were quite a few people who also died from New York Port Authority and they also lost quite a number of people directly and indirectly and did a lot of patrolling of the water bodies near NYC. Later on, even in their department, there were a lot of early retirements.

Kosovo A couple of days back I had a look at the Debconf 2023 BOF that was done in Kosovo. One of the interesting things that happened during the BOF is when a woman participant chimed in and asks India to recognize Kosovo. Immediately it triggered me and I opened the Kosovo Wikipedia page to get some understanding of the topic. Reading up on it, came to know Russia didn t agree and doesn t recognize Kosovo. Mr. Modi likes Putin and India imports a lot of its oil from Russia. Unrelatedly, but still useful, we rejected to join IPEF. Earlier, we had rejected China s BRI. India has never been as vulnerable as she is now. Our foreign balance has reached record lows. Now India has been importing quite a bit of Russian crude and has been buying arms and ammunition from them. We are also scheduled to buy a couple of warships and submarines etc. We even took arms and ammunition from them on lease. So we can t afford that they are displeased with India. Even though Russia has more than friendly relations with both China and Pakistan. At the same time, the U.S. is back to aiding Pakistan which the mainstream media in India refuses to even cover. And to top all of this, we have the Chip 4 Alliance but that needs its own article, truth be told but we will do with a paragraph  Edit Addition 11th September Seems Kosovo isn t unique in that situation, there are 3-4 states like that. A brief look at worldpopulationreview tells you there are many more.

Chip 4 Alliance For almost a decade I have been screaming about this on my blog as well as everywhere that chip fabrication is a national security thing. And for years, most people deny it. And now we have chip 4 alliance. Now to understand this, you have to understand that China for almost a decade, somewhere around 2014 or so came up with something called the big fund . Now one can argue one way or the other how successful the fund has been, but it has, without doubt, created ripples so strong that the U.S., Taiwan, Japan, and probably South Korea will join and try to stem the tide. Interestingly, in this grouping, South Korea is the weakest in the statements and what they have been saying. Within the group itself, there is a lot of tension and China would use that and there are a number of unresolved issues between the three countries that both China & Russia would exploit. For e.g. the Comfort women between South Korea and Japan. Or the 1985 Accord Agreement between Japan and the U.S. Now people need to understand this, this is not just about China but also about us. If China has 5-6x times India s GDP and their research budget is at the very least 100x times what India spends, how do you think we will be self-reliant? Whom are we fooling? Are we not tired of fooling ourselves  In diplomacy, countries use leverage. Sadly, we let go of some of our most experienced negotiators in 2014 and since then have been singing in the wind

Accessibility, Jitsi, IRC, Element-Desktop The Wikipedia page on Accessibility says the following Accessibility is the design of products, devices, services, vehicles, or environments so as to be usable by people with disabilities. The concept of accessible design and practice of accessible development ensures both direct access (i.e. unassisted) and indirect access meaning compatibility with a person s assistive technology. Now IRC or Internet Relay Chat has been accessible for a long time. I know of even blind people who have been able to navigate IRC quite effortlessly as there has been a lot of work done to make sure all the joints speak to each other so people with one or more disabilities still can use, and contribute without an issue. It does help that IRC and many clients have been there since the 1970s so most of them have had more than enough time to get all the bugs fixed and both text-to-speech and speech-to-text work brilliantly on IRC. Newer software like Jitsi or for that matter Telegram is lacking those features. A few days ago, discovered on Telegram I was shared that Samsung Voice input is also able to do the same. The Samsung Voice Input works wonder as it translates voice to text, I have not yet tried the text-to-speech but perhaps somebody can and they can share whatever the results can be one way or the other. I have tried element-desktop both on the desktop as well as mobile phone and it has been disappointing, to say the least. On the desktop, it is unruly and freezes once in a while, and is buggy. The mobile version is a little better but that s not saying a lot. I prefer the desktop version as I can use the full-size keyboard. The bug I reported has been there since its Riot days. I had put up a bug report even then. All in all, yesterday was disappointing

9 September 2022

Jonathan Dowland: memtest

Since I'm writing about my NAS, a month ago I happened to notice an odd kernel message:
Aug 8 04:04] list_del corruption. prev->next should be ffff90c96e9c2090,
but was ffff90c94e9c2090
A kernel dev friend said "I'm familiar with that code ... you should run memtest86". This seemed like advice it would be foolish to ignore! I installed the memtest86 package, which on Debian stable, is actually the formerly open-source "memtest86" software, last updated in 2014, rather than the currently open-source "memtest86+". However the package (incorrectly, I think) Recommends: memtest86+ so I ended up with both. The package scripts integrate with GRUB, so both were added as boot options. Neither however, would boot on my NAS, which is a UEFI system: after selection from the GRUB prompt, I just had a blank screen. I focussed for a short while on display issues: I wondered if trying to run a 4k monitor over HDMI was too much to expect from a memory tester OS, but my mainboard has a VGA out as well. It has some quirky behaviour for the VGA out: the firmware doesn't use it at all, so output only begins appearing after something boots (GRUB for example). I fiddled about with the HDMI output, VGA output, and trying different RGB cables, to no avail. The issue was (likely) nothing to do with the video out, but rather that the packaged versions of memtest/memtest86+ don't work properly on UEFI systems. What did work, was Passmark Software's non-FOSS memtest86. It drew on HDMI, albeit in a postage stamp sized window. After some time (much less than I expected, some kind of magic modern memory matrix stuff going on I think), I got a clean bill of health:
memtest86(.com) passes
It's quite possible the FOSS versions of memtest (pcmemtest is another) have better support for UEFI in more recent versions than I installed (I just went with what's in Debian stable), and if not, then this is a worthy feature to work on.

8 September 2022

Thorsten Alteholz: My Debian Activities in August 2022

FTP master This month I accepted 375 and rejected 25 packages. The overall number of packages that got accepted was 386. I also had a closer look at the RM-bugs. All in all I addressed about 90 of them and either simply removed the package or added a moreinfo tag. In total I spent 13 hours for this task. Anyway, if you want to have your RM-bug processed in a timely manner, please have a look at the removal page and check whether the created dak command is really what you wanted. It would also help if you check the reverse dependencies and write a comment whether they are important or can be ignored or also file a new bug for them. Each removal must have one bug! Debian LTS This was my ninety-eighth month that I did some work for the Debian LTS initiative, started by Raphael Hertzog at Freexian. This month my all in all workload has been 30.00h. As I started to become a Freexian collaborator in this month, I only worked 17h on the LTS project. During that time I uploaded:
  • [#1010380] buster-pu: flac/1.3.2-3+deb10u2, upload
  • [#1009076] buster-pu: minidlna/1.2.1+dfsg-2+deb10u3, upload
  • [#1009251] buster-pu: fribidi/1.0.5-3.1+deb10u2, upload
  • [#1008578] buster-pu: golang-github-russellhaering-goxmldsig/0.0~git20170911.b7efc62-1+deb10u1, upload
  • [#1016391] bullseye-pu: libhttp-daemon-perl/6.12-1+deb11u1, upload
  • [DLA 3088-1] net-snmp security update for six CVEs
  • [unstable] mod-wsgi for one CVE
I also started to work on upx-ucl. Debian ELTS This month was the forty-ninth ELTS month. During my allocated time I uploaded:
  • [ELA-655-1] libhttp-daemon-perl security update of Jessie and Stretch for one CVE
  • [ELA-659-1] mod-wsgi security update of Stretch for one CVE
  • [ELA-667-1] gst-plugins-good1.0 security update of Jessie and Stretch for seven CVEs
  • [ELA-668-1] net-snmp security update of Jessie and Stretch for six CVEs
Debian Printing This month I uploaded new upstream versions or improved packaging of: Debian Astro This month I uploaded new upstream versions or improved packaging of:

