Search Results: "paul"

2 December 2021

Paul Tagliamonte: Processing IQ data formats (Part 1/5)

This post is part of a series called "PACKRAT". If this is the first post you've found, it'd be worth reading the intro post first and then looking over all posts in the series.
When working with SDRs, information about the signals your radio is receiving are communicated by streams of IQ data. IQ is short for In-phase and Quadrature , which means 90 degrees out of phase. Values in the IQ stream are commonly treated as complex numbers because it helps greatly when processing the IQ data for meaning. I won t get too deep into what IQ is or why complex numbers (mostly since I don t think I fully understand it well enough to explain it yet), but here s some basics in case this is your first interaction with IQ data before going off and reading more.
Before we get started at any point, if you feel lost in this post, it's OK to take a break to do a bit of learning elsewhere in the internet. I'm still new to this, so I'm sure my overview in one paragraph here won't help clarify things too much. This took me months to sort out on my own. It's not you, really! I particularly enjoyed reading visual-dsp.switchb.org when it came to learning about how IQ represents signals, and Software-Defined Radio for Engineers for a more general reference.
Each value in the stream is taken at a precisely spaced sampling interval (called the sampling rate of the radio). Jitter in that sampling interval, or a drift in the requested and actual sampling rate (usually represented in PPM, or parts per million how many samples out of one million are missing) can cause errors in frequency. In the case of a PPM error, one radio may think it s 100.1MHz and the other may think it s 100.2MHz, and jitter will result in added noise in the resulting stream. A single IQ sample is both the real and imaginary values, together. The complex number (both parts) is the sample. The number of samples per second is the number of real and imaginary value pairs per second. Each sample is reading the electrical energy coming off the antenna at that exact time instant. We re looking to see how that goes up and down over time to determine what frequencies we re observing around us. If the IQ stream is only real-valued measures (e.g., float values rather than complex values reading voltage from a wire), you can still send and receive signals, but those signals will be mirrored across your 0Hz boundary. That means if you re tuned to 100MHz, and you have a nearby transmitter at 99.9MHz, you d see it at 100.1MHz. If you want to get an intuitive understanding of this concept before getting into the heavy math, a good place to start is looking at how Quadrature encoders work. Using complex numbers means we can see up in frequency as well as down in frequency, and understand that those are different signals. The reason why we need negative frequencies is that our 0Hz is the center of our SDR s tuned frequency, not actually at 0Hz in nature. Generally speaking, it s doing loads in hardware (and firmware!) to mix the raw RF signals with a local oscillator to a frequency that can be sampled at the requested rate (fundamentally the same concept as a superheterodyne receiver), so a frequency of -10MHz means that signal is 10 MHz below the center of our SDR s tuned frequency. The sampling rate dictates the amount of frequency representable in the data stream. You ll sometimes see this called the Nyquist frequency. The Nyquist Frequency is one half of the sampling rate. Intuitively, if you think about the amount of bandwidth observable as being 1:1 with the sampling rate of the stream, and the middle of your bandwidth is 0 Hz, you would only have enough space to go up in frequency for half of your bandwidth or half of your sampling rate. Same for going down in frequency.

Float 32 / Complex 64 IQ samples that are being processed by software are commonly processed as an interleaved pair of 32 bit floating point numbers, or a 64 bit complex number. The first float32 is the real value, and the second is the imaginary value.
I#0
Q#0
I#1
Q#1
I#2
Q#2
The complex number 1+1i is represented as 1.0 1.0 and the complex number -1-1i is represented as -1.0 -1.0. Unless otherwise specified, all the IQ samples and pseudocode to follow assumes interleaved float32 IQ data streams. Example interleaved float32 file (10Hz Wave at 1024 Samples per Second)

RTL-SDR IQ samples from the RTL-SDR are encoded as a stream of interleaved unsigned 8 bit integers (uint8 or u8). The first sample is the real (in-phase or I) value, and the second is the imaginary (quadrature or Q) value. Together each pair of values makes up a complex number at a specific time instant.
I#0
Q#0
I#1
Q#1
I#2
Q#2
The complex number 1+1i is represented as 0xFF 0xFF and the complex number -1-1i is represented as 0x00 0x00. The complex number 0+0i is not easily representable since half of 0xFF is 127.5.
Complex Number Representation
1+1i []uint8 0xFF, 0xFF
-1+1i []uint8 0x00, 0xFF
-1-1i []uint8 0x00, 0x00
0+0i []uint8 0x80, 0x80 or []uint8 0x7F, 0x7F
And finally, here s some pseudocode to convert an rtl-sdr style IQ sample to a floating point complex number:
...
in = []uint8 0x7F, 0x7F 
real = (float(iq[0])-127.5)/127.5
imag = (float(iq[1])-127.5)/127.5
out = complex(real, imag)
....
Example interleaved uint8 file (10Hz Wave at 1024 Samples per Second)

