Search Results: "pape"

9 January 2022

Louis-Philippe V ronneau: Grading using the Wacom Intuos S

I've been teaching economics for a few semesters already and, slowly but surely, I'm starting to get the hang of it. Having to deal with teaching remotely hasn't been easy though and I'm really hoping the winter semester will be in-person again. Although I worked way too much last semester1, I somehow managed to transition to using a graphics tablet. I bought a Wacom Intuos S tablet (model CTL-4100) in late August 2021 and overall, I have been very happy with it. Wacom Canada offers a small discount for teachers and I ended up paying 115 CAD (~90 USD) for the tablet, an overall very reasonable price. Unsurprisingly, the Wacom support on Linux is very good and my tablet worked out of the box. The only real problem I had was by default, the tablet sometimes boots up in Android mode, making it unusable. This is easily solved by pressing down on the pad's first and last buttons for a few seconds, until the LED turns white. The included stylus came with hard plastic nibs, but I find them too slippery. I eventually purchased hard felt nibs, which increase the friction and makes for a more paper-like experience. They are a little less durable, but I wrote quite a fair bit and still haven't gone through a single one yet. Learning curve Learning how to use a graphical tablet took me at least a few weeks! When writing on a sheet of paper, the eyes see what the hand writes directly. This is not the case when using a graphical tablet: you are writing on a surface and see the result on your screen, a completely different surface. This dissociation takes a bit of practise to master, but after going through more than 300 pages of notes, it now feels perfectly normal. Here is a side-by-side comparison of my very average hand-writing2:
  1. on paper
  2. using the tablet, the first week
  3. using the tablet, after a couple of months
Comparison of my writing, on paper, using the tablet and using the tablet after a few weeks I still prefer the result of writing on paper, but I think this is mostly due to me not using the pressure sensitivity feature. The support in xournal wasn't great, but now that I've tried it in xournalpp (more on this below), I think I will be enabling it in the future. The result on paper is also more consistent, but I trust my skills will improve over time. Pressure sensitivity on vs off Use case The first use case I have for the tablet is grading papers. I've been asking my students to submit their papers via Moodle for a few semesters already, but until now, I was grading them using PDF comments. The experience wasn't great3 and was rather slow compared to grading physical copies. I'm also a somewhat old-school teacher: I refuse to teach using slides. Death by PowerPoint is real. I write on the blackboard a lot4 and I find it much easier to prepare my notes by hand than by typing them, as the end result is closer to what I actually end up writing down on the board. Writing notes by hand on sheets of paper is a chore too, especially when you revisit the same materiel regularly. Being able to handwrite digital notes gives me a lot more flexibility and it's been great. So far, I have been using xournal to write notes and grade papers, and although it is OK, it has a bunch of quirks I dislike. I was waiting for xournalpp to be packaged in Debian, and it now is5! I'm looking forward to using it next semester. Towards a better computer monitor I have also been feeling the age of my current computer monitor. I am currently using an old 32" 1080p TV from LG and up until now, I had been able to deal with the drawbacks. The colors are pretty bad and 1080p for such a large display isn't great, but I got used to it. What I really noticed when I started using my graphics tablet was the input lag. It's bad enough that there's a clear jello effect when writing and it eventually gives me a headache. It's so bad I usually prefer to work on my laptop, which has a nicer but noticeably smaller panel. I'm currently looking to replace this aging TV6 by something more modern. I have been waiting out since I would like to buy something that will last me another 10 years if possible. Sadly, 32" high refresh rate 4K monitors aren't exactly there yet and I haven't found anything matching my criteria. I would probably also need a new GPU, something that is not easy to come by these days.

  1. I worked at two colleges at the same time, teaching 2 different classes (one of which I was giving for the first time...) to 6 groups in total. I averaged more than 60h per week for sure.
  2. Yes, I only write in small caps. Students love it, as it's much easier to read on the blackboard.
  3. Although most PDF readers support displaying comments, some of my more clueless students still had trouble seeing them and I had to play tech support more than I wanted.
  4. Unsurprisingly, my students also love it. One of the most common feedback I get at the end of the semester is they hate slides too and are very happy I'm one of the few teachers who writes on the board.
  5. Many thanks to Barak A. Pearlmutter for maintaining this package.
  6. It dates back from 2010, when my mom replaced our old CRT by a flat screen. FullHD TVs were getting affordable and I wasn't sad to see our tiny 20-something inches TV go. I eventually ended up with the LG flatscreen a few years later when I moved out in my first apartment and my mom got something better.

8 January 2022

Jonathan Dowland: 2021 in Fiction

Cover for *This is How You Lose the Time War*
Cover for *Robot*
Cover for *The Glass Hotel*
Following on from last year's round-up of my reading, here's a look at the fiction I enjoyed in 2021. I managed to read 42 books in 2021, up from 31 last year. That's partly to do with buying an ereader: 33/36% of my reading (by pages/by books) was ebooks. I think this demonstrates that ebooks have mostly complemented paper books for me, rather than replacing them. My book of the year (although it was published in 2019) was This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone: A short epistolary love story between warring time travellers and quite unlike anything else I've read for a long time. Other notables were The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel and Robot by Adam Wi niewski-Snerg. The biggest disappointment for me was The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson (KSR), which I haven't even finished. I love KSRs writing: I've written about him many times on this blog, at least in 2002, 2006 and 2009, I think I've read every other novel he's published and most of his short stories. But this one was too much of something for me. He's described this novel a the end-point of a particular journey and approach to writing he's taken, which I felt relieved to learn, assuming he writes any more novels (and I really hope that he does) they will likely be in a different "mode". My "new author discovery" for 2021 was Chris Beckett: I tore through Two Tribes and America City before promptly buying all his other work. He fits roughly into the same bracket as Adam Roberts and Christopher Priest, two of my other favourite authors. 5 of the books I read (12%) were from my "backlog" of already-purchased physical books. I'd like to try and reduce my Backlog further so I hope to push this figure up next year. I made a small effort to read more diverse authors this year. 24% of the books I read (by book count and page count) were by women. 15% by page count were (loosely) BAME (19% by book count). Again I'd like to increase these numbers modestly in 2022. Unlike 2020, I didn't complete any short story collections in 2021! This is partly because there was only one issue of Interzone published in all of 2021, a double-issue which I haven't yet finished. This is probably a sad date point in terms of Interzone's continued existence, but it's not dead yet.

31 December 2021

Chris Lamb: Favourite books of 2021: Fiction

In my two most recent posts, I listed the memoirs and biographies and followed this up with the non-fiction I enjoyed the most in 2021. I'll leave my roundup of 'classic' fiction until tomorrow, but today I'll be going over my favourite fiction. Books that just miss the cut here include Kingsley Amis' comic Lucky Jim, Cormac McCarthy's The Road (although see below for McCarthy's Blood Meridian) and the Complete Adventures of Tintin by Herg , the latter forming an inadvertently incisive portrait of the first half of the 20th century. Like ever, there were a handful of books that didn't live up to prior expectations. Despite all of the hype, Emily St. John Mandel's post-pandemic dystopia Station Eleven didn't match her superb The Glass Hotel (one of my favourite books of 2020). The same could be said of John le Carr 's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which felt significantly shallower compared to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy again, a favourite of last year. The strangest book (and most difficult to classify at all) was undoubtedly Patrick S skind's Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, and the non-fiction book I disliked the most was almost-certainly Beartown by Fredrik Bachman. Two other mild disappointments were actually film adaptions. Specifically, the original source for Vertigo by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac didn't match Alfred Hitchock's 1958 masterpiece, as did James Sallis' Drive which was made into a superb 2011 neon-noir directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. These two films thus defy the usual trend and are 'better than the book', but that's a post for another day.

A Wizard of Earthsea (1971) Ursula K. Le Guin How did it come to be that Harry Potter is the publishing sensation of the century, yet Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea is only a popular cult novel? Indeed, the comparisons and unintentional intertextuality with Harry Potter are entirely unavoidable when reading this book, and, in almost every respect, Ursula K. Le Guin's universe comes out the victor. In particular, the wizarding world that Le Guin portrays feels a lot more generous and humble than the class-ridden world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Just to take one example from many, in Earthsea, magic turns out to be nurtured in a bottom-up manner within small village communities, in almost complete contrast to J. K. Rowling's concept of benevolent government departments and NGOs-like institutions, which now seems a far too New Labour for me. Indeed, imagine an entire world imbued with the kindly benevolence of Dumbledore, and you've got some of the moral palette of Earthsea. The gently moralising tone that runs through A Wizard of Earthsea may put some people off:
Vetch had been three years at the School and soon would be made Sorcerer; he thought no more of performing the lesser arts of magic than a bird thinks of flying. Yet a greater, unlearned skill he possessed, which was the art of kindness.
Still, these parables aimed directly at the reader are fairly rare, and, for me, remain on the right side of being mawkish or hectoring. I'm thus looking forward to reading the next two books in the series soon.