6 September 2022

Shirish Agarwal: Debian on Phone

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

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

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

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

3 September 2022

Shirish Agarwal: Fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkein

J.R.R. Tolkein Now unless you have been living under a rock cave, I am sure you know who Mr. Tolkein is. Apparently, the gentleman passed away on 2nd September 1973 at the sprightly age of 80. And this gives fans like me to talk about fantasy, fantasy authors, and the love-hate relationship we have with them. For a matter of record, I am currently reading Babylon Steel by Gaie Sebold. Now while I won t go into many details (I never like to, if I enjoy a book, I would want the book to be mysterious rather than give praise, simply so that the next person enjoys it as much as I did without having any expectations.) Now this book has plenty of sex so wouldn t recommend it for teenagers but more perhaps to mature audiences, although for the life of me couldn t find any rating on the book. I did come across common sense media but unfortunately, it isn t well known beyond perhaps some people who use it. They sadly don t have a google/Android app  And before anybody comments, I know that Android is no longer interested in supporting FOSS, their loss, not ours but that is entirely a blog post/article in itself. so let s leave that aside for now.

Fantasy So before talking about Mr. Tolkien and his creations let s talk and share a bit about fantasy. We know for a fact that the conscious mind functions at less than 5%, while the other bits are made by the subconscious and the unconscious mind (the three mind model.) So any thought or idea first germinates n either the unconscious or the subconscious part of the mind and then comes into the conscious mind. It is the reason we also dream. That s the subconscious and unconscious mind at work. While we say fantasy mostly to books, it is all around us and not just in prose but in song, dance, and all sorts of creativity are fantasy. Even Sci-fi actually comes from fantasy. Unfortunately, for reasons best known to people, they took out sci-fi and even divided fantasy into high fantasy and low fantasy. I am not going to go much into that but here s a helpful link for those who might want to look more into it. Now the question arises, why do people write? I have asked this question many a time to the authors I have met and the answers are as varied as they come. Two of the most common answers are the need to write (an itch they can t control or won t control) and the other is it s extremely healing. In my own case, even writing mere blog posts I found it unburdening & cathartetic. I believe this last part is what drove Mr. Tolkein and the story and arc that LOTR became. Tolkien, LOTR, World War I The casual reader might not know but if you followed or were curious about Mr. Tolkien, you would have found out that Mr. Tolkien served in World War 1 or what is known as the Great War. It was supposed to be the war that ended all wars but sadly didn t. One of the things that set apart Mr. Tolkein from many of his peers was that Mr. Tolkien was very straight about himself and corresponded with people far and wide. There is actually a book called The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien that I hope to get at one of the used book depots. That book spans about 480 pages and gives all the answers as to why Mr. Tolkien made Middle-earth as it was made. I sadly haven t had the opportunity to get it and it is somewhat expensive. But I m sure that if World War 1 wouldn t have happened and Mr. Tolkein hadn t taken part and experienced what he experienced, we wouldn t have LOTR. I can bet losing his friends and comrades, and the pain he felt for those around him propelled him to write about land and a race called Hobbits. I haven t done enough fantasy reading but I do feel that his description of hobbits and the way they were and are is unique. The names and surnames he used were for humor as well as to make a statement about them. Having names such as Harfoots, Padfoot, Took and others just wouldn t be for fun, would it? Also, the responses and the behavior in the four books by Hobbits are almost human-like. It is almost like they are or were our cousins at one point in time but we allowed ourselves to forget. Even the corruption of humans has been shown as well as self-doubt. There is another part that I found and find fascinating, unlike most books where there is a single hero, in LOTR we have many heroes and heroines. This again, I would attribute to Mr. Tolkien and the heroism he saw on the battlefield and beyond it. All the tender emotions he shares with readers like us are because either he himself or others around him were subjected to grace and wonderment. This is all I derive from the books, those who have The letters of J.R.R. Tolkein , feel free to correct me. I was supposed to write this yesterday but real life has its own way. I could go on and on, perhaps at a later date or time I may expand on it, but it isn t a coincidence that Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power is starting broadcast on the same day when Mr. Tolkein died. In the very end, fantasy is something humans got and does not matter how rich or poor you are. If one were to look, both artists like Michaelangelo and many other artists, who often didn t have enough to have two square meals in the day, but still somehow were inspired to sketch models of airplanes, flying machines which are shockingly similar to the real thing. Many may not know that almost all primates, including apes, monkeys, squirrels, and even dolphins dream. And all of them have elaborate, complex dreams just as we do. Sadly, this info. is not known by most people otherwise, we would be so much empathetic towards our cousins in the animal kingdom.

1 September 2022

Shirish Agarwal: Culture, Books, Friends

Culture Just before I start, I would like to point out that this post may or would probably be NSFW. Again, what is SFW (Safe at Work) and NSFW that so much depends on culture and perception of culture from wherever we are or wherever we take birth? But still, to be on the safe side I have put it as NSFW. Now there have been a few statements and ideas that gave me a pause. This will be a sort of chaotic blog post as I am in such a phase today. For e.g. while I do not know which culture or which country this comes from, somebody shared that in some cultures one can talk/comment May your poop be easy and with a straight face. I dunno which culture is this but if somebody asked me that I would just die from laughing or maybe poop there itself. While I can understand if it is a constipated person, but a whole culture? Until and unless their DNA is really screwed, I don t think so but then what do I know? I do know that we shit when we have extreme reactions of either joy or fear. And IIRC, this comes from mammal response when they were in dangerous situations and we got the same as humans evolved. I would really be interested to know which culture is that. I did come to know that the Japanese do wish that you may not experience hard work or something to that effect while ironically they themselves are becoming extinct due to hard work and not enough relaxation, toxic workplace is common in Japan according to social scientists and population experts. Another term that I couldn t figure out is The Florida Man Strikes again and this term is usually used when somebody does something stupid or something weird. While it is exclusively used in the American context, I am curious to know how that came about. Why does Florida have such people or is it an exaggeration? I have heard the term e.g. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas . Think it is also called Sin city although why just Vegas is beyond me?

Omicron-8712 Blood pressure machine I felt so stupid. I found another site or e-commerce site called Wellness Forever. They had the blood pressure machine I wanted, an Omron-8172. I bought it online and they delivered the same within half an hour. Amazon took six days and in the end, didn t deliver it at all. I tried taking measurements from it yesterday. I have yet to figure out what it all means but I did get measurements of 109 SYS, 88 DIA and Pulse is 72. As far as the pulse is concerned, guess that is normal, the others just don t know. If only I had known this couple of months ago. I was able to register the product as well as download and use the Omron Connect app. For roughly INR 2.5k you have a sort of health monitoring system. It isn t Star Trek Tricorder in any shape or form but it will have to do while the tricorder gets invented. And while we are on the subject let s not forget Elizabeth Holmes and the scam called Theranos. It really is something to see How Elizabeth Holmes modeled so much of herself on Steve Jobs mimicking how he left college/education halfway. A part of me is sad that Theranos is not real. Joe Scott just a few days ago shared some perspectives on the same just a few days ago. The idea in itself is pretty seductive, to say the least, and that is the reason the scam went on for more than a decade and perhaps would have been longer if some people hadn t gotten the truth out. I do see potentially, something like that coming on as A.I. takes a bigger role in automating testing. Half a decade to a decade from now, who knows if there is an algorithm that is able to do what is needed? If such a product were to come to the marketplace at a decent price, it would revolutionize medicine, especially in countries like India, South Africa, and all sorts of remote places. Especially, with all sorts of off-grid technologies coming and maturing in the marketplace. Before I forget, there is a game called Cell on Android that tells or shares about the evolution of life on earth. It also shares credence to the idea that life has come 6 times on Earth and has been destroyed multiple times by asteroids. It is in the idle sort of game format, so you can see the humble beginnings from the primordial soup to various kinds of cells and bacteria to finally a mammal. This is where I am and a long way to go.