HackRF IQ samples from the HackRF are encoded as a stream of interleaved signed 8 bit integers (int8 or i8). The first sample is the real (in-phase or I) value, and the second is the imaginary (quadrature or Q) value. Together each pair of values makes up a complex number at a specific time instant.
I#0
Q#0
I#1
Q#1
I#2
Q#2
Formats that use signed integers do have one quirk due to two s complement, which is that the smallest negative number representable s absolute value is one more than the largest positive number. int8 values can range between -128 to 127, which means there s bit of ambiguity in how +1, 0 and -1 are represented. Either you can create perfectly symmetric ranges of values between +1 and -1, but 0 is not representable, have more possible values in the negative range, or allow values above (or just below) the maximum in the range to be allowed. Within my implementation, my approach has been to scale based on the max integer value of the type, so the lowest possible signed value is actually slightly smaller than -1. Generally, if your code is seeing values that low the difference in step between -1 and slightly less than -1 isn t very significant, even with only 8 bits. Just a curiosity to be aware of.
Complex Number Representation
1+1i []int8 127, 127
-1+1i []int8 -128, 127
-1-1i []int8 -128, -128
0+0i []int8 0, 0
And finally, here s some pseudocode to convert a hackrf style IQ sample to a floating point complex number:
...
in = []int8 -5, 112 
real = (float32(in[0]))/127
imag = (float32(in[1]))/127
out = complex(real, imag)
....
Example interleaved int8 file (10Hz Wave at 1024 Samples per Second)

PlutoSDR IQ samples from the PlutoSDR are encoded as a stream of interleaved signed 16 bit integers (int16 or i16). The first sample is the real (in-phase or I) value, and the second is the imaginary (quadrature or Q) value. Together each pair of values makes up a complex number at a specific time instant. Almost no SDRs capture at a 16 bit depth natively, often you ll see 12 bit integers (as is the case with the PlutoSDR) being sent around as 16 bit integers. This leads to the next possible question, which is are values LSB or MSB aligned? The PlutoSDR sends data LSB aligned (which is to say, the largest real or imaginary value in the stream will not exceed 4095), but expects data being transmitted to be MSB aligned (which is to say the lowest set bit possible is the 5th bit in the number, or values can only be set in increments of 16). As a result, the quirk observed with the HackRF (that the range of values between 0 and -1 is different than the range of values between 0 and +1) does not impact us so long as we do not use the whole 16 bit range.
Complex Number Representation
1+1i []int16 32767, 32767
-1+1i []int16 -32768, 32767
-1-1i []int16 -32768, -32768
0+0i []int16 0, 0
And finally, here s some pseudocode to convert a PlutoSDR style IQ sample to a floating point complex number, including moving the sample from LSB to MSB aligned:
...
in = []int16 -15072, 496 
// shift left 4 bits (16 bits - 12 bits = 4 bits)
 // to move from LSB aligned to MSB aligned.
 in[0] = in[0] << 4
in[1] = in[1] << 4
real = (float32(in[0]))/32767
imag = (float32(in[1]))/32767
out = complex(real, imag)
....
Example interleaved i16 file (10Hz Wave at 1024 Samples per Second)

Next Steps Now that we can read (and write!) IQ data, we can get started first on the transmitter, which we can (in turn) use to test receiving our own BPSK signal, coming next in Part 2!