Blood Meridian (1985) Cormac McCarthy Blood Meridian follows a band of American bounty hunters who are roaming the Mexican-American borderlands in the late 1840s. Far from being remotely swashbuckling, though, the group are collecting scalps for money and killing anyone who crosses their path. It is the most unsparing treatment of American genocide and moral depravity I have ever come across, an anti-Western that flouts every convention of the genre. Blood Meridian thus has a family resemblance to that other great anti-Western, Once Upon a Time in the West: after making a number of gun-toting films that venerate the American West (ie. his Dollars Trilogy), Sergio Leone turned his cynical eye to the western. Yet my previous paragraph actually euphemises just how violent Blood Meridian is. Indeed, I would need to be a much better writer (indeed, perhaps McCarthy himself) to adequately 0utline the tone of this book. In a certain sense, it's less than you read this book in a conventional sense, but rather that you are forced to witness successive chapters of grotesque violence... all occurring for no obvious reason. It is often said that books 'subvert' a genre and, indeed, I implied as such above. But the term subvert implies a kind of Puck-like mischievousness, or brings to mind court jesters licensed to poke fun at the courtiers. By contrast, however, Blood Meridian isn't funny in the slightest. There isn't animal cruelty per se, but rather wanton negligence of another kind entirely. In fact, recalling a particular passage involving an injured horse makes me feel physically ill. McCarthy's prose is at once both baroque in its language and thrifty in its presentation. As Philip Connors wrote back in 2007, McCarthy has spent forty years writing as if he were trying to expand the Old Testament, and learning that McCarthy grew up around the Church therefore came as no real surprise. As an example of his textual frugality, I often looked for greater precision in the text, finding myself asking whether who a particular 'he' is, or to which side of a fight some two men belonged to. Yet we must always remember that there is no precision to found in a gunfight, so this infidelity is turned into a virtue. It's not that these are fair fights anyway, or even 'murder': Blood Meridian is just slaughter; pure butchery. Murder is a gross understatement for what this book is, and at many points we are grateful that McCarthy spares us precision. At others, however, we can be thankful for his exactitude. There is no ambiguity regarding the morality of the puppy-drowning Judge, for example: a Colonel Kurtz who has been given free license over the entire American south. There is, thank God, no danger of Hollywood mythologising him into a badass hero. Indeed, we must all be thankful that it is impossible to film this ultra-violent book... Indeed, the broader idea of 'adapting' anything to this world is, beyond sick. An absolutely brutal read; I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Bodies of Light (2014) Sarah Moss Bodies of Light is a 2014 book by Glasgow-born Sarah Moss on the stirrings of women's suffrage within an arty clique in nineteenth-century England. Set in the intellectually smoggy cities of Manchester and London, this poignant book follows the studiously intelligent Alethia 'Ally' Moberly who is struggling to gain the acceptance of herself, her mother and the General Medical Council. You can read my full review from July.

House of Leaves (2000) Mark Z. Danielewski House of Leaves is a remarkably difficult book to explain. Although the plot refers to a fictional documentary about a family whose house is somehow larger on the inside than the outside, this quotidian horror premise doesn't explain the complex meta-commentary that Danielewski adds on top. For instance, the book contains a large number of pseudo-academic footnotes (many of which contain footnotes themselves), with references to scholarly papers, books, films and other articles. Most of these references are obviously fictional, but it's the kind of book where the joke is that some of them are not. The format, structure and typography of the book is highly unconventional too, with extremely unusual page layouts and styles. It's the sort of book and idea that should be a tired gimmick but somehow isn't. This is particularly so when you realise it seems specifically designed to create a fandom around it and to manufacturer its own 'cult' status, something that should be extremely tedious. But not only does this not happen, House of Leaves seems to have survived through two exhausting decades of found footage: The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity are, to an admittedly lesser degree, doing much of the same thing as House of Leaves. House of Leaves might have its origins in Nabokov's Pale Fire or even Derrida's Glas, but it seems to have more in common with the claustrophobic horror of Cube (1997). And like all of these works, House of Leaves book has an extremely strange effect on the reader or viewer, something quite unlike reading a conventional book. It wasn't so much what I got out of the book itself, but how it added a glow to everything else I read, watched or saw at the time. An experience.

Milkman (2018) Anna Burns This quietly dazzling novel from Irish author Anna Burns is full of intellectual whimsy and oddball incident. Incongruously set in 1970s Belfast during The Irish Troubles, Milkman's 18-year-old narrator (known only as middle sister ), is the kind of dreamer who walks down the street with a Victorian-era novel in her hand. It's usually an error for a book that specifically mention other books, if only because inviting comparisons to great novels is grossly ill-advised. But it is a credit to Burns' writing that the references here actually add to the text and don't feel like they are a kind of literary paint by numbers. Our humble narrator has a boyfriend of sorts, but the figure who looms the largest in her life is a creepy milkman an older, married man who's deeply integrated in the paramilitary tribalism. And when gossip about the narrator and the milkman surfaces, the milkman beings to invade her life to a suffocating degree. Yet this milkman is not even a milkman at all. Indeed, it's precisely this kind of oblique irony that runs through this daring but darkly compelling book.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (2014) Claire North Harry August is born, lives a relatively unremarkable life and finally dies a relatively unremarkable death. Not worth writing a novel about, I suppose. But then Harry finds himself born again in the very same circumstances, and as he grows from infancy into childhood again, he starts to remember his previous lives. This loop naturally drives Harry insane at first, but after finding that suicide doesn't stop the quasi-reincarnation, he becomes somewhat acclimatised to his fate. He prospers much better at school the next time around and is ultimately able to make better decisions about his life, especially when he just happens to know how to stay out of trouble during the Second World War. Yet what caught my attention in this 'soft' sci-fi book was not necessarily the book's core idea but rather the way its connotations were so intelligently thought through. Just like in a musical theme and varations, the success of any concept-driven book is far more a product of how the implications of the key idea are played out than how clever the central idea was to begin with. Otherwise, you just have another neat Borges short story: satisfying, to be sure, but in a narrower way. From her relatively simple premise, for example, North has divined that if there was a community of people who could remember their past lives, this would actually allow messages and knowledge to be passed backwards and forwards in time. Ah, of course! Indeed, this very mechanism drives the plot: news comes back from the future that the progress of history is being interfered with, and, because of this, the end of the world is slowly coming. Through the lives that follow, Harry sets out to find out who is passing on technology before its time, and work out how to stop them. With its gently-moralising romp through the salient historical touchpoints of the twentieth century, I sometimes got a whiff of Forrest Gump. But it must be stressed that this book is far less certain of its 'right-on' liberal credentials than Robert Zemeckis' badly-aged film. And whilst we're on the topic of other media, if you liked the underlying conceit behind Stuart Turton's The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle yet didn't enjoy the 'variations' of that particular tale, then I'd definitely give The First Fifteen Lives a try. At the very least, 15 is bigger than 7. More seriously, though, The First Fifteen Lives appears to reflect anxieties about technology, particularly around modern technological accelerationism. At no point does it seriously suggest that if we could somehow possess the technology from a decade in the future then our lives would be improved in any meaningful way. Indeed, precisely the opposite is invariably implied. To me, at least, homo sapiens often seems to be merely marking time until we can blow each other up and destroying the climate whilst sleepwalking into some crisis that might precipitate a thermonuclear genocide sometimes seems to be built into our DNA. In an era of cli-fi fiction and our non-fiction newspaper headlines, to label North's insight as 'prescience' might perhaps be overstating it, but perhaps that is the point: this destructive and negative streak is universal to all periods of our violent, insecure species.

The Goldfinch (2013) Donna Tartt After Breaking Bad, the second biggest runaway success of 2014 was probably Donna Tartt's doorstop of a novel, The Goldfinch. Yet upon its release and popular reception, it got a significant number of bad reviews in the literary press with, of course, an equal number of predictable think pieces claiming this was sour grapes on the part of the cognoscenti. Ah, to be in 2014 again, when our arguments were so much more trivial. For the uninitiated, The Goldfinch is a sprawling bildungsroman that centres on Theo Decker, a 13-year-old whose world is turned upside down when a terrorist bomb goes off whilst visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, killing his mother among other bystanders. Perhaps more importantly, he makes off with a painting in order to fulfil a promise to a dying old man: Carel Fabritius' 1654 masterpiece The Goldfinch. For the next 14 years (and almost 800 pages), the painting becomes the only connection to his lost mother as he's flung, almost entirely rudderless, around the Western world, encountering an array of eccentric characters. Whatever the critics claimed, Tartt's near-perfect evocation of scenes, from the everyday to the unimaginable, is difficult to summarise. I wouldn't label it 'cinematic' due to her evocation of the interiority of the characters. Take, for example: Even the suggestion that my father had close friends conveyed a misunderstanding of his personality that I didn't know how to respond it's precisely this kind of relatable inner subjectivity that cannot be easily conveyed by film, likely is one of the main reasons why the 2019 film adaptation was such a damp squib. Tartt's writing is definitely not 'impressionistic' either: there are many near-perfect evocations of scenes, even ones we hope we cannot recognise from real life. In particular, some of the drug-taking scenes feel so credibly authentic that I sometimes worried about the author herself. Almost eight months on from first reading this novel, what I remember most was what a joy this was to read. I do worry that it won't stand up to a more critical re-reading (the character named Xandra even sounds like the pharmaceuticals she is taking), but I think I'll always treasure the first days I spent with this often-beautiful novel.