Indian Bureaucracy One of the few things that Britishers gave to India, is the bureaucracy and the bureaucracy tests us in myriad ways. It would be full 2 months on 5th September and I haven t yet got a death certificate. And I need that for a sundry number of things. The same goes for a disability certificate. What is and was interesting is my trip to the local big hospital called Sassoon Hospital. My mum had shared incidents that occurred in the 1950s when she and the family had come to Pune. According to her, when she was alive, while Sassoon was the place to be, it was big and chaotic and you never knew where you are going. That was in 1950, I had the same experience in 2022. The term/adage the more things change, the more they remain the same seems to be held true for Sassoon Hospital. Btw, those of you who think the Devil exists, he is totally a fallacy. There is a popular myth that the devil comes to deal that he/she/they come to deal with you when somebody close to you passes, I was waiting desperately for him when mum passed. Any deal that he/she/they would have offered me I would have gladly taken, but all my wait was all for nothing. While I believe evil exists, that is manifested by humans and nobody else. The whole idea and story of the devil is just to control young children and nothing beyond that

Debconf 2023, friends, JPEGOptim, and EV s Quite a number of friends had gone to Albania this year as India won the right to host Debconf for the year 2023. While I did lurk on the Debconf orga IRC channel, I m not sure how helpful I would be currently. One news that warmed my heart is some people would be coming to India to check the site way before and make sure things go smoothly. Nothing like having more eyes (in this case bodies) to throw at a problem and hopefully it will be sorted. While I have not been working for the last couple of years, one of the things that I had to do and have been doing is moving a lot of stuff online. This is in part due to the Government s own intention of having everything on the cloud. One of the things I probably may have shared it more than enough times is that the storage most of these sites give is like the 1990s. I tried jpegoptim and while it works, it degrades the quality of the image quite a bit. The whole thing seems backward, especially as newer and newer smartphones are capturing more data per picture (megapixel resolution), case in point Samsung Galaxy A04 that is being introduced. But this is not only about newer phones, even my earlier phone, Samsung J-5/500 which I bought in 2016 took images at 5 MB. So it is not a new issue but a continuous issue. And almost all Govt. sites have the upper band fixed at 1 MB. But this is not limited to Govt. sites alone, most sites in India are somewhat frozen in the 1990s. And it isn t as if resources for designing web pages using HTML5, CSS3, Javascript, Python, or Java aren t available. If worse comes to worst, one can even use amp to make his, her or their point. But this is if they want to do stuff. I would be sharing a few photos with commentary, there are still places where I can put photos apart from social media

Friends Last week, Saturday suddenly all the friends decided to show up. I have no clue one way or the other why but am glad they showed up.
Mahendra, Akshat, Shirish and Sagar Sukhose (Mangesh's friend). Mahendra, Akshat, Shirish and Sagar Sukhose (Mangesh s friend) at Bal Gandharva..
Electric scooter as shared by Akshat seen in Albania Electric scooter as shared by Akshat seen in Albania
Somebody making a  real-life replica of Wall Street on F.C. Road (Commercial, all glass)Somebody making a real-life replica of Wall Street on F.C. Road (Commercial, all glass)
Ganesh Idol near my houseGanesh Idol near my house
Wearing new clothesWearing new clothes
I will have to be a bit rapid about what I am sharing above so here goes nothing

1. The first picture shows Mahendra, Akshat, me, and Sagar Sukhose (Mangesh s friend). The picture was taken by Mangesh Diwate. We talked quite a bit of various things that could be done in Debian. A few of the things that I shared were (bringing more stuff from BSD to Debian, I am sure there s still quite a lot of security software that could be advantageous to have in Debian.) The best person to talk to or guide about this would undoubtedly be Paul Wise or as he is affectionally called Pabs. He is one of the shy ones and yet knows so much about how things work. The one and only time I met him is 2016. The other thing that we talked about is porting Debian to one of the phones. This has been done in the past and done by a Puneitie some 4-5 years back. While I don t recollect the gentleman s name, I remember that the porting was done on a Motorola phone as that was the easiest to do. He had tried some other mobile but that didn t work. Making Debian available on phone is hard work. Just to have an idea, I went to the xda developers forum and found out that while M51 has been added, my specific phone model is not there. A Samsung Galaxy M52G Android (samsung; SM-M526B; lahaina; arm64-v8a) v12 . You look at the chat and you understand how difficult the process might be. One of the other ideas that Akshat pitched was Debian Astro, this is something that is close to the heart of many, including me. I also proposed to have some kind of web app or something where we can find and share about the various astronomy and related projects done by various agencies. While there is a NASA app, nothing comes close to JSR and that site just shares stuff, no speculation. There are so many projects taken or being done by the EU, JAXA, ISRO, and even middle-east countries are trying but other than people who are following some of the developments, we hear almost nothing. Even the Chinese have made some long strides but most people know nothing about the same. And it s sad to know that those developments are not being known, shared, or even speculated about as much as say NASA or SpaceX is. How do we go about it and how do we get people to contribute or ask questions around it would be interesting. 2. The second picture was something that was shared by Akshat. Akshat was sharing how in Albania people are moving on these electric scooters . I dunno if that is the right word for it or what. I had heard from a couple of friends who had gone to Vietnam a few years ago how most people in Vietnam had modified their scooters and they were snaking lines of electric wires charging scooters. I have no clue whether they were closer to Vespa or something like above. In India, the Govt. is in partnership with the oil, gas, and coal mafia just as it was in Australia (the new Govt. in Australia is making changes) the same thing is here. With the humongous profits that the oil sector provides the petro states and others, Corruption is bound to happen. We talk and that s the extent of things. 3. The third picture is from a nearby area called F.C. Road or Fergusson College Road. The area has come up quite sharply (commercially) in the last few years. Apparently, Mr. Kushal is making a real-life replica of Wall Street which would be given to commercial tenants. Right now the real estate market is tight in India, we will know how things pan out in the next few years. 4. Number four is an image of a Ganesh idol near my house. There is a 10-day festival of the elephant god that people used to celebrate every year. For the last couple of years because of the pandemic, people were unable to celebrate the festival as it is meant to celebrate. This time some people are going overboard while others are cautious and rightfully so. 5. Last and not least, one of the things that people do at this celebration is to have new clothes, so I shared a photo of a gentleman who had bought and was wearing new clothes. While most countries around the world are similar, Latin America is very similar to India in many ways, perhaps Gunnar can share. especially about religious activities. The elephant god is known for his penchant for sweets and that can be seen from his rounded stomach, that is also how he is celebrated. He is known to make problems disappear or that is supposed to be his thing. We do have something like 4 billion gods, so each one has to be given some work or quality to justify the same