Paul Tagliamonte: Intro to PACKRAT (Part 0/5)

Hello! Welcome. I m so thrilled you re here. Some of you may know this (as I ve written about in the past), but if you re new to my RF travels, I ve spent nights and weekends over the last two years doing some self directed learning on how radios work. I ve gone from a very basic understanding of wireless communications, all the way through the process of learning about and implementing a set of libraries to modulate and demodulate data using my now formidable stash of SDRs. I ve been implementing all of the RF processing code from first principals and purely based on other primitives I ve written myself to prove to myself that I understand each concept before moving on. I ve just finished a large personal milestone I was able to successfully send a cURL HTTP request through a network interface into my stack of libraries, through my own BPSK implementation, framed in my own artisanal hand crafted Layer 2 framing scheme, demodulated by my code on the other end, and sent into a Linux network interface. The combination of the Layer 1 PHY and Layer 2 Data Link is something that I ve been calling PACKRAT .
$ curl http://44.127.0.8:8000/
* Connected to 44.127.0.8 (44.127.0.8) port 8000 (#0)
> GET / HTTP/1.1
> Host: localhost:1313
> User-Agent: curl/7.79.1
> Accept: */*
>
* Mark bundle as not supporting multiuse
* HTTP/1.0, assume close after body
< HTTP/1.0 200 OK
< Content-Length: 236
<
____ _ ____ _ ______ _ _____
  _ \ / \ / ___   / / _ \ / \ _ _ 
   _) / _ \      ' /   _)   / _ \    
  __/ ___ \  ___  . \  _ < / ___ \   
 _  /_/ \_\____ _ \_\_  \_\/_/ \_\_ 
* Closing connection 0
In an effort to pay it forward to thank my friends for their time walking me through huge chunks of this, and those who publish their work, I m now spending some time documenting how I was able to implement this protocol. I would never have gotten as far as I did without the incredible patience and kindness of friends spending time working with me, and educators publishing their hard work for the world to learn from. Please accept my deepest thanks and appreciation. The PACKRAT posts are written from the perspective of a novice radio engineer, but experienced software engineer. I ll be leaving out a lot of the technical details on the software end and specific software implementation, focusing on the general gist of the implementation in the radio critical components exclusively. The idea here is this is intended to be a framework a jumping off point for those who are interested in doing this themselves. I hope that this series of blog posts will come to be useful to those who embark on this incredibly rewarding journey after me. This is the first post in the series, and it will contain links to all the posts to follow. This is going to be the landing page I link others to as I publish additional posts, I ll be updating the links on this page. The posts will also grow a tag, which you can check back on, or follow along with here.

Tau Tau ( ) is a much more natural expression of the mathematical constant used for circles which I use rather than Pi ( ). You may see me use Tau in code or text Tau is the same as 2 , so if you see a Tau and don t know what to do, feel free to mentally or textually replace it with 2 . I just hate always writing 2 everywhere and only using (or worse yet 2 /2) .when I mean 1/2 of a circle (or, /2).

Psuedo-code Basicaly none of the code contained in this series is valid on its own. It s very lightly basically Go, and only meant to express concepts in term of software. The examples in the post shouldn t be taken on their own as working snippits to process IQ data, but rather, be used to guide implementations to process the data in question. I d love to invite all readers to try to play at home with the examples, and try and work through the example data captures!

Captures Speaking of captures, I ve included live on-the-air captures of PACKRAT packets, as transmitted from my implementation, in different parts of these posts. This means you can go through the process of building code to parse and receive PACKRAT packets, and then build a transmitter that is validated by your receiver. It s my hope folks will follow along at home and experiment with software to process RF data on their own!

Posts in this series

1 December 2021

Paul Wise: FLOSS Activities November 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: unarchive/reopen/triage bugs for reintroduced packages
  • Debian wiki: unblock IP addresses, approve accounts

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

Sponsors The SPTAG, visdom, gensim, purple-discord, plac, fail2ban, uvloop work was sponsored by my employer. All other work was done on a volunteer basis.

22 November 2021

Paul Tagliamonte: Be careful when using vxlan!