Beyond Black (2005) Hilary Mantel Published about five years before the hyperfamous Wolf Hall (2004), Hilary Mantel's Beyond Black is a deeply disturbing book about spiritualism and the nature of Hell, somewhat incongruously set in modern-day England. Alison Harte is a middle-aged physic medium who works in the various towns of the London orbital motorway. She is accompanied by her stuffy assistant, Colette, and her spirit guide, Morris, who is invisible to everyone but Alison. However, this is no gentle and musk-smelling world of the clairvoyant and mystic, for Alison is plagued by spirits from her past who infiltrate her physical world, becoming stronger and nastier every day. Alison's smiling and rotund persona thus conceals a truly desperate woman: she knows beyond doubt the terrors of the next life, yet must studiously conceal them from her credulous clients. Beyond Black would be worth reading for its dark atmosphere alone, but it offers much more than a chilling and creepy tale. Indeed, it is extraordinarily observant as well as unsettlingly funny about a particular tranche of British middle-class life. Still, the book's unnerving nature that sticks in the mind, and reading it noticeably changed my mood for days afterwards, and not necessarily for the best.

The Wall (2019) John Lanchester The Wall tells the story of a young man called Kavanagh, one of the thousands of Defenders standing guard around a solid fortress that envelopes the British Isles. A national service of sorts, it is Kavanagh's job to stop the so-called Others getting in. Lanchester is frank about what his wall provides to those who stand guard: the Defenders of the Wall are conscripted for two years on the Wall, with no exceptions, giving everyone in society a life plan and a story. But whilst The Wall is ostensibly about a physical wall, it works even better as a story about the walls in our mind. In fact, the book blends together of some of the most important issues of our time: climate change, increasing isolation, Brexit and other widening societal divisions. If you liked P. D. James' The Children of Men you'll undoubtedly recognise much of the same intellectual atmosphere, although the sterility of John Lanchester's dystopia is definitely figurative and textual rather than literal. Despite the final chapters perhaps not living up to the world-building of the opening, The Wall features a taut and engrossing narrative, and it undoubtedly warrants even the most cursory glance at its symbolism. I've yet to read something by Lanchester I haven't enjoyed (even his short essay on cheating in sports, for example) and will be definitely reading more from him in 2022.

The Only Story (2018) Julian Barnes The Only Story is the story of Paul, a 19-year-old boy who falls in love with 42-year-old Susan, a married woman with two daughters who are about Paul's age. The book begins with how Paul meets Susan in happy (albeit complicated) circumstances, but as the story unfolds, the novel becomes significantly more tragic and moving. Whilst the story begins from the first-person perspective, midway through the book it shifts into the second person, and, later, into the third as well. Both of these narrative changes suggested to me an attempt on the part of Paul the narrator (if not Barnes himself), to distance himself emotionally from the events taking place. This effect is a lot more subtle than it sounds, however: far more prominent and devastating is the underlying and deeply moving story about the relationship ends up. Throughout this touching book, Barnes uses his mastery of language and observation to avoid the saccharine and the maudlin, and ends up with a heart-wrenching and emotive narrative. Without a doubt, this is the saddest book I read this year.

29 December 2021

Noah Meyerhans: When You Could Hear Security Scans

Have you ever wondered what a security probe of a computer sounded like? I d guess probably not, because on the face of it that doesn t make a whole lot of sense. But there was a time when I could very clearly discern the sound of a computer being scanned. It sounded like a small mechanical heart beat: Click-click click-click click-click Prior to 2010, I had a computer under my desk with what at the time were not unheard-of properties: Its storage was based on a stack of spinning metal platters (a now-antiquated device known as a hard drive ), and it had a publicly routable IPv4 address with an unfiltered connection to the Internet. Naturally it ran Linux and an ssh server. As was common in those days, service logging was handled by a syslog daemon. The syslog daemon would sort log messages based on various criteria and record them somewhere. In most simple environments, somewhere was simply a file on local storage. When writing to a local file, syslog daemons can be optionally configured to use the fsync() system call to ensure that writes are flushed to disk. Practically speaking, what this meant is that a page of disk-backed memory would be written to the disk as soon as an event occurred that triggered a log message. Because of potential performance implications, fsync() was not typically enabled for most log files. However, due to the more sensitive nature of authentication logs, it was often enabled for /var/log/auth.log. In the first decade of the 2000 s, there was a fairly unsophisticated worm loose on the Internet that would probe sshd with some common username/password combinations. The worm would pause for a second or so between login attempts, most likely in an effort to avoid automated security responses. The effect was that a system being probed by this worm would generate disk write every second, with a very distinct audible signature from the hard drive. I think this situation is a fun demonstration of a side-channel data leak. It s primitive and doesn t leak very much information, but it was certainly enough to make some inference about the state of the system in question. Of course, side-channel leakage issues have been a concern for ages, but I like this one for its simplicity. It was something that could be explained and demonstrated easily, even to somebody with relatively limited understanding of how computers work , unlike, for instance measuring electromagnetic emanations from CPU power management units. For a different take on the sounds of a computing infrastructure, Peep (The Network Auralizer) won an award at a USENIX conference long, long ago. I d love to see a modern deployment of such a system. I m sure you could build something for your cloud deployment using something like AWS EventBridge or Amazon SQS fairly easily. For more on research into actual real-world side-channel attacks, you can read A Survey of Microarchitectural Side-channel Vulnerabilities, Attacks and Defenses in Cryptography or A Survey of Electromagnetic Side-Channel Attacks and Discussion on their Case-Progressing Potential for Digital Forensics.

Chris Lamb: Favourite books of 2021: Memoir/biography

Just as I did for 2020, I won't publically disclose exactly how many books I read in 2021, but they evidently provoked enough thoughts that felt it worth splitting my yearly writeup into separate posts. I will reveal, however, that I got through more books than the previous year, and, like before, I enjoyed the books I read this year even more in comparison as well. How much of this is due to refining my own preferences over time, and how much can be ascribed to feeling less pressure to read particular books? It s impossible to say, and the question is complicated further by the fact I found many of the classics I read well worth of their entry into the dreaded canon. But enough of the throat-clearing. In today's post I'll be looking at my favourite books filed under memoir and biography, in no particular order. Books that just missed the cut here include: Bernard Crick's celebrated 1980 biography of George Orwell, if nothing else because it was a pleasure to read; Hilary Mantel's exhilaratingly bitter early memoir, Giving up the Ghost (2003); and Patricia Lockwood's hilarious Priestdaddy (2017). I also had a soft spot for Tim Kreider's We Learn Nothing (2012) as well, despite not knowing anything about the author in advance, likely a sign of good writing. The strangest book in this category I read was definitely Michelle Zauner's Crying in H Mart. Based on a highly-recommended 2018 essay in the New Yorker, its rich broth of genuine yearning for a departed mother made my eyebrows raise numerous times when I encountered inadvertent extra details about Zauner's relationships.

Beethoven: A Life in Nine Pieces Laura Tunbridge Whilst it might immediately present itself as a clickbait conceit, organising an overarching narrative around just nine compositions by Beethoven turns out to be an elegant way of saying something fresh about this grizzled old bear. Some of Beethoven's most famous compositions are naturally included in the nine (eg. the Eroica and the Hammerklavier piano sonata), but the book raises itself above conventional Beethoven fare when it highlights, for instance, his Septet, Op. 20, an early work that is virtually nobody's favourite Beethoven piece today. The insight here is that it was widely popular in its time, played again and again around Vienna for the rest of his life. No doubt many contemporary authors can relate to this inability to escape being artistically haunted by an earlier runaway success. The easiest way to say something interesting about Beethoven in the twenty-first century is to talk about the myth of Beethoven instead. Or, as Tunbridge implies, perhaps that should really be 'Beethoven' in leaden quotation marks, given so much about what we think we know about the man is a quasi-fictional construction. Take Anton Schindler, Beethoven's first biographer and occasional amanuensis, who destroyed and fabricated details about Beethoven's life, casting himself in a favourable light and exaggerating his influence with the composer. Only a few decades later, the idea of a 'heroic' German was to be politically useful as well; the Anglosphere often need reminding that Germany did not exist as a nation-state prior to 1871, so it should be unsurprising to us that the late nineteenth-century saw a determined attempt to create a uniquely 'German' culture ex nihilo. (And the less we say about Immortal Beloved the better, even though I treasure that film.) Nevertheless, Tunbridge cuts through Beethoven's substantial legacy using surgical precision that not only avoids feeling like it is settling a score, but it also does so in a way that is unlikely to completely alienate anyone emotionally dedicated to some already-established idea of the man to bring forth the tediously predictable sentiment that Beethoven has 'gone woke'. With Alex Ross on the cult of Wagner, it seems that books about the 'myth of X' are somewhat in vogue right now. And this pattern within classical music might fit into some broader trend of deconstruction in popular non-fiction too, especially when we consider the numerous contemporary books on the long hangover of the Civil Rights era (Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility, etc.), the multifarious ghosts of Empire (Akala's Natives, Sathnam Sanghera's Empireland, etc.) or even the 'transmogrification' of George Orwell into myth. But regardless of its place in some wider canon, A Life in Nine Pieces is beautifully printed in hardback form (worth acquiring for that very reason alone), and it is one of the rare good books about classical music that can be recommended to both the connoisseur and the layperson alike.