22 August 2022

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

When I first moved from being a technical consultant to a manager of other consultants, I took a 5-day course Managing Technical Teams a bootstrap for managing people within organisations, but with a particular focus on technical people. We do have some particular quirks, after all Two elements of that course keep coming to mind when doing Debian work, and they both relate to how teams fit together and get stuff done. Tuckman s four stages model In the mid-1960s Bruce W. Tuckman developed a four-stage descriptive model of the stages a project team goes through in its lifetime. They are:
  • Forming: the team comes together and its members are typically motivated and excited, but they often also feel anxiety or uncertainty about how the team will operate and their place within it.
  • Storming: initial enthusiasm can give way to frustration or disagreement about goals, roles, expectations and responsibilities. Team members are establishing trust, power and status. This is the most critical stage.
  • Norming: team members take responsibility and share a common goal. They tolerate the whims and fancies of others, sometimes at the expense of conflict and sharing controversial ideas.
  • Performing: team members are confident, motivated and knowledgeable. They work towards the team s common goal. The team is high-achieving.
Resolved disagreements and personality clashes result in greater intimacy, and a spirit of co-operation emerges.
Teams need to understand these stages because a team can regress to earlier stages when its composition or goals change. A new member, the departure of an existing member, changes in supervisor or leadership style can all lead a team to regress to the storming stage and fail to perform for a time. When you see a team member say this, as I observed in an IRC channel recently, you know the team is performing:
nice teamwork these busy days Seen on IRC in the channel of a performing team
Tuckman s model describes a team s performance overall, but how can team members establish what they can contribute and how can they go doing so confidently and effectively? Belbin s Team Roles
The types of behaviour in which people engage are infinite. But the range of useful behaviours, which make an effective contribution to team performance, is finite. These behaviours are grouped into a set number of related clusters, to which the term Team Role is applied. Belbin, R M. Team Roles at Work. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2010
Dr Meredith Belbin s thesis, based on nearly ten years research during the 1970s and 1980s, is that each team has a number of roles which need to be filled at various times, but they re not innate characteristics of the people filling them. People may have attributes which make them more or less suited to each role, and they can consciously take up a role if they recognise its need in the team at a particular time. Belbin s nine team roles are:
  • Plant (thinking): the ideas generator; solves difficult problems. Associated weaknesses: ignores incidentals; preoccupation
  • Resource investigator (people): outgoing; enthusiastic; has lots of contacts knows someone who might know someone who knows how to solve a problem. Associated weaknessses: over-optimism, enthusiasm wanes quickly
  • Co-ordinator (people): mature; confident; identifies talent; clarifies goals and delegates effectively. Associated weaknesses: may be seen as manipulative; offloads own share of work.
  • Shaper (action): challenging; dynamic; has drive. Describes what they want and when they want it. Associated weaknesses: prone to provocation; offends others feelings.
  • Monitor/evaluator (thinking): sees all options, judges accurately. Best given data and options and asked which the team should choose. Associated weaknesses: lacks drive; can be overly critical.
  • Teamworker (people): takes care of things behind the scenes; spots a problem and deals with it quietly without fuss. Averts friction. Associated weaknesses: indecisive; avoids confrontation.
  • Implementer (action): turns ideas into actions and organises work. Allowable weaknesses: somewhat inflexible; slow to respond to new possibilities.
  • Completer finisher (action): searches out errors; polishes and perfects. Despite the name, may never actually consider something finished . Associated weaknesses: inclined to worry; reluctant to delegate.
  • Specialist (thinking): knows or can acquire a wealth of things on a subject. Associated weaknesses: narrow focus; overwhelmes others with depth of knowledge.
(adapted from https://www.belbin.com/media/3471/belbin-team-role-descriptions-2022.pdf) A well-balanced team, Belbin asserts, isn t comprised of multiples of nine individuals who fit into one of these roles permanently. Rather, it has a number of people who are comfortable to wear some of these hats as the need arises. It s even useful to use the team roles as language: for example, someone playing a shaper might say the way we ve always done this is holding us back , to which a co-ordinator s could respond Steve, Joanna put on your Plant hats and find some new ideas. Talk to Susan and see if she knows someone who s tackled this before. Present the options to Nigel and he ll help evaluate which ones might work for us. Teams in Debian There are all sort of teams in Debian those which are formally brought into operation by the DPL or the constitution; package maintenance teams; public relations teams; non-technical content teams; special interest teams; and a whole heap of others. Teams can be formal and informal, fleeting or long-lived, two people working together or dozens. But they all have in common the Tuckman stages of their development and the Belbin team roles they need to fill to flourish. At some stage in their existence, they will all experience new or departing team members and a period of re-forming, norming and storming perhaps fleetingly, perhaps not. And at some stage they will all need someone to step into a team role, play the part and get the team one step further towards their goals. Footnote Belbin Associates, the company Meredith Belbin established to promote and continue his work, offers a personalised report with guidance about which roles team members show the strongest preferences for, and how to make best use of them in various settings. They re quick to complete and can also take into account observers , i.e. how others see a team member. All my technical staff go through this process blind shortly after they start, so as not to bias their input, and then we discuss the roles and their report in detail as a one-to-one. There are some teams in Debian for which this process and discussion as a group activity could be invaluable. I have no particular affiliation with Belbin Associates other than having used the reports and the language of team roles for a number of years. If there s sufficient interest for a BoF session at the next DebConf, I could probably be persuaded to lead it.
Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

Simon Josefsson: Static network config with Debian Cloud images

I self-host some services on virtual machines (VMs), and I m currently using Debian 11.x as the host machine relying on the libvirt infrastructure to manage QEMU/KVM machines. While everything has worked fine for years (including on Debian 10.x), there has always been one issue causing a one-minute delay every time I install a new VM: the default images run a DHCP client that never succeeds in my environment. I never found out a way to disable DHCP in the image, and none of the documented ways through cloud-init that I have tried worked. A couple of days ago, after reading the AlmaLinux wiki I found a solution that works with Debian. The following commands creates a Debian VM with static network configuration without the annoying one-minute DHCP delay. The three essential cloud-init keywords are the NoCloud meta-data parameters dsmode:local, static network-interfaces setting combined with the user-data bootcmd keyword. I m using a Raptor CS Talos II ppc64el machine, so replace the image link with a genericcloud amd64 image if you are using x86.
wget https://cloud.debian.org/images/cloud/bullseye/latest/debian-11-generic-ppc64el.qcow2
cp debian-11-generic-ppc64el.qcow2 foo.qcow2
cat>meta-data
dsmode: local
network-interfaces:  
 iface enp0s1 inet static
 address 192.168.98.14/24
 gateway 192.168.98.12
^D
cat>user-data
#cloud-config
fqdn: foo.mydomain
manage_etc_hosts: true
disable_root: false
ssh_pwauth: false
ssh_authorized_keys:
- ssh-ed25519 AAAA...
timezone: Europe/Stockholm
bootcmd:
- rm -f /run/network/interfaces.d/enp0s1
- ifup enp0s1
^D
virt-install --name foo --import --os-variant debian10 --disk foo.qcow2 --cloud-init meta-data=meta-data,user-data=user-data
Unfortunately virt-install from Debian 11 does not support the cloud-init network-config parameter, so if you want to use a version 2 network configuration with cloud-init (to specify IPv6 addresses, for example) you need to replace the final virt-install command with the following.
cat>network_config_static.cfg
version: 2
 ethernets:
  enp0s1:
   dhcp4: false
   addresses: [ 192.168.98.14/24, fc00::14/7 ]
   gateway4: 192.168.98.12
   gateway6: fc00::12
   nameservers:
    addresses: [ 192.168.98.12, fc00::12 ]
^D
cloud-localds -v -m local --network-config=network_config_static.cfg seed.iso user-data
virt-install --name foo --import --os-variant debian10 --disk foo.qcow2 --disk seed.iso,readonly=on --noreboot
virsh start foo
virsh detach-disk foo vdb --config
virsh console foo
There are still some warnings like the following, but it does not seem to cause any problem: [FAILED] Failed to start Initial cloud-init job (pre-networking). Finally, if you do not want the cloud-init tools installed in your VMs, I found the following set of additional user-data commands helpful. Cloud-init will not be enabled on first boot and a cron job will be added that purges some unwanted packages.
runcmd:
- touch /etc/cloud/cloud-init.disabled
- apt-get update && apt-get dist-upgrade -uy && apt-get autoremove --yes --purge && printf '#!/bin/sh\n  rm /etc/cloud/cloud-init.disabled /etc/cloud/cloud.cfg.d/01_debian_cloud.cfg && apt-get purge --yes cloud-init cloud-guest-utils cloud-initramfs-growroot genisoimage isc-dhcp-client && apt-get autoremove --yes --purge && rm -f /etc/cron.hourly/cloud-cleanup && shutdown --reboot +1;   2>&1   logger -t cloud-cleanup\n' > /etc/cron.hourly/cloud-cleanup && chmod +x /etc/cron.hourly/cloud-cleanup && reboot &
The production script I m using is a bit more complicated, but can be downloaded as vello-vm. Happy hacking!