I ve spent a bit of time playing with vxlan - which is very neat, but also incredibly insecure by default.When using vxlan, be very careful to understand how the host is connected to the internet. The kernel will listen on all interfaces for packets, which means hosts accessable to VMs it s hosting (e.g., by bridged interface or a private LAN will accept packets from VMs and inject them into arbitrary VLANs, even ones it s not on.I reported this to the kernel mailing list to no reply with more technical details.The tl;dr is:
  $ ip link add vevx0a type veth peer name vevx0z
  $ ip addr add 169.254.0.2/31 dev vevx0a
  $ ip addr add 169.254.0.3/31 dev vevx0z
  $ ip link add vxlan0 type vxlan id 42 \
    local 169.254.0.2 dev vevx0a dstport 4789
  $ # Note the above 'dev' and 'local' ip are set here
  $ ip addr add 10.10.10.1/24 dev vxlan0
results in vxlan0 listening on all interfaces, not just vevx0z or vevx0a. To prove it to myself, I spun up a docker container (using a completely different network bridge with no connection to any of the interfaces above), and ran a Go program to send VXLAN UDP packets to my bridge host:
$ docker run -it --rm -v $(pwd):/mnt debian:unstable /mnt/spam 172.17.0.1:4789
$
which results in packets getting injected into my vxlan interface
$ sudo tcpdump -e -i vxlan0
tcpdump: verbose output suppressed, use -v[v]... for full protocol decode
listening on vxlan0, link-type EN10MB (Ethernet), snapshot length 262144 bytes
21:30:15.746754 de:ad:be:ef:00:01 (oui Unknown) > Broadcast, ethertype IPv4 (0x0800), length 64: truncated-ip - 27706 bytes missing! 33.0.0.0 > localhost: ip-proto-114
21:30:15.746773 de:ad:be:ef:00:01 (oui Unknown) > Broadcast, ethertype IPv4 (0x0800), length 64: truncated-ip - 27706 bytes missing! 33.0.0.0 > localhost: ip-proto-114
21:30:15.746787 de:ad:be:ef:00:01 (oui Unknown) > Broadcast, ethertype IPv4 (0x0800), length 64: truncated-ip - 27706 bytes missing! 33.0.0.0 > localhost: ip-proto-114
21:30:15.746801 de:ad:be:ef:00:01 (oui Unknown) > Broadcast, ethertype IPv4 (0x0800), length 64: truncated-ip - 27706 bytes missing! 33.0.0.0 > localhost: ip-proto-114
21:30:15.746815 de:ad:be:ef:00:01 (oui Unknown) > Broadcast, ethertype IPv4 (0x0800), length 64: truncated-ip - 27706 bytes missing! 33.0.0.0 > localhost: ip-proto-114
21:30:15.746827 de:ad:be:ef:00:01 (oui Unknown) > Broadcast, ethertype IPv4 (0x0800), length 64: truncated-ip - 27706 bytes missing! 33.0.0.0 > localhost: ip-proto-114
21:30:15.746870 de:ad:be:ef:00:01 (oui Unknown) > Broadcast, ethertype IPv4 (0x0800), length 64: truncated-ip - 27706 bytes missing! 33.0.0.0 > localhost: ip-proto-114
21:30:15.746885 de:ad:be:ef:00:01 (oui Unknown) > Broadcast, ethertype IPv4 (0x0800), length 64: truncated-ip - 27706 bytes missing! 33.0.0.0 > localhost: ip-proto-114
21:30:15.746899 de:ad:be:ef:00:01 (oui Unknown) > Broadcast, ethertype IPv4 (0x0800), length 64: truncated-ip - 27706 bytes missing! 33.0.0.0 > localhost: ip-proto-114
21:30:15.746913 de:ad:be:ef:00:01 (oui Unknown) > Broadcast, ethertype IPv4 (0x0800), length 64: truncated-ip - 27706 bytes missing! 33.0.0.0 > localhost: ip-proto-114
10 packets captured
10 packets received by filter
0 packets dropped by kernel
(the program in question is the following:)
  package main
  import (
      "net"
      "os"
      "github.com/mdlayher/ethernet"
      "github.com/mdlayher/vxlan"
  )
  func main()  
      conn, err := net.Dial("udp", os.Args[1])
      if err != nil   panic(err)  
      for i := 0; i < 10; i++  
          vxf := &vxlan.Frame 
              VNI: vxlan.VNI(42),
              Ethernet: &ethernet.Frame 
                  Source:      net.HardwareAddr 0xDE, 0xAD, 0xBE,
0xEF, 0x00, 0x01 ,
                  Destination: net.HardwareAddr 0xFF, 0xFF, 0xFF,
0xFF, 0xFF, 0xFF ,
                  EtherType:   ethernet.EtherTypeIPv4,
                  Payload:     []byte("Hello, World!"),
              ,
          
          frb, err := vxf.MarshalBinary()
          if err != nil   panic(err)  
          _, err = conn.Write(frb)
          if err != nil   panic(err)  
      
  
When using vxlan, be absolutely sure all hosts that can address any interface on the host are authorized to send arbitrary packets into any VLAN that box can send to, or there s very careful and specific controls and firewalling. Note this includes public interfaces (e.g., dual-homed private network / internet boxes), or any type of dual-homing (VPNs, etc).