Sea State (2021) Tabitha Lasley In her mid-30s and jerking herself out of a terrible relationship, Tabitha Lasley left London and put all her savings into a six-month lease on a flat within a questionable neighbourhood in Aberdeen, Scotland. She left to make good on a lukewarm idea for a book about oil rigs and the kinds of men who work on them: I wanted to see what men were like with no women around, she claims. The result is Sea State, a forthright examination of the life of North Sea oil riggers, and an unsparing portrayal of loneliness, masculinity, female desire and the decline of industry in Britain. (It might almost be said that Sea State is an update of a sort to George Orwell's visit to the mines in the North of England.) As bracing as the North Sea air, Sea State spoke to me on multiple levels but I found it additionally interesting to compare and contrast with Julian Barnes' The Man with Red Coat (see below). Women writers are rarely thought to be using fiction for higher purposes: it is assumed that, unlike men, whatever women commit to paper is confessional without any hint of artfulness. Indeed, it seems to me that the reaction against the decades-old genre of autofiction only really took hold when it became the domain of millennial women. (By contrast, as a 75-year-old male writer with a firmly established reputation in the literary establishment, Julian Barnes is allowed wide latitude in what he does with his sources and his writing can be imbued with supremely confident airs as a result.) Furthermore, women are rarely allowed metaphor or exaggeration for dramatic effect, and they certainly aren t permitted to emphasise darker parts in order to explore them... hence some of the transgressive gratification of reading Sea State. Sea State is admittedly not a work of autofiction, but the sense that you are reading about an author writing a book is pleasantly unavoidable throughout. It frequently returns to the topic of oil workers who live multiple lives, and Lasley admits to living two lives herself: she may be in love but she's also on assignment, and a lot of the pleasure in this candid and remarkably accessible book lies in the way these states become slowly inseparable.

Twilight of Democracy (2020) Anne Applebaum For the uninitiated, Anne Applebaum is a staff writer for The Atlantic magazine who won a Pulitzer-prize for her 2004 book on the Soviet Gulag system. Her latest book, however, Twilight of Democracy is part memoir and part political analysis and discusses the democratic decline and the rise of right-wing populism. This, according to Applebaum, displays distinctly authoritarian tendencies, and who am I to disagree? Applebaum does this through three main case studies (Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States), but the book also touches on Hungary as well. The strongest feature of this engaging book is that Appelbaum's analysis focuses on the intellectual classes and how they provide significant justification for a descent into authoritarianism. This is always an important point to be remembered, especially as much of the folk understanding of the rise of authoritarian regimes tends to place exaggerated responsibility on the ordinary and everyday citizen: the blame placed on the working-class in the Weimar Republic or the scorn heaped upon 'white trash' of the contemporary Rust Belt, for example. Applebaum is uniquely poised to discuss these intellectuals because, well, she actually knows a lot of them personally. Or at least, she used to know them. Indeed, the narrative of the book revolves around two parties she hosted, both in the same house in northwest Poland. The first party, on 31 December 1999, was attended by friends from around the Western world, but most of the guests were Poles from the broad anti-communist alliance. They all agreed about democracy, the rule of law and the route to prosperity whilst toasting in the new millennium. (I found it amusing to realise that War and Peace also starts with a party.) But nearly two decades later, many of the attendees have ended up as supporters of the problematic 'Law and Justice' party which currently governs the country. Applebaum would now cross the road to avoid them, and they would do the same to her, let alone behave themselves at a cordial reception. The result of this autobiographical detail is that by personalising the argument, Applebaum avoids the trap of making too much of high-minded abstract argument for 'democracy', and additionally makes her book compellingly spicy too. Yet the strongest part of this book is also its weakest. By individualising the argument, it often feels that Applebaum is settling a number of personal scores. She might be very well justified in doing this, but at times it feels like the reader has walked in halfway through some personal argument and is being asked to judge who is in the right. Furthermore, Applebaum's account of contemporary British politics sometimes deviates into the cartoonish: nothing was egregiously incorrect in any of her summations, but her explanation of the Brexit referendum result didn't read as completely sound. Nevertheless, this lively and entertaining book that can be read with profit, even if you disagree with significant portions of it, and its highly-personal approach makes it a refreshing change from similar contemporary political analysis (eg. David Runciman's How Democracy Ends) which reaches for that more 'objective' line.

The Man in the Red Coat Julian Barnes As rich as the eponymous red coat that adorns his cover, Julian Barnes quasi-biography of French gynaecologist Samuel-Jean Pozzi (1846 1918) is at once illuminating, perplexing and downright hilarious. Yet even that short description is rather misleading, for this book evades classification all manner number of ways. For instance, it is unclear that, with the biographer's narrative voice so obviously manifest, it is even a biography in the useful sense of the word. After all, doesn't the implied pact between author and reader require the biographer to at least pretend that they are hiding from the reader? Perhaps this is just what happens when an author of very fine fiction turns his hand to non-fiction history, and, if so, it represents a deeper incursion into enemy territory after his 1984 metafictional Flaubert's Parrot. Indeed, upon encountering an intriguing mystery in Pozzi's life crying out for a solution, Barnes baldly turns to the reader, winks and states: These matters could, of course, be solved in a novel. Well, quite. Perhaps Barnes' broader point is that, given that's impossible for the author to completely melt into air, why not simply put down your cards and have a bit of fun whilst you're at it? If there's any biography that makes the case for a rambling and lightly polemical treatment, then it is this one. Speaking of having fun, however, two qualities you do not expect in a typical biography is simply how witty they can be, as well as it having something of the whiff of the thriller about it. A bullet might be mentioned in an early chapter, but given the name and history of Monsieur Pozzi is not widely known, one is unlikely to learn how he lived his final years until the closing chapters. (Or what happened to that turtle.) Humour is primarily incorporated into the book in two main ways: first, by explicitly citing the various wits of the day ( What is a vice? Merely a taste you don t share. etc.), but perhaps more powerful is the gentle ironies, bon mots and observations in Barnes' entirely unflappable prose style, along with the satire implicit in him writing this moreish pseudo-biography to begin with. The opening page, with its steadfast refusal to even choose where to begin, is somewhat characteristic of Barnes' method, so if you don't enjoy the first few pages then you are unlikely to like the rest. (Indeed, the whole enterprise may be something of an acquired taste. Like Campari.) For me, though, I was left wryly grinning and often couldn't wait to turn the page. Indeed, at times it reminded me of a being at a dinner party with an extremely charming guest at the very peak of his form as a wit and raconteur, delighting the party with his rambling yet well-informed discursive on his topic de jour. A significant book, and a book of significance.

21 December 2021

Molly de Blanc: kindle

I have a Kindle. I ve spent a lot of time saying this sheepishly it s Amazon, it s proprietary, DRM is bad, etc, etc. It was a very thoughtful gift from my parents, taking into account things like my travel schedule, preference for traveling lighter, love of reading, and small apartment. I wanted to share some observations from my experience owning a Kindle. I don t like to read for school on it. I really markup the papers I read for school, underlining things, notes in the margins, flipping back and forth between pages, cross-referencing things. (Note: My greatest grad school investment has probably been getting a solid printer.) The Kindle doesn t work well for this. I don t like buying ebooks. I don t inherently mind buying ebooks in general. I own some. I don t want to pay $15 for a DRMed ebook though. It feels too much like renting a book. I find organizing ebooks tedious, while organizing my physical books joyful. I ve bought ebooks from non-Amazon sites, taken advantage of Tor.com s Book of the Month Club, and some other things. I love borrowing ebooks. Borrowing ebooks from the library is the absolute best. I love it. It s convenient, I have a huge range of books I can read, and between my phone and the Kindle, I can get one or add it to a To Read queue the moment I think about it, rather than forgetting on-and-off for months. It connects me to my parents. Because the Kindle is connected to my parents Amazon account, I get to see what they read. It s like a little social network with just my family. We have similar tastes in books (for some part anyway), and it s cool to also get some recommendations when I m in a rush or on the train and don t have time to actually ask for them. In a lot of ways my Kindle is an extension of the public library system. It allows me to connect with it (and the books I want to read). It feels very scifi to me having a personal device that connects to this seemingly endless public store of cool stuff.