12 August 2022

Shirish Agarwal: Mum and Books

The last day
The first lesson I would like everybody to know and have is to buy two machines, especially a machine to check low blood pressure. I had actually ordered one from Amazon but they never delivered. I hope to sue them in consumer court in due course of time. The other one is a blood sugar machine which I ordered and did get, but the former is more important than the latter, and the reason why will be known soon. Mum had stopped eating solids and was entirely on liquids for the last month of her life. I did try enticing her however I could with aromatic food but failed. Add to that we had weird weather this entire year. June is supposed to be when the weather turns and we have gentle showers, but this whole June it felt like we were in an oven. She asked for liquids whenever and although I hated that she was not eating solids, at least she was having liquids (juices and whatnot) and that s how I pacified myself. I had been repeatedly told by family and extended family to get a full-time nurse but she objected time and again for the same and I had to side with her. Then July 1st came around and part of extended family also came, and they impressed both on me and her to get a nurse so finally, I was able to get her nurse. I was also being pulled in various directions (outside my stuff, mumma s stuff) and doing whatever she needed in terms of supplies. On July 4th, think she had low blood pressure but without a machine, one cannot know. At least that s what I know. If somebody knows anything better, please share, who knows it may save lives. I don t have a blood pressure monitor even to date

There used to be 5-6 doctors in our locality before the Pandemic, but because of the Pandemic and whatever other reasons, almost all doctors had given up attending house calls. And the house where I live is a 100-year-old house so it has narrow passageways and we have no lift. So taking her in and out is a challenge and an ordeal, and something that is not easily done. I had to do some more works so I asked the nurse to stay a bit over 8 p.m. I came and the nurse left for the day. That day I had been distracted for a number of reasons which I don t remember what was but at that point in time, doing those works seemed important. I called out to her but she didn t respond. I remember the night before she had been agitated while sleeping, I slept nearby and kept an eye on her. I had called her a few times to ask whether she needed something but she didn t respond. (this is about the earlier night). That evening, it was raining quite a bit, I called her a few times but she didn t speak. I kissed her on the cheek and realized she is cold. Mumma usually becomes very agitated if she feels cold and shouts at me. I realized she is cold and her body a bit stiff. I was supposed to eat but just couldn t. I dunno what I suspected, I just hired a rickshaw and went around till 9 p.m. and it was a fruitless search for a doctor. I returned home, and again called her but there was no response. Because she was not responding, I became fearful, had a shat, and then dialed the hospital. Asking for the ambulance, it took about an hr. but finally, the ambulance came in. It was now 11 o clock or 2300 hrs. when the ambulance arrived in. It took another half an hr. getting few kids who had come from some movie or something to get them to help mum get down through the passage to the ambulance. We finally reached the hospital at 2330. The people on casualty that day were known to me, and they also knew my hearing problem, so it was much easier to communicate. Half an hour later, they proclaimed her dead. Fortunately or not, I had just bought the newer mobile phone just a few days back. And right now, In India, WhatsApp is one of the most used apps. So I was able to chat with everybody and tell them what was happening or rather what has happened. Of all, mamaji (mother s brother) shared that most members of the family would not be able to come except a cousin sister who lives in Mumbai. I was instructed to get the body refrigerated for a few hrs. It is only then I came to know various ways in which the body is refrigerated and how cruel it would have been towards Atal Bihari Vajpayee s family, but that is politics. I had to go to quite a few places and was back home around 3 a.m. I was supposed to sleep, but sleep was out of the question. I whiled away a few hrs. playing, seeing movies, something or the other to keep myself distracted as literally, I had no idea what to do. Morning came, took a bath, went outside, had some snacks, came home and somewhere then slept. One of my Mausi s (mother s sister) was insisting to get the body burnt in the morning itself but I wanted at least one relative to be there on the last journey. Cousin sister and her husband came to Pune around 4 p.m. I somehow woke, ringing, the vibration I do not know what. I took a short bath, rushed to the place where we had kept the body, got the body and from there where we had asked permission to get the body burned. More than anything else, I felt so sad that except for cousin sister, and me, nobody was with her on the last journey. Even that day, it was raining hard, so people avoided going out. Brother-in-law tried to give me some money, but I brushed it off. I just wanted their company, money is and was never the criteria. So, in the evening we had a meal, my cousin sister, brother-in-law, their two daughters and me. The next day we took the bones and ash to Alandi and did what was needed. I have tried to resurrect the day so many times in my head trying to figure out what I could have done better and am inconclusive. Having a blood pressure monitor for sure would have prevented the tragedy or at least post-phoned for it for a few more days, weeks, years, dunno. I am not medically inclined.

The Books I have to confess, the time they said she is no more, I was hoping that the doctors would say, we have a pill, would you like to take it, it would reunite you with mum. Maybe it wa crazy or whatever, but if such a situation had been, I would have easily gone for it. If I were to go, some people might miss me, but nobody would miss me terribly, and at least I would be with her. There was nothing to look forward to. What saved me from going mad was Michael Crichton s Timeline. It is a fascinating and seductive book. I had actually read it years ago but had forgotten. So many days and nights I was able to sleep hoping that quantum teleportation can be achieved. Anybody in my space would be easily enticed. What joy would it be if I were to meet mum once again. I can tell my other dumb child what to do so she lives for few more years. I could talk to her, just be with her for some time. It is a powerful and seductive idea. I can see so many cults and whatnot that can be formed around it, there may already be, who knows. Another good book that helped me to date has been Through The, Rings Of Fire (Hardcover, J. D. Benedict Thyagarajan). It is an autobiography of Venkat Chalasany (story of an orphan boy who became a successful builder in Pune and the setbacks he had.) While the author has very strong views and I sometimes feel very naive views about things, I was taken a ride of my own city as it was in 1970s and 1980s. I could very well imagine all the different places and people as if they were happening right now. While I have finished the main story, there is still a bit left to read and I read 5-10 minutes every day as it s like a sweet morsel, it s like somebody sharing a tale passed without me having to make an effort. And no lies, the author has been pretty upfront where he has exaggerated or told lies or simply made-up stuff. I was thinking of adding something about movies and some more info or impressions about android but it seems that would have to wait, I do hope, it does work for somebody, even if a single life can be saved from what I shared above, my job is done.

10 August 2022

Shirish Agarwal: Mum, Samsung Galaxy M-52

Mum I dunno from where to start. While I m not supposed to announce it, mum left this earth a month ago (thirteen days when I started to write this blog post) ago. I am still in part denial, part shock, and morose. Of all the seasons in a year, the rainy season used to be my favorite, now would I ever be able to look and feel other than the emptiness that this season has given me? In some senses, it is and was very ironic, when she became ill about last year, I had promised myself I would be by her side for 5-6 years, not go anywhere either Hillhacks or Debconf or any meetup and I was ok with that. Now that she s no more I have no clue why am I living. What is the purpose, the utility? When she was alive, the utility was understandable. We had an unspoken agreement, I would like after her, and she was supposed to look after me. A part of me self-blames as I am sure, I have done thousands of things wrong otherwise the deal was that she was going to be for another decade. But now that she has left not even halfway, I dunno what to do. I don t have someone to fight with anymore  It s mostly a robotic existence atm. I try to distract myself via movies, web series, the web, books, etc. whatever can take my mind off. From the day she died to date, I have a lower back pain which acts as a reminder. It s been a month, I eat, drink, and am surviving but still feel empty. I do things suggested by extended family but within there is no feeling, just emptiness :(. I have no clue if things will get better and even if I do want the change. I clearly have no idea, so let me share a little about what I know.