16 November 2021

Paul Tagliamonte: Measuring the Power Output of my SDRs

Over the last few years, I ve often wondered what the true power output of my SDRs are. It s a question with a shocking amount of complexity in the response, due to a number of factors (mostly Frequency). The ranges given in spec sheets are often extremely vague, and if I m being honest with myself, not incredibly helpful for being able to determine what specific filters and amplifiers I ll need to get a clean signal transmitted.
Hey, heads up! - This post contains extremely unvalidated and back of the napkin quality work to understand how my equipment works. Hopefully this work can be of help to others, but please double check any information you need for your own work!
I was specifically interested in what gain output (in dBm) looks like across the frequency range in particular, how variable the output dBm is when I change frequencies. The second question I had was understanding how linear the output gain is when adjusting the requested gain from the radio. Does a 2 dB increase on a HackRF API mean 2 dB of gain in dBm, no matter what the absolute value of the gain stage is? I ve finally bit the bullet and undertaken work to characterize the hardware I do have, with some outdated laboratory equipment I found on eBay. Of course, if it s worth doing, it s worth overdoing, so I spent a bit of time automating a handful of components in order to collect the data that I need from my SDRs. I bought an HP 437B, which is the cutting edge of 30 years ago, but still accurate to within 0.01dBm. I paired this Power Meter with an Agilent 8481A Power Sensor (-30 dBm to 20 dBm from 10MHz to 18GHz). For some of my radios, I was worried about exceeding the 20 dBm mark, so I used a 20db attenuator while I waited for a higher power power sensor. Finally, I was able to find a GPIB to USB interface, and get that interface working with the GPIB Kernel driver on my system. With all that out of the way, I was able to write Go bindings to my HP 437B to allow for totally headless and automated control in sync with my SDR s RF output. This allowed me to script the transmission of a sine wave at a controlled amplitude across a defined gain range and frequency range and read the Power Sensor s measured dBm output to characterize the Gain across frequency and configured Gain.

HackRF Looking at configured Gain against output power, the requested gain appears to have a fairly linear relation to the output signal power. The measured dBm ranged between the sensor noise floor to approx +13dBm. The average standard deviation of all tested gain values over the frequency range swept was +/-2dBm, with a minimum standard deviation of +/-0.8dBm, and a maximum of +/-3dBm. When looking at output power over the frequency range swept, the HackRF contains a distinctive (and frankly jarring) ripple across the Frequency range, with a clearly visible jump in gain somewhere around 2.1GHz. I have no idea what is causing this massive jump in output gain, nor what is causing these distinctive ripples. I d love to know more if anyone s familiar with HackRF s RF internals!

PlutoSDR The power output is very linear when operating above -20dB TX channel gain, but can get quite erratic the lower the output power is configured. The PlutoSDR s output power is directly related to the configured power level, and is generally predictable once a minimum power level is reached. The measured dBm ranged from the noise floor to 3.39 dBm, with an average standard deviation of +/-1.98 dBm, a minimum standard deviation of +/-0.91 dBm and a maximum standard deviation of +/-3.37 dBm. Generally, the power output is quite stable, and looks to have very even and wideband gain control. There s a few artifacts, which I have not confidently isolated to the SDR TX gain, noise (transmit artifacts such as intermodulation) or to my test setup. They appear fairly narrowband, so I m not overly worried about them yet. If anyone has any ideas what this could be, I d very much appreciate understanding why they exist!

Ettus B210 The power output on the Ettus B210 is higher (in dBm) than any of my other radios, but it has a very odd quirk where the power becomes nonlinear somewhere around -55dB TX channel gain. After that point, adding gain has no effect on the measured signal output in dBm up to 0 dB gain. The measured dBm ranged from the noise floor to 18.31 dBm, with an average standard deviation of +/-2.60 dBm, a minimum of +/-1.39 dBm and a maximum of +/-5.82 dBm. When the Gain is somewhere around the noise floor, the measured gain is incredibly erratic, which throws the maximum standard deviation significantly. I haven t isolated that to my test setup or the radio itself. I m inclined to believe it s my test setup. The radio has a fairly even and wideband gain, and so long as you re operating between -70dB to -55dB, fairly linear as well.