17 December 2021

Jonathan Dowland: ereader

Kobo Libra H2O e-reader Kobo Libra H2O e-reader
This year I finally bought an e-reader: a "Kobo Libra H2O": a 7" 300ppi screen with an adjustable colour temperature front light, waterproof, physical buttons on a "margin"/spine which pushes the case dimensions up to 8", which is sadly a little too big for most jeans pockets. In fact this is the second time I've bought one. Sarah and I bought a pair of Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2nd generation) readers as Honeymoon gifts for each other in 2013. Sarah took to hers, but after giving mine a try and reading a couple of books on it I ended up giving it to my Father-in-law. The main problem I had with it was the colour temperature of the backlight: it was too blue and "clinical". It's interesting to me to realise how the environment that I read in can become indelibly linked to the memory of that book. One book in particular that I read on the Kindle was James Smythe's "The Machine", a modern twist on a classic horror story. This was perfectly complemented by the somewhat pallid, sick colour of the backlight, especially on its lowest brightness settings. It didn't go so well with other stories.
Broken Libra H2O e-reader Broken Libra H2O e-reader
I got on much better with the Libra H2O. For me, e-books and e-reading has not replaced traditional paper books, but complemented them, giving me an opportunity to read in contexts and situations where I couldn't manage with a real book (such as in the pitch black, lying on my back with a toddler on my chest). I feel that being able to read more often thanks to the e-reader has spurred me on to read even paper books more frequently as well. Unfortunately the screen broke, about 10 months after I bought it! After a bit of soul-searching on what to do about replacing it, and briefly considering the latest Amazon Paperwhite (which now has a 300ppi display and adjustable-colour temperature front-light). This looks like a very nice e-reader: no physical buttons which is a bit of a shame but narrower without the margin/spine of the Kobo, so possibly more pocket-friendly. On the other hand, I really felt that I wanted to avoid giving Amazon the money, for a whole variety of reasons.
Libra 2 e-reader. Spot the difference? Libra 2 e-reader. Spot the difference?
So I instead settled on the "Kobo Libra 2", which is a slight refresh of the Libra H2O, but almost identical. I'm going to pair it with a nice cover for when its not in use and hopefully it will last longer than its predecessor. My current favourite feature on the Libra 2, that I don't remember on the H2O and I'm fairly sure doesn't exist on Kindles is it supports a "night mode", which is effectively a reverse video, white-on-black mode. This is fantastic for keeping the light levels down at night. I was already using the backlight at about 2% brightness and occasionally found even that too bright.

16 December 2021

Dirk Eddelbuettel: RProtoBuf 0.4.18: Multiple Updates

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

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

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

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

11 December 2021

Molly de Blanc: Applications

The first time I applied for grad school it was a bit of a lark. I was serious about it, I wanted to go, I had goals, and I am happy to be here now. However, it was a little fun. I took a white paper and crisped it up with the help of some friends who read it and provided comments. I wrote a personal statement, got some letters of recommendation, and generally felt pretty good about the process. It wasn t stressful. The second time I applied to grad school it was a slog. For several weeks I gave up most of my free time to application writing and when I wasn t working on applications I thought about how I ought to be doing something about it. Applications are due while you re coming up on the end of your semester or end of the year push at work or both! There just isn t enough time for everything. I think even applying for grad school qualifies you to attend. Here are some things I learned in the application process. Note, I haven t gotten in anywhere (yet), so we ll see how it pans out. You have to do a lot of research. This changes by field, school, and even individual faculty preference. Some possible mentors / advisors like to talk with prospective students ahead of time. On two of my applications I was explicitly asked who I spoke with in the department. On others I was asked to list faculty (in order of preference even!) that I would be interested in working with. Some schools requested in essays to list faculty. In general, it s considered important to explain why a particular school: what about that school attracts you? What resources do they have that you want to take advantage of? What research that they are doing interests you? Faculty profiles and department websites are useful for this, but far from complete. A co-worker suggested I contact someone who, based on their profile, I shared no research interests with. However, we talked and it turns out we had things in common! In general, colleagues, peers, other academics, and friends were the best resource I had for investigating schools and potential faculty. I also went to some Q&A sessions / office hours run by schools / departments / labs. Some really cool people wrote blog posts and / or Tweets soliciting grad students. These are great. Sometimes the people you want to work with aren t taking grad students. Most schools I looked at did not maintain lists of who is taking on grad students starting in the fall, but I think two did. Sometimes I contacted people and got back Sorry, not taking on anyone this year. Try $OtherProfessor. This was actually really helpful! But, it s a downer to learn you re not going to get to work with one of your academic heroes because the timing is wrong. It s expensive and waivers might not help. Most applications in the US cost about $100 (USD). In some fields it s recommended you apply to 8-10 schools. That s a lot of money. I think everywhere I applied had a waiver you could apply for, but I generally didn t qualify. Some waivers require you to submit days to weeks ahead of the deadline. Others require that you participate in certain professional organizations, student organizations, or live locally to the school. These might be less useful than you were hoping. Everyone says your writing sample matters, but only five people will read it. This is what I was told anyway. I was told that my writing sample (which was 20 pages!) will probably only be read by faculty who are thinking of taking me on as an advisee. Someone else might pick it up and read it out of curiosity. I was told stories about how the right writing sample turned eh, maybe candidates into enthusiastic yeses. Everyone says letters of recommendation matter and it s extremely frustrating. My recommenders are all amazing people I have so much respect and admiration for it s wild. They re people I want to be like in my academic career. They also all got their letters in the day they were due. I had a moment where I genuinely thought I was just not going to go to grad school because of how close the deadline was. I ve been told that a great letter matters a lot, but meh letters don t hold you back as much as it sounds like they will. I ve been told that where a recommender is affiliated matters a lot. My personal statement radically changed based on school / program. Two of the schools I applied to had very specific requirements for their personal statements. Other schools wanted me to mostly talk about my research interests. One school had a 350 word personal statement, but a 1,000 word research statement. I wrote a research statement and a personal statement and then used them as the basis for what I submitted to different schools. Each application ended up with something pretty different, and not just because I talked about why each program was exciting to me in different ways. I also applied to different kinds of programs, and presented myself a differently depending on the program s focus and the faculty. For the more social science heavy programs I emphasized the empirical research I did, while for others I leaned more heavily on my philosophical background and theoretical interests. Oh, also, I was told to not use contractions. Getting rid of them in all my materials was super tedious. Diversity Statements are becoming more common. A few of my schools had diversity statements either required or optional. The purpose of these, I was told, is not to play some sort of marginalization Olympics, but to show that you can talk about diversity (and equity and inclusion, etc) without being offensive. It s just as valid to write about your own disability as the disability of a parent (though, ask their permission first). Triple check what s required. I made spreadsheets about what each school required. For example, some people wanted official transcripts, some unofficial. Some places required essays rather than generic personal statements, and I needed to build in enough time to manage that. Ask your friends to help. I hate asking for help, but applying for grad school made me shameless. I asked anyone I could to read over materials, proofread, or just talk with me about what I was writing. People picked up on things like you used the word technology five times in this one sentence and it looks real weird. Some schools have projects where current grad students will even look over materials!

9 December 2021

David Kalnischkies: APT for Advent of Code

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

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

3 December 2021

Petter Reinholdtsen: A Brazilian Portuguese translation of the book Made with Creative Commons

A few days ago, a productive translator started working on a new translation of the Made with Creative Commons book for Brazilian Portuguese. The translation take place on the Weblate web based translation system. Once the translation is complete and proof read, we can publish it on paper as well as in PDF, ePub and HTML format. The translation is already 16% complete, and if more people get involved I am conviced it can very quickly reach 100%. If you are interested in helping out with this or other translations of the Made with Creative Commons book, start translating on Weblate. There are partial translations available in Azerbaijani, Bengali, Brazilian Portuguese, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Polish, Simplified Chinese, Swedish, Thai and Ukrainian. The git repository for the book contain all source files needed to build the book for yourself. HTML editions to help with proof reading is also available. As usual, if you use Bitcoin and want to show your support of my activities, please send Bitcoin donations to my address 15oWEoG9dUPovwmUL9KWAnYRtNJEkP1u1b.