Samsung Galaxy M-52G Just a couple of days before she died, part of our extended family had come and she chose that opportunity to gift me Samsung Galaxy M-52G even though my birthday was 3 months away. Ironically, after I purchased it, the next day, one of the resellers of the phone cut the price from INR 28k to 20k. If a day more, I could have saved another 8k/- but what s done is done  To my mind, the phone is middling yet a solid phone. I had the phone drop accidentally at times but not a single scratch or anything like that. One can look at the specs in greater detail on fccd.io. Before the recent price drop, as I shared it was a mid-range phone so am gonna review it on that basis itself. One of the first things I did is to buy a plastic cover as well as a cover shield even though the original one is meant to work for a year or more. This was simply for added protection and it has served me to date. Even with the additional weight, I can easily use it with one hand. It only becomes problematic when using chatting apps. such as Whatsapp, Telegram, Quicksy and a few others where it comes with Samsung keyboard with the divided/split keyboard. The A.I. for guessing words and sentences are spot-on when you are doing it in English but if you try a mixture of Hinglish (Hindi and English) that becomes a bit of a nightmare. Tryng to each A.I; new words is something of a task. I wish there was an interface in which I could train the A.I. so it could be served for Hinglish words also. I do think it does, but it s too rudimentary as it is to be any useful at least where it is now.

WiFi Direct While my previous phone did use wifi direct but it that ancient android version wasn t wedded to Wifi Direct as this one is. You have essentially two ways to connect to any system outside. One is through Wi-Fi Direct and the more expensive way is through mobile data. One of the strange things I found quite a number of times, that Wifi would lose it pairings. Before we get into it, Wikipedia has a good explanation of what Wifi direct is all about. Apparently, either my phone or my modem loses the pairing, which of the two is the culprit, I really don t know. There are two apps from the Play Store that do help in figuring out what the issue is (although it is limited in what it gives out in info. but still good.) The first one is Wifi Signal Meter and the other one is WifiAnalyzer (open-source). I have found that pairing done through Wifi Signal Meter works better than through Google s own implementation which feels lacking. The whole universe of Android seems to be built on apps and games and many of these can be bought for money, but many of these can also be played using a combination of micro-transactions and ads. For many a game, you cannot play for more than 5 minutes before you either see an ad or wait for something like 2-3 hrs. before you attempt again. Hogwarts Mystery, for e.g., is an example of that. Another one would be Explore Lands . While Hogwarts Mystery is more towards the lore created by J.K.Rowling and you can really get into the thick of things if you know the lore, Explore lands is more into Exploration of areas. In both the games, you are basically looking to gain energy over a period of time, which requires either money or viewing ads or a combination of both Sadly most ads and even Google don t seem to have caught up that I m deaf so most ads do not have subtitles, so more often than not they are useless to me. I have found also that many games share screenshots or videos that have nothing to do with how the game is. So there is quite a bit of misleading going on. I did read that Android had been having issues with connecting with developers after their app. is in the Play Store. Most apps. ask and require a whole lot of permissions that aren t needed by that app.

F-Droid Think Pirate Praveen had introduced me to F-Droid and a whole lot of things have happened in F-Droid, lot more apps. games etc. the look of F-Droid has been pulled back. In fact, I found Neo Store to be a better skin to see F-Droid. I have yet to explore more of F-Droid before sharing any recommendations and spending some time on it. I do find that many of foss apps. do need to work on how we communicate with our users. For e.g. one app. that Praveen had shared with me recently was Quicksy. And while it is better, it uses a double negative while asking permission whether it should or not to use more of the phone s resources. It is an example of that sort of language that we need to be aware of and be better. I know this post is more on the mobile rather than the desktop but that is where I m living currently.