Summary Of all my radios, the Ettus B210 has the highest output (in dBm) over the widest frequency range, but the HackRF is a close second, especially after the gain bump kicks in around 2.1GHz. The Pluto SDR feels the most predictable and consistent, but also a very low output, comparatively - right around 0 dBm.
Name Max dBm stdev dBm stdev min dBm stdev max dBm
HackRF +12.6 +/-2.0 +/-0.8 +/-3.0
PlutoSDR +3.3 +/-2.0 +/-0.9 +/-3.7
B210 +18.3 +/-2.6 +/-1.4 +/-6.0

1 November 2021

Paul Wise: FLOSS Activities October 2021

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

Changes

Issues

Review
  • Spam: reported 2 Debian bug reports and 73 Debian mailing list posts
  • Patches: merged whohas/iotop-py/libusbgx patches
  • Debian wiki: RecentChanges for the month
  • Debian BTS usertags: changes for the month
  • Debian screenshots:

Administration
  • Debian BTS: unarchive/reopen/triage bugs for reintroduced packages
  • Debian IRC: disable anti-spam channel modes for some channels, rescue #debian-printing from retired chanop
  • Debian wiki: unblock IP addresses, approve accounts

Communication

Sponsors The valgrind bug was sponsored by my employer. All other work was done on a volunteer basis.

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.

1 September 2021

Paul Wise: FLOSS Activities August 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 servers: expand LV, fix debbugs config
  • Debian wiki: unblock IP addresses, approve accounts
  • Debian QA services: deploy changes

Communication

Sponsors The pyemd, pytest-rerunfailures, libpst, sptag, librecaptcha work was sponsored by my employer. All other work was done on a volunteer basis.

23 August 2021

Pavit Kaur: GSoC 2021: Final Evaluation

Project: Incremental Improvements to Debian s CI platform
Project Link: https://summerofcode.withgoogle.com/projects/#6433686825730048
Code Repository: https://salsa.debian.org/ci-team/debci
Mentors: Antonio Terceiro and Paul Gevers

About the Project Debian Continuous Integration is Debian s CI platform. It runs tests on the packages published in the Debian archive, and today is used to control migration of packages from unstable, Debian s development area, to testing, the area of the archive where the next Debian release is being prepared. This makes it a crucial part of Debian s infrastructure. The web platform shows the results of all the tests executed. Debian CI provides developers both API and a GUI Self-Service section to request tests for the packages and get information on test history. This project involves implementing incremental improvements to the platform, making it easier to use and maintain.

Deliverables of the project:
  • Migrating Logins to Salsa
  • Adding support for testing security uploads and Debian LTS

Work done

Migrating Logins to Salsa
  • Originally, Debian CI used Debian SSO client certificates for logging in, but since that was deprecated logins are migrated to Salsa, Debian s Gitlab instance and this is implemented with the help of OmniAuth, the ruby authentication framework.
  • Another thing fixed as part of this task was that there exists a limitation in the existing database structure, where usernames were directly stored as the test requestor field, so that relationship was normalized with a proper foreign key to the users table.
Merge Requests:
Adding support for testing security uploads and Debian LTS In this task, work was done to enable private tests in Debian CI for adding support for testing security uploads and Debian LTS. It includes tasks from adding the private field in the API and Self-Service section in requesting tests to adding an option to publish them when ready through both interfaces. Merge Requests:
Others I worked on some issues to add usability improvements for the web interface:

Learning Takeaways I learned a lot throughout the entire journey. Some of the things to mention are:
  • Writing tests: I learned about using Rspec for writing tests in ruby and understood how writing tests is an integral part of coding any project.
  • Using good coding practices: By my merge requests reviews done by my mentor Antonio, I came to know about good coding practices which help in keeping the code both clean and concise.