9 November 2021

Benjamin Mako Hill: The Hidden Costs of Requiring Accounts

Should online communities require people to create accounts before participating? This question has been a source of disagreement among people who start or manage online communities for decades. Requiring accounts makes some sense since users contributing without accounts are a common source of vandalism, harassment, and low quality content. In theory, creating an account can deter these kinds of attacks while still making it pretty quick and easy for newcomers to join. Also, an account requirement seems unlikely to affect contributors who already have accounts and are typically the source of most valuable contributions. Creating accounts might even help community members build deeper relationships and commitments to the group in ways that lead them to stick around longer and contribute more.
In a new paper published in Communication Research, I worked with Aaron Shaw provide an answer. We analyze data from natural experiments that occurred when 136 wikis on Fandom.com started requiring user accounts. Although we find strong evidence that the account requirements deterred low quality contributions, this came at a substantial (and usually hidden) cost: a much larger decrease in high quality contributions. Surprisingly, the cost includes lost contributions from community members who had accounts already, but whose activity appears to have been catalyzed by the (often low quality) contributions from those without accounts.
A version of this post was first posted on the Community Data Science blog. The full citation for the paper is: Hill, Benjamin Mako, and Aaron Shaw. 2020. The Hidden Costs of Requiring Accounts: Quasi-Experimental Evidence from Peer Production. Communication Research, 48 (6): 771 95. https://doi.org/10.1177/0093650220910345. If you do not have access to the paywalled journal, please check out this pre-print or get in touch with us. We have also released replication materials for the paper, including all the data and code used to conduct the analysis and compile the paper itself.

8 October 2021

Chris Lamb: Reproducible Builds: Increasing the Integrity of Software Supply Chains (2021)

I didn't blog about it at the time, but a paper I co-authored with Stefano Zacchiroli was accepted by IEEE Software in April of this year. Titled Reproducible Builds: Increasing the Integrity of Software Supply Chains, the abstract of the paper is as follows:
Although it is possible to increase confidence in Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) by reviewing its source code, trusting code is not the same as trusting its executable counterparts. These are typically built and distributed by third-party vendors with severe security consequences if their supply chains are compromised. In this paper, we present reproducible builds, an approach that can determine whether generated binaries correspond with their original source code. We first define the problem and then provide insight into the challenges of making real-world software build in a "reproducible" manner that is, when every build generates bit-for-bit identical results. Through the experience of the Reproducible Builds project making the Debian Linux distribution reproducible, we also describe the affinity between reproducibility and quality assurance (QA).
The full text of the paper can be found in PDF format and should appear, with an alternative layout, within a forthcoming issue of the physical IEEE Software magazine.

4 October 2021

Paul Wise: FLOSS Activities September 2021

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

Changes

Issues

Review

Administration
  • Debian BTS: reopened bugs closed by a spammer
  • Debian wiki: unblock IP addresses, approve accounts

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

Sponsors The purple-discord/harmony/pyemd/librecaptcha/esprima-python work was sponsored by my employer. All other work was done on a volunteer basis.

21 September 2021

Russell Coker: Links September 2021

Matthew Garrett wrote an interesting and insightful blog post about the license of software developed or co-developed by machine-learning systems [1]. One of his main points is that people in the FOSS community should aim for less copyright protection. The USENIX ATC 21/OSDI 21 Joint Keynote Address titled It s Time for Operating Systems to Rediscover Hardware has some inssightful points to make [2]. Timothy Roscoe makes some incendiaty points but backs them up with evidence. Is Linux really an OS? I recommend that everyone who s interested in OS design watch this lecture. Cory Doctorow wrote an interesting set of 6 articles about Disneyland, ride pricing, and crowd control [3]. He proposes some interesting ideas for reforming Disneyland. Benjamin Bratton wrote an insightful article about how philosophy failed in the pandemic [4]. He focuses on the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben who has a history of writing stupid articles that match Qanon talking points but with better language skills. Arstechnica has an interesting article about penetration testers extracting an encryption key from the bus used by the TPM on a laptop [5]. It s not a likely attack in the real world as most networks can be broken more easily by other methods. But it s still interesting to learn about how the technology works. The Portalist has an article about David Brin s Startide Rising series of novels and his thought s on the concept of Uplift (which he denies inventing) [6]. Jacobin has an insightful article titled You re Not Lazy But Your Boss Wants You to Think You Are [7]. Making people identify as lazy is bad for them and bad for getting them to do work. But this is the first time I ve seen it described as a facet of abusive capitalism. Jacobin has an insightful article about free public transport [8]. Apparently there are already many regions that have free public transport (Tallinn the Capital of Estonia being one example). Fare free public transport allows bus drivers to concentrate on driving not taking fares, removes the need for ticket inspectors, and generally provides a better service. It allows passengers to board buses and trams faster thus reducing traffic congestion and encourages more people to use public transport instead of driving and reduces road maintenance costs. Interesting research from Israel about bypassing facial ID [9]. Apparently they can make a set of 9 images that can pass for over 40% of the population. I didn t expect facial recognition to be an effective form of authentication, but I didn t expect it to be that bad. Edward Snowden wrote an insightful blog post about types of conspiracies [10]. Kevin Rudd wrote an informative article about Sky News in Australia [11]. We need to have a Royal Commission now before we have our own 6th Jan event. Steve from Big Mess O Wires wrote an informative blog post about USB-C and 4K 60Hz video [12]. Basically you can t have a single USB-C hub do 4K 60Hz video and be a USB 3.x hub unless you have compression software running on your PC (slow and only works on Windows), or have DisplayPort 1.4 or Thunderbolt (both not well supported). All of the options are not well documented on online store pages so lots of people will get unpleasant surprises when their deliveries arrive. Computers suck. Steinar H. Gunderson wrote an informative blog post about GaN technology for smaller power supplies [13]. A 65W USB-C PSU that fits the usual wall wart form factor is an interesting development.

12 September 2021

Vincent Bernat: Short feedback on Cisco pyATS and Genie Parser

Cisco pyATS is a framework for network automation and testing. It includes, among other things, an open-source multi-vendor set of parsers and models, Genie Parser. It features 2700 parsers for various commands over many network OS. On the paper, this seems a great tool!
>>> from genie.conf.base import Device
>>> device = Device("router", os="iosxr")
>>> # Hack to parse outputs without connecting to a device
>>> device.custom.setdefault("abstraction",  )["order"] = ["os", "platform"]
>>> cmd = "show route ipv4 unicast"
>>> output = """
... Tue Oct 29 21:29:10.924 UTC
...
... O    10.13.110.0/24 [110/2] via 10.12.110.1, 5d23h, GigabitEthernet0/0/0/0.110
... """
>>> device.parse(cmd, output=output)
 'vrf':  'default':  'address_family':  'ipv4':  'routes':  '10.13.110.0/24':  'route': '10.13.110.0/24',
       'active': True,
       'route_preference': 110,
       'metric': 2,
       'source_protocol': 'ospf',
       'source_protocol_codes': 'O',
       'next_hop':  'next_hop_list':  1:  'index': 1,
          'next_hop': '10.12.110.1',
          'outgoing_interface': 'GigabitEthernet0/0/0/0.110',
          'updated': '5d23h' 
First deception: pyATS is closed-source with some exceptions. This is quite annoying if you run into some issues outside Genie Parser. For example, although pyATS is using the ssh command, it cannot leverage my ssh_config file: pyATS resolves hostnames before providing them to ssh. There is no plan to open source pyATS. Then, Genie Parser has two problems:
  1. The data models used are dependent on the vendor and OS, despite the documentation saying otherwise. For example, the data model used for IPv4 interfaces is different between NX-OS and IOS-XR.
  2. The parsers rely on line-by-line regular expressions to extract data and some Python code as glue. This is fragile and may break silently.
To illustrate the second point, let s assume the output of show ipv4 vrf all interface is:
  Loopback10 is Up, ipv4 protocol is Up
    Vrf is default (vrfid 0x60000000)
    Internet protocol processing disabled
  Loopback30 is Up, ipv4 protocol is Down [VRF in FWD reference]
    Vrf is ran (vrfid 0x0)
    Internet address is 203.0.113.17/32
    MTU is 1500 (1500 is available to IP)
    Helper address is not set
    Directed broadcast forwarding is disabled
    Outgoing access list is not set
    Inbound  common access list is not set, access list is not set
    Proxy ARP is disabled
    ICMP redirects are never sent
    ICMP unreachables are always sent
    ICMP mask replies are never sent
    Table Id is 0x0
Because the regular expression to parse an interface name does not expect the extra data after the interface state, Genie Parser ignores the line starting the definition of Loopback30 and parses the output to this structure:1
 
  "Loopback10":  
    "int_status": "up",
    "oper_status": "up",
    "vrf": "ran",
    "vrf_id": "0x0",
    "ipv4":  
      "203.0.113.17/32":  
        "ip": "203.0.113.17",
        "prefix_length": "32"
       ,
      "mtu": 1500,
      "mtu_available": 1500,
      "broadcast_forwarding": "disabled",
      "proxy_arp": "disabled",
      "icmp_redirects": "never sent",
      "icmp_unreachables": "always sent",
      "icmp_replies": "never sent",
      "table_id": "0x0"
     
   
 
While this bug is simple to fix, this is an uphill battle. Any existing or future slight variation in the output of a command could trigger another similar undetected bug, despite the extended test coverage. I have reported and fixed several other silent parsing errors: #516, #529, and #530. A more robust alternative would have been to use TextFSM and to trigger a warning when some output is not recognized, like Batfish, a configuration analysis tool, does. In the future, we should rely on YANG for data extraction, but it is currently not widely supported. SNMP is still a valid possibility but much information is not accessible through this protocol. In the meantime, I would advise you to only use Genie Parser with caution.