30 July 2022

Ian Jackson: chiark s skip-skip-cross-up-grade

Two weeks ago I upgraded chiark from Debian jessie i386 to bullseye amd64, after nearly 30 years running Debian i386. This went really quite well, in fact! Background chiark is my colo - a server I run, which lives in a data centre in London. It hosts ~200 users with shell accounts, various websites and mailing lists, moderators for a number of USENET newsgroups, and countless other services. chiark s internal setup is designed to enable my users to do a maximum number of exciting things with a minimum of intervention from me. chiark s OS install dates to 1993, when I installed Debian 0.93R5, the first version of Debian to advertise the ability to be upgraded without reinstalling. I think that makes it one of the oldest Debian installations in existence. Obviously it s had several new hardware platforms too. (There was a prior install of Linux on the initial hardware, remnants of which can maybe still be seen in some obscure corners of chiark s /usr/local.) chiark s install is also at the very high end of the installation complexity, and customisation, scale: reinstalling it completely would be an enormous amount of work. And it s unique. chiark s upgrade history chiark s last major OS upgrade was to jessie (Debian 8, released in April 2015). That was in 2016. Since then we have been relying on Debian s excellent security support posture, and the Debian LTS and more recently Freexian s Debian ELTS projects and some local updates, The use of ELTS - which supports only a subset of packages - was particularly uncomfortable. Additionally, chiark was installed with 32-bit x86 Linux (Debian i386), since that was what was supported and available at the time. But 32-bit is looking very long in the tooth. Why do a skip upgrade So, I wanted to move to the fairly recent stable release - Debian 11 (bullseye), which is just short of a year old. And I wanted to crossgrade (as its called) to 64-bit. In the past, I have found I have had greater success by doing direct upgrades, skipping intermediate releases, rather than by following the officially-supported path of going via every intermediate release. Doing a skip upgrade avoids exposure to any packaging bugs which were present only in intermediate release(s). Debian does usually fix bugs, but Debian has many cautious users, so it is not uncommon for bugs to be found after release, and then not be fixed until the next one. A skip upgrade avoids the need to try to upgrade to already-obsolete releases (which can involve messing about with multiple snapshots from snapshot.debian.org. It is also significantly faster and simpler, which is important not only because it reduces downtime, but also because it removes opportunities (and reduces the time available) for things to go badly. One downside is that sometimes maintainers aggressively remove compatibility measures for older releases. (And compatibililty packages are generally removed quite quickly by even cautious maintainers.) That means that the sysadmin who wants to skip-upgrade needs to do more manual fixing of things that haven t been dealt with automatically. And occasionally one finds compatibility problems that show up only when mixing very old and very new software, that no-one else has seen. Crossgrading Crossgrading is fairly complex and hazardous. It is well supported by the low level tools (eg, dpkg) but the higher-level packaging tools (eg, apt) get very badly confused. Nowadays the system is so complex that downloading things by hand and manually feeding them to dpkg is impractical, other than as a very occasional last resort. The approach, generally, has been to set the system up to want to be the new architecture, run apt in a download-only mode, and do the package installation manually, with some fixing up and retrying, until the system is coherent enough for apt to work. This is the approach I took. (In current releases, there are tools that will help but they are only in recent releases and I wanted to go direct. I also doubted that they would work properly on chiark, since it s so unusual.) Peril and planning Overall, this was a risky strategy to choose. The package dependencies wouldn t necessarily express all of the sequencing needed. But it still seemed that if I could come up with a working recipe, I could do it. I restored most of one of chiark s backups onto a scratch volume on my laptop. With the LVM snapshot tools and chroots. I was able to develop and test a set of scripts that would perform the upgrade. This was a very effective approach: my super-fast laptop, with local caches of the package repositories, was able to do many edit, test, debug cycles. My recipe made heavy use of snapshot.debian.org, to make sure that it wouldn t rot between testing and implementation. When I had a working scheme, I told my users about the planned downtime. I warned everyone it might take even 2 or 3 days. I made sure that my access arrangemnts to the data centre were in place, in case I needed to visit in person. (I have remote serial console and power cycler access.) Reality - the terrible rescue install My first task on taking the service down was the check that the emergency rescue installation worked: chiark has an ancient USB stick in the back, which I can boot to from the BIOS. The idea being that many things that go wrong could be repaired from there. I found that that install was too old to understand chiark s storage arrangements. mdadm tools gave very strange output. So I needed to upgrade it. After some experiments, I rebooted back into the main install, bringing chiark s service back online. I then used the main install of chiark as a kind of meta-rescue-image for the rescue-image. The process of getting the rescue image upgraded (not even to amd64, but just to something not totally ancient) was fraught. Several times I had to rescue it by copying files in from the main install outside. And, the rescue install was on a truly ancient 2G USB stick which was terribly terribly slow, and also very small. I hadn t done any significant planning for this subtask, because it was low-risk: there was little way to break the main install. Due to all these adverse factors, sorting out the rescue image took five hours. If I had known how long it would take, at the beginning, I would have skipped it. 5 hours is more than it would have taken to go to London and fix something in person. Reality - the actual core upgrade I was able to start the actual upgrade in the mid-afternoon. I meticulously checked and executed the steps from my plan. The terrifying scripts which sequenced the critical package updates ran flawlessly. Within an hour or so I had a system which was running bullseye amd64, albeit with many important packages still missing or unconfigured. So I didn t need the rescue image after all, nor to go to the datacentre. Fixing all the things Then I had to deal with all the inevitable fallout from an upgrade. Notable incidents: exim4 has a new tainting system This is to try to help the sysadmin avoid writing unsafe string interpolations. ( Little Bobby Tables. ) This was done by Exim upstream in a great hurry as part of a security response process. The new checks meant that the mail configuration did not work at all. I had to turn off the taint check completely. I m fairly confident that this is correct, because I am hyper-aware of quoting issues and all of my configuration is written to avoid the problems that tainting is supposed to avoid. One particular annoyance is that the approach taken for sqlite lookups makes it totally impossible to use more than one sqlite database. I think the sqlite quoting operator which one uses to interpolate values produces tainted output? I need to investigate this properly. LVM now ignores PVs which are directly contained within LVs by default chiark has LVM-on-RAID-on-LVM. This generally works really well. However, there was one edge case where I ended up without the intermediate RAID layer. The result is LVM-on-LVM. But recent versions of the LVM tools do not look at PVs inside LVs, by default. This is to help you avoid corrupting the state of any VMs you have on your system. I didn t know that at the time, though. All I knew was that LVM was claiming my PV was unusable , and wouldn t explain why. I was about to start on a thorough reading of the 15,000-word essay that is the commentary in the default /etc/lvm/lvm.conf to try to see if anything was relevant, when I received a helpful tipoff on IRC pointing me to the scan_lvs option. I need to file a bug asking for the LVM tools to explain why they have declared a PV unuseable. apache2 s default config no longer read one of my config files I had to do a merge (of my changes vs the maintainers changes) for /etc/apache2/apache2.conf. When doing this merge I failed to notice that the file /etc/apache2/conf.d/httpd.conf was no longer included by default. My merge dropped that line. There were some important things in there, and until I found this the webserver was broken. dpkg --skip-same-version DTWT during a crossgrade (This is not a fix all the things - I found it when developing my upgrade process.) When doing a crossgrade, one often wants to say to dpkg install all these things, but don t reinstall things that have already been done . That s what --skip-same-version is for. However, the logic had not been updated as part of the work to support multiarch, so it was wrong. I prepared a patched version of dpkg, and inserted it in the appropriate point in my prepared crossgrade plan. The patch is now filed as bug #1014476 against dpkg upstream Mailman Mailman is no longer in bullseye. It s only available in the previous release, buster. bullseye has Mailman 3 which is a totally different system - requiring basically, a completely new install and configuration. To even preserve existing archive links (a very important requirement) is decidedly nontrivial. I decided to punt on this whole situation. Currently chiark is running buster s version of Mailman. I will have to deal with this at some point and I m not looking forward to it. Python Of course that Mailman is Python 2. The Python project s extremely badly handled transition includes a recommendation to change the meaning of #!/usr/bin/python from Python 2, to Python 3. But Python 3 is a new language, barely compatible with Python 2 even in the most recent iterations of both, and it is usual to need to coinstall them. Happily Debian have provided the python-is-python2 package to make things work sensibly, albeit with unpleasant imprecations in the package summary description. USENET news Oh my god. INN uses many non-portable data formats, which just depend on your C types. And there are complicated daemons, statically linked libraries which cache on-disk data, and much to go wrong. I had numerous problems with this, and several outages and malfunctions. I may write about that on a future occasion.
(edited 2022-07-20 11:36 +01:00 and 2022-07-30 12:28+01:00 to fix typos)