  1. As an exercise, the astute reader is asked to write the code to extract the IPv4 from this structure.

6 September 2021

Vincent Bernat: Switching to the i3 window manager

I have been using the awesome window manager for 10 years. It is a tiling window manager, configurable and extendable with the Lua language. Using a general-purpose programming language to configure every aspect is a double-edged sword. Due to laziness and the apparent difficulty of adapting my configuration about 3000 lines to newer releases, I was stuck with the 3.4 version, whose last release is from 2013. It was time for a rewrite. Instead, I have switched to the i3 window manager, lured by the possibility to migrate to Wayland and Sway later with minimal pain. Using an embedded interpreter for configuration is not as important to me as it was in the past: it brings both complexity and brittleness.
i3 dual screen setup
Dual screen desktop running i3, Emacs, some terminals, including a Quake console, Firefox, Polybar as the status bar, and Dunst as the notification daemon.
The window manager is only one part of a desktop environment. There are several options for the other components. I am also introducing them in this post.

i3: the window manager i3 aims to be a minimal tiling window manager. Its documentation can be read from top to bottom in less than an hour. i3 organize windows in a tree. Each non-leaf node contains one or several windows and has an orientation and a layout. This information arbitrates the window positions. i3 features three layouts: split, stacking, and tabbed. They are demonstrated in the below screenshot:
Example of layouts
Demonstration of the layouts available in i3. The main container is split horizontally. The first child is split vertically. The second one is tabbed. The last one is stacking.
Tree representation of the previous screenshot
Tree representation of the previous screenshot.
Most of the other tiling window managers, including the awesome window manager, use predefined layouts. They usually feature a large area for the main window and another area divided among the remaining windows. These layouts can be tuned a bit, but you mostly stick to a couple of them. When a new window is added, the behavior is quite predictable. Moreover, you can cycle through the various windows without thinking too much as they are ordered. i3 is more flexible with its ability to build any layout on the fly, it can feel quite overwhelming as you need to visualize the tree in your head. At first, it is not unusual to find yourself with a complex tree with many useless nested containers. Moreover, you have to navigate windows using directions. It takes some time to get used to. I set up a split layout for Emacs and a few terminals, but most of the other workspaces are using a tabbed layout. I don t use the stacking layout. You can find many scripts trying to emulate other tiling window managers but I did try to get my setup pristine of these tentatives and get a chance to familiarize myself. i3 can also save and restore layouts, which is quite a powerful feature. My configuration is quite similar to the default one and has less than 200 lines.

i3 companion: the missing bits i3 philosophy is to keep a minimal core and let the user implements missing features using the IPC protocol:
Do not add further complexity when it can be avoided. We are generally happy with the feature set of i3 and instead focus on fixing bugs and maintaining it for stability. New features will therefore only be considered if the benefit outweighs the additional complexity, and we encourage users to implement features using the IPC whenever possible. Introduction to the i3 window manager
While this is not as powerful as an embedded language, it is enough for many cases. Moreover, as high-level features may be opinionated, delegating them to small, loosely coupled pieces of code keeps them more maintainable. Libraries exist for this purpose in several languages. Users have published many scripts to extend i3: automatic layout and window promotion to mimic the behavior of other tiling window managers, window swallowing to put a new app on top of the terminal launching it, and cycling between windows with Alt+Tab. Instead of maintaining a script for each feature, I have centralized everything into a single Python process, i3-companion using asyncio and the i3ipc-python library. Each feature is self-contained into a function. It implements the following components:
make a workspace exclusive to an application
When a workspace contains Emacs or Firefox, I would like other applications to move to another workspace, except for the terminal which is allowed to intrude into any workspace. The workspace_exclusive() function monitors new windows and moves them if needed to an empty workspace or to one with the same application already running.
implement a Quake console
The quake_console() function implements a drop-down console available from any workspace. It can be toggled with Mod+ . This is implemented as a scratchpad window.
back and forth workspace switching on the same output
With the workspace back_and_forth command, we can ask i3 to switch to the previous workspace. However, this feature is not restricted to the current output. I prefer to have one keybinding to switch to the workspace on the next output and one keybinding to switch to the previous workspace on the same output. This behavior is implemented in the previous_workspace() function by keeping a per-output history of the focused workspaces.
create a new empty workspace or move a window to an empty workspace
To create a new empty workspace or move a window to an empty workspace, you have to locate a free slot and use workspace number 4 or move container to workspace number 4. The new_workspace() function finds a free number and use it as the target workspace.
restart some services on output change
When adding or removing an output, some actions need to be executed: refresh the wallpaper, restart some components unable to adapt their configuration on their own, etc. i3 triggers an event for this purpose. The output_update() function also takes an extra step to coalesce multiple consecutive events and to check if there is a real change with the low-level library xcffib.
I will detail the other features as this post goes on. On the technical side, each function is decorated with the events it should react to:
@on(CommandEvent("previous-workspace"), I3Event.WORKSPACE_FOCUS)
async def previous_workspace(i3, event):
    """Go to previous workspace on the same output."""
The CommandEvent() event class is my way to send a command to the companion, using either i3-msg -t send_tick or binding a key to a nop command. The latter is used to avoid spawning a shell and a i3-msg process just to send a message. The companion listens to binding events and checks if this is a nop command.
bindsym $mod+Tab nop "previous-workspace"
There are other decorators to avoid code duplication: @debounce() to coalesce multiple consecutive calls, @static() to define a static variable, and @retry() to retry a function on failure. The whole script is a bit more than 1000 lines. I think this is worth a read as I am quite happy with the result.

dunst: the notification daemon Unlike the awesome window manager, i3 does not come with a built-in notification system. Dunst is a lightweight notification daemon. I am running a modified version with HiDPI support for X11 and recursive icon lookup. The i3 companion has a helper function, notify(), to send notifications using DBus. container_info() and workspace_info() uses it to display information about the container or the tree for a workspace.
Notification showing i3 tree for a workspace
Notification showing i3 s tree for a workspace

polybar: the status bar i3 bundles i3bar, a versatile status bar, but I have opted for Polybar. A wrapper script runs one instance for each monitor. The first module is the built-in support for i3 workspaces. To not have to remember which application is running in a workspace, the i3 companion renames workspaces to include an icon for each application. This is done in the workspace_rename() function. The icons are from the Font Awesome project. I maintain a mapping between applications and icons. This is a bit cumbersome but it looks great.
i3 workspaces in Polybar
i3 workspaces in Polybar
For CPU, memory, brightness, battery, disk, and audio volume, I am relying on the built-in modules. Polybar s wrapper script generates the list of filesystems to monitor and they get only displayed when available space is low. The battery widget turns red and blinks slowly when running out of power. Check my Polybar configuration for more details.
Various modules for Polybar
Polybar displaying various information: CPU usage, memory usage, screen brightness, battery status, Bluetooth status (with a connected headset), network status (connected to a wireless network and to a VPN), notification status, and speaker volume.
For Bluetooh, network, and notification statuses, I am using Polybar s ipc module: the next version of Polybar can receive an arbitrary text on an IPC socket. The module is defined with a single hook to be executed at the start to restore the latest status.
[module/network]
type = custom/ipc
hook-0 = cat $XDG_RUNTIME_DIR/i3/network.txt 2> /dev/null
initial = 1
It can be updated with polybar-msg action "#network.send.XXXX". In the i3 companion, the @polybar() decorator takes the string returned by a function and pushes the update through the IPC socket. The i3 companion reacts to DBus signals to update the Bluetooth and network icons. The @on() decorator accepts a DBusSignal() object:
@on(
    StartEvent,
    DBusSignal(
        path="/org/bluez",
        interface="org.freedesktop.DBus.Properties",
        member="PropertiesChanged",
        signature="sa sv as",
        onlyif=lambda args: (
            args[0] == "org.bluez.Device1"
            and "Connected" in args[1]
            or args[0] == "org.bluez.Adapter1"
            and "Powered" in args[1]
        ),
    ),
)
@retry(2)
@debounce(0.2)
@polybar("bluetooth")
async def bluetooth_status(i3, event, *args):
    """Update bluetooth status for Polybar."""
The middle of the bar is occupied by the date and a weather forecast. The latest also uses the IPC mechanism, but the source is a Python script triggered by a timer.
Date and weather in Polybar
Current date and weather forecast for the day in Polybar. The data is retrieved with the OpenWeather API.
I don t use the system tray integrated with Polybar. The embedded icons usually look horrible and they all behave differently. A few years back, Gnome has removed the system tray. Most of the problems are fixed by the DBus-based Status Notifier Item protocol also known as Application Indicators or Ayatana Indicators for GNOME. However, Polybar does not support this protocol. In the i3 companion, The implementation of Bluetooth and network icons, including displaying notifications on change, takes about 200 lines. I got to learn a bit about how DBus works and I get exactly the info I want.

picom: the compositor I like having slightly transparent backgrounds for terminals and to reduce the opacity of unfocused windows. This requires a compositor.1 picom is a lightweight compositor. It works well for me, but it may need some tweaking depending on your graphic card.2 Unlike the awesome window manager, i3 does not handle transparency, so the compositor needs to decide by itself the opacity of each window. Check my configuration for details.

systemd: the service manager I use systemd to start i3 and the various services around it. My xsession script only sets some environment variables and lets systemd handles everything else. Have a look at this article from Micha G ral for the rationale. Notably, each component can be easily restarted and their logs are not mangled inside the ~/.xsession-errors file.3 I am using a two-stage setup: i3.service depends on xsession.target to start services before i3:
[Unit]
Description=X session
BindsTo=graphical-session.target
Wants=autorandr.service
Wants=dunst.socket
Wants=inputplug.service
Wants=picom.service
Wants=pulseaudio.socket
Wants=policykit-agent.service
Wants=redshift.service
Wants=spotify-clean.timer
Wants=ssh-agent.service
Wants=xiccd.service
Wants=xsettingsd.service
Wants=xss-lock.service
Then, i3 executes the second stage by invoking the i3-session.target:
[Unit]
Description=i3 session
BindsTo=graphical-session.target
Wants=wallpaper.service
Wants=wallpaper.timer
Wants=polybar-weather.service
Wants=polybar-weather.timer
Wants=polybar.service
Wants=i3-companion.service
Wants=misc-x.service
Have a look on my configuration files for more details.

rofi: the application launcher Rofi is an application launcher. Its appearance can be customized through a CSS-like language and it comes with several themes. Have a look at my configuration for mine.
Rofi as an application launcher
Rofi as an application launcher
It can also act as a generic menu application. I have a script to control a media player and another one to select the wifi network. It is quite a flexible application.
Rofi as a wifi network selector
Rofi to select a wireless network

xss-lock and i3lock: the screen locker i3lock is a simple screen locker. xss-lock invokes it reliably on inactivity or before a system suspend. For inactivity, it uses the XScreenSaver events. The delay is configured using the xset s command. The locker can be invoked immediately with xset s activate. X11 applications know how to prevent the screen saver from running. I have also developed a small dimmer application that is executed 20 seconds before the locker to give me a chance to move the mouse if I am not away.4 Have a look at my configuration script.
Demonstration of xss-lock, xss-dimmer and i3lock with a 4 speedup.

The remaining components
  • autorandr is a tool to detect the connected display, match them against a set of profiles, and configure them with xrandr.
  • inputplug executes a script for each new mouse and keyboard plugged. This is quite useful to load the appropriate the keyboard map. See my configuration.
  • xsettingsd provides settings to X11 applications, not unlike xrdb but it notifies applications for changes. The main use is to configure the Gtk and DPI settings. See my article on HiDPI support on Linux with X11.
  • Redshift adjusts the color temperature of the screen according to the time of day.
  • maim is a utility to take screenshots. I use Prt Scn to trigger a screenshot of a window or a specific area and Mod+Prt Scn to capture the whole desktop to a file. Check the helper script for details.
  • I have a collection of wallpapers I rotate every hour. A script selects them using advanced machine learning algorithms and stitches them together on multi-screen setups. The selected wallpaper is reused by i3lock.

  1. Apart from the eye candy, a compositor also helps to get tear-free video playbacks.
  2. My configuration works with both Haswell (2014) and Whiskey Lake (2018) Intel GPUs. It also works with AMD GPU based on the Polaris chipset (2017).
  3. You cannot manage two different displays this way e.g. :0 and :1. In the first implementation, I did try to parametrize each service with the associated display, but this is useless: there is only one DBus user session and many services rely on it. For example, you cannot run two notification daemons.
  4. I have only discovered later that XSecureLock ships such a dimmer with a similar implementation. But mine has a cool countdown!

3 September 2021

Dirk Eddelbuettel: RcppSMC 0.2.4 on CRAN: Even More GSoC !!

A brand new release 0.2.4 of the RcppSMC package arrived on CRAN earlier today, with a dual delay for CRAN closing for a well-earned break, and then being overwhelmed when reopening. Other than that the processing was again versy smooth. RcppSMC provides Rcpp-based bindings to R for the Sequential Monte Carlo Template Classes (SMCTC) by Adam Johansen described in his JSS article. Sequential Monte Carlo is also referred to as Particle Filter in some contexts. The package started when I put some Rcpp bindings together based on Adam s paper and library. It grew when Adam and I supervised Leah South during the 2017 iteration of the Google Summer of Code. And now it grew again as we have Adam, Leah and myself looking over the shoulders of Ilya Zarubin who did very fine work during the 2021 iteration of the Google Summer of Code that just concluded! So we are now GSoC squared! This release is effectively all work by Ilya and summarized below.

Changes in RcppSMC version 0.2.4 (2021-09-01)
  • Multiple Sequential Monte Carlo extensions (Ilya Zarubin as part of Google Summer of Code 2021)
    • Provide informative user output (convergence diagnostics) for PMMH example #50 (Ilya in #50 and #52 addressing #25, bullet point 5)
    • Support for tracking of ancestral lines for base sampler class (Ilya in #56)
    • Support for conditional SMC via derived conditionalSampler class (Ilya in #60)
  • Add URL and BugReports to DESCRIPTION (Dirk in #53)

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

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

1 September 2021

Holger Levsen: 20210901-Debian-Reunion-Hamburg-2021

Debian Reunion Hamburg 2021 Moin! I'm glad to finally be able to send out this invitation for the "Debian Reunion Hamburg 2021" taking place at the venue of the 2018 & 2019 MiniDebConfs! The event will run from Monday, Sep 27 2021 until Friday Oct 1 2021, with Sunday, Sep 26 2021 as arrival day. IOW, Debian people meet again in Hamburg. The exact format is less defined and structured than previous years, probably we will just be hacking from Monday to Wednesday, have talks on Thursday and a nice day trip on Friday. Please read https://wiki.debian.org/DebianEvents/de/2021/DebianReunionHamburg if you intend to attend, especially Probably having some video coverage would be very nice to have, though due to this very late announcement I'm not sure we'll really have talks and the need for video. The event is in 3.5 weeks and will take place, either as a very small hack meeting, or somewhat bigger. We certainly want videoing if we have talks - and if you could help with this that would be very great! Last and definitly not least, financial sponsors for the event would be great. If you can support the "Debian Reunion Hamburg 2021", please contact me directly! Now, late, after weeks of wondering if and how to do this event, I'm finally and very much looking forward to it, to meet some Debian folks at least & for some shared Debian hacking. Definitly not the 2021 event I had in mind after the 2019 one, but something I feel I can responsibly do & enjoy. So, hoping to see some of you soon & most of you later! ;-) Sad but true, and at least something for some people. We should all do more local events. And more online events too, eg I think this is a great idea too: https://wiki.debian.org/DebianEvents/internet/2021/MiniDebConfOnlineBookworm See you!

31 August 2021

Benjamin Mako Hill: Returning to DebConf

I first started using Debian sometime in the mid 90s and started contributing as a developer and package maintainer more than two decades years ago. My first very first scholarly publication, collaborative work led by Martin Michlmayr that I did when I was still an undergrad at Hampshire College, was about quality and the reliance on individuals in Debian. To this day, many of my closest friends are people I first met through Debian. I met many of them at Debian s annual conference DebConf. Given my strong connections to Debian, I find it somewhat surprising that although all of my academic research has focused on peer production, free culture, and free software, I haven t actually published any Debian related research since that first paper with Martin in 2003! So it felt like coming full circle when, several days ago, I was able to sit in the virtual DebConf audience and watch two of my graduate student advisees Kaylea Champion and Wm Salt Hale present their research about Debian at DebConf21. Salt presented his masters thesis work which tried to understand the social dynamics behind organizational resilience among free software projects. Kaylea presented her work on a new technique she developed to identifying at risk software packages that are lower quality than we might hope given their popularity (you can read more about Kaylea s project in our blog post from earlier this year). If you missed either presentation, check out the blog post my research collective put up or watch the videos below. If you want to hear about new work we re doing including work on Debian you should follow our research group blog, and/or follow or engage with us in the Fediverse (@communitydata@social.coop), or on Twitter (@comdatasci). And if you re interested in joining us perhaps to do more research on FLOSS and/or Debian and/or a graduate degree of your own? please be in touch with me directly!
Wm Salt Hale s presentation plus Q&A. (WebM available)
Kaylea Champion s presentation plus Q&A. (WebM available)

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