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20 July 2022

Enrico Zini: Deconstruction of the DAM hat

Further reading Talk notes Intro
  • I'm not speaking for the whole of DAM
  • Motivation in part is personal frustration, and need to set boundaries and negotiate expectations
Debian Account Managers
  • history
Responsibility for official membership
  • approve account creation
  • manage the New Member Process and nm.debian.org
  • close MIA accounts
  • occasional emergency termination of accounts
  • handle Emeritus
  • with lots of help from FrontDesk and MIA teams (big shoutout)
What DAM is not
  • we are not mediators
  • we are not a community management team
  • a list or IRC moderation team
  • we are not responsible for vision or strategic choices about how people are expected to interact in Debian
  • We shouldn't try and solve things because they need solving
Unexpected responsibilities
  • Over time, the community has grown larger and more complex, in a larger and more complex online environment
  • Enforcing the Diversity Statement and the Code of Conduct
  • Emergency list moderation
    • we have ended up using DAM warnings to compensate for the lack of list moderation, at least twice
  • contributors.debian.org (mostly only because of me, but it would be good to have its own team)
DAM warnings
  • except for rare glaring cases, patterns of behaviour / intentions / taking feedback in, are more relevant than individual incidents
  • we do not set out to fix people. It is enough for us to get people to acknowledge a problem
    • if they can't acknowledge a problem they're probably out
    • once a problem is acknowledged, fixing it could be their implementation detail
    • then again it's not that easy to get a number of troublesome people to acknowledge problems, so we go back to the problem of deciding when enough is enough
DAM warnings?
  • I got to a point where I look at DAM warnings as potential signals that DAM has ended up with the ball that everyone else in Debian dropped.
  • DAM warning means we haven't gotten to a last resort situation yet, meaning that it probably shouldn't be DAM dealing with this at this point
  • Everyone in the project can write a person "do you realise there's an issue here? Can you do something to stop?", and give them a chance to reflect on issues or ignore them, and build their reputation accordingly.
  • People in Debian should not have to endure, completey powerless, as trolls drag painful list discussions indefinitely until all the trolled people run out of energy and leave. At the same time, people who abuse a list should expect to be suspended or banned from the list, not have their Debian membership put into question (unless it is a recurring pattern of behaviour).
  • The push to grow DAM warnings as a tool, is a sign of the rest of Debian passing on their responsibilities, and DAM picking them up.
  • Then in DAM we end up passing on things, too, because we also don't have the energy to face another intensive megametathread, and as we take actions for things that shouldn't quite be our responsibility, we face a higher level of controversy, and therefore demotivation.
  • Also, as we take actions for things that shouldn't be our responsibility, and work on a higher level of controversy, our legitimacy is undermined (and understandably so)
    • there's a pothole on my street that never gets filled, so at some point I go out and fill it. Then people thank me, people complain I shouldn't have, people complain I didn't fill it right, people appreciate the gesture and invite me to learn how to fix potholes better, people point me out to more potholes, and then complain that potholes don't get fixed properly on the whole street. I end up being the problem, instead of whoever had responsibility of the potholes but wasn't fixing them
  • The Community Team, the Diversity Team, and individual developers, have no energy or entitlement for explaining what a healthy community looks like, and DAM is left with that responsibility in the form of accountability for their actions: to issue, say, a DAM warning for bullying, we are expected to explain what is bullying, and how that kind of behaviour constitutes bullying, in a way that is understandable by the whole project.
  • Since there isn't consensus in the project about what bullying loos like, we end up having to define it in a warning, which again is a responsibility we shouldn't have, and we need to do it because we have an escalated situation at hand, but we can't do it right
House rules Interpreting house rules
  • you can't encode common sense about people behaviour in written rules: no matter how hard you try, people will find ways to cheat that
  • so one can use rules as a guideline, and someone responsible for the bits that can't go into rules.
    • context matters, privilege/oppression matters, patterns matter, histor matters
  • example:
    • call a person out for breaking a rule
    • get DARVO in response
    • state that DARVO is not acceptable
    • get concern trolling against margninalised people and accuse them of DARVO if they complain
  • example: assume good intentions vs enabling
  • example: rule lawyering and Figure skating
  • this cannot be solved by GRs: I/we (DAM)/possibly also we (Debian) don't want to do GRs about evaluating people
Governance by bullying
  • How to DoS discussions in Debian
    • example: gender, minority groups, affirmative action, inclusion, anything about the community team itself, anything about the CoC, systemd, usrmerge, dam warnings, expulsions
      • think of a topic. Think about sending a mail to debian-project about it. If you instinctively shiver at the thought, this is probably happening
      • would you send a mail about that to -project / -devel?
      • can you think of other topics?
    • it is an effective way of governance as it excludes topics from public discussion
  • A small number of people abuse all this, intentionally or not, to effectively manipulate decision making in the project.
  • Instead of using the rules of the community to bring forth the issues one cares about, it costs less energy to make it unthinkable or unbearable to have a discussion on issues one doesn't want to progress. What one can't stop constructively, one can oppose destructively.
  • even regularly diverting the discussion away from the original point or concern is enough to derail it without people realising you're doing it
  • This is an effective strategy for a few reckless people to unilaterally direct change, in the current state of Debian, at the cost of the health and the future of the community as a whole.
  • There are now a number of important issues nobody has the energy to discuss, because experience says that energy requirements to bring them to the foreground and deal with the consequences are anticipated to be disproportionate.
  • This is grave, as we're talking about trolling and bullying as malicious power moves to work around the accepted decision making structures of our community.
  • Solving this is out of scope for this talk, but it is urgent nevertheless, and can't be solved by expecting DAM to fix it
How about the Community Team?
  • It is also a small group of people who cannot pick up the responsibility of doing what the community isn't doing for itself
  • I believe we need to recover the Community Team: it's been years that every time they write something in public, they get bullied by the same recurring small group of people (see governance by bullying above)
How about DAM?
  • I was just saying that we are not the emergency catch all
  • When the only enforcement you have is "nuclear escalation", there's nothing you can do until it's too late, and meanwhile lots of people suffer (this was written before Russia invaded Ukraine)
  • Also, when issues happen on public lists, the BTS, or on IRC, some of the perpetrators are also outside of the jurisdiction of DAM, which shows how DAM is not the tool for this
How about the DPL?
  • Talking about emergency catch alls, don't they have enough to do already?
Concentrating responsibility
  • Concentrating all responsibility on social issues on a single point creates a scapegoat: we're blamed for any conduct issue, and we're blamed for any action we take on conduct issues
    • also, when you are a small group you are personally identified with it. Taking action on a person may mean making a new enemy, and becoming a target for harassment, retaliation, or even just the general unwarranted hostility of someone who is left with an axe to grind
  • As long as responsibility is centralised, any action one takes as a response of one micro-aggression (or one micro-aggression too many) is an overreaction. Distributing that responsibility allows a finer granularity of actions to be taken
    • you don't call the police to tell someone they're being annoying at the pub: the people at the pub will tell you you're being annoying, and the police is called if you want to beat them up in response
  • We are also a community where we have no tool to give feedback to posts, so it still looks good to nitpick stupid details with smart-looking tranchant one-liners, or elaborate confrontational put-downs, and one doesn't get the feedback of "that did not help". Compare with discussing https://salsa.debian.org/debian/grow-your-ideas/ which does have this kind of feedback
    • the lack of moderation and enforcement makes the Debian community ideal for easy baiting, concern trolling, dog whistling, and related fun, and people not empowered can be so manipulated to troll those responsible
    • if you're fragile in Debian, people will play cat and mouse with you. It might be social awkwardness, or people taking themselves too serious, but it can easily become bullying, and with no feedback it's hard to tell and course correct
  • Since DAM and DPL are where the ball stops, everyone else in Debian can afford to let the ball drop.
  • More generally, if only one group is responsible, nobody else is
Empowering developers
  • Police alone does not make a community safe: a community makes a community safe.
  • DDs currently have no power to act besides complaining to DAM, or complaining to Community Team that then can only pass complaints on to DAM.
    • you could act directly, but currently nobody has your back if the (micro-)aggression then starts extending to you, too
  • From no power comes no responsibility. And yet, the safety of a community is sustainable only if it is the responsibility of every member of the community.
  • don't wait for DAM as the only group who can do something
  • people should be able to address issues in smaller groups, without escalation at project level
  • but people don't have the tools for that
  • I/we've shouldered this responsibility for far too long because nobody else was doing it, and it's time the whole Debian community gets its act together and picks up this responsibility as they should be. You don't get to not care just because there's a small number of people who is caring for you.
What needs to happen
  • distinguish DAM decisions from decisions that are more about vision and direction, and would require more representation
  • DAM warnings shouldn't belong in DAM
  • who is responsible for interpretation of the CoC?
  • deciding what to do about controversial people shouldn't belong in DAM
  • curation of the community shouldn't belong in DAM
  • can't do this via GRs, it's a mess to do a GR to decide how acceptable is a specific person's behaviour, and a lot of this requires more and more frequent micro-decisions than one'd do via GRs

15 July 2022

Mike Hommey: Announcing git-cinnabar 0.5.9

Git-cinnabar is a git remote helper to interact with mercurial repositories. It allows to clone, pull and push from/to mercurial remote repositories, using git. Get it on github. These release notes are also available on the git-cinnabar wiki. What s new since 0.5.8?
  • Updated git to 2.37.1 for the helper.
  • Various python 3 fixes.
  • Fixed stream bundle
  • Added python and py.exe as executables tried on top of python3 and python2.
  • Improved handling of ill-formed local urls.
  • Fixed using old mercurial libraries that don t support bundlev2 with a server that does.
  • When fsck reports the metadata as broken, prevent further updates to the repo.
  • When issue #207 is detected, mark the metadata as broken
  • Added support for logging redirection to a file
  • Now ignore refs/cinnabar/replace/ refs, and always use the corresponding metadata instead.
  • Various git cinnabar fsck fixes.

Next.