Acknowledgement I owe huge thanks to my mentors Antonio Terceiro and Paul Gevers for their constant support and guidance throughout the entire duration. It is for them that I was able to get started with the code-base of the project in the first place. And while working on the project, they were extremely responsive to all my queries. My merge requests were all thoroughly reviewed which enables me to learn more and work more efficiently. It was a complete pleasure interacting with them on weekly meet calls. To sum up, my GSoC journey was awesome and I had a fun and productive summer with Debian

What s next? As part of a continuation of my project task Adding support for testing security uploads and Debian LTS, I would be working on Debian CI to facilitate the process of connecting the embargoed archive. It s the end of my GSoC journey but certainly not the end of my journey with Debian or Open-Source. I plan to stay an active contributor to Debian and get involve with more Open Source projects as well

Extras The link to my Salsa Profile for all my work activities can be found here.
To know more about my journey, my other GSoC blog posts can be found below:

11 August 2021

Bits from Debian: Debian User Forums changes and updates.

DebianUserForums Several issues were brought before the Debian Community team regarding responsiveness, tone, and needed software updates to forums.debian.net. The question was asked, who s in charge? Over the course of the discussion several Debian Developers volunteered to help by providing a presence on the forums from Debian and to assist with the necessary changes to keep the service up and running. We are happy to announce the following changes to the (NEW!) forums.debian.net, which have and should address most of the prior concerns with accountability, tone, use, and reliability: Debian Developers: Paulo Henrique de Lima Santana (phls), Felix Lechner (lechner), and Donald Norwood (donald) have been added to the forum's Server and Administration teams. The server instance is now running directly within Debian's infrastructure. The forum software and back-end have been updated to the most recent versions where applicable. DNS resolves for both IPv4 and IPv6. SSL/HTTPS are enabled. (It s 2021!) New Captcha and Anti-spam systems are in place to thwart spammers, bots, and to make it easier for humans to register. New Administrators and Moderation staff were added to provide additional coverage across the hours and to combine years of experience with forum operation and Debian usage. New viewing styles are available for users to choose from, some of which are ideal for mobile/tablet viewing. We inadvertently fixed the time issue that the prior forum had of running 11 minutes fast. :) We have clarified staff roles and staff visibility. Responsiveness to users on the forums has increased. Email addresses for mods/admins have been updated and checked for validity, it has seen direct use and response. The guidelines for forum use by users and staff have been updated. The Debian COC has been made into a Global Announcement as an accompanyist to the newly updated guidelines to give the moderators/administrators an additional rule-set for unruly or unbecoming behavior. Some of the discussion areas have been renamed and refocused, along with the movement of multiple threads to make indexing and searching of the forums easier. Many (New!) features and extensions have been added to the forum for ease of use and modernization, such as a user thanks system and thread hover previews. There are some server administrative tasks that were upgraded as well which don't belong on a public list, but we are backing up regularly and secure. :) We have a few minor details here and there to attend to and the work is ongoing. Many Thanks and Appreciation to the Debian System Administrators (DSA) and Ganneff who took the time to coordinate and assist with the instance, DNS, and network and server administration minutiae, our helpful DPL Jonathan Carter, many thanks to the current and prior forum moderators and administrators: Mez, sunrat, 4D696B65, arochester, and cds60601 for helping with the modifications and transition, and to the forum users who participated in lots of the tweaking. All in all this was a large community task and everyone did a significant part. Thank you!

9 August 2021

Russ Allbery: Review: The Last Battle

Review: The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis
Illustrator: Pauline Baynes
Series: Chronicles of Narnia #7
Publisher: Collier Books
Copyright: 1956
Printing: 1978
ISBN: 0-02-044210-6
Format: Mass market
Pages: 184
The Last Battle is the seventh and final book of the Chronicles of Narnia in every reading order. It ties together (and spoils) every previous Narnia book, so you do indeed want to read it last (or skip it entirely, but I'll get into that). In the far west of Narnia, beyond the Lantern Waste and near the great waterfall that marks Narnia's western boundary, live a talking ape named Shift and a talking donkey named Puzzle. Shift is a narcissistic asshole who has been gaslighting and manipulating Puzzle for years, convincing the poor donkey that he's stupid and useless for anything other than being Shift's servant. At the start of the book, a lion skin washes over the waterfall and into the Cauldron Pool. Shift, seeing a great opportunity, convinces Puzzle to retrieve it. The king of Narnia at this time is Tirian. I would tell you more about Tirian except, despite being the protagonist, that's about all the characterization he gets. He's the king, he's broad-shouldered and strong, he behaves in a correct kingly fashion by preferring hunting lodges and simple camps to the capital at Cair Paravel, and his close companion is a unicorn named Jewel. Other than that, he's another character like Rilian from The Silver Chair who feels like he was taken from a medieval Arthurian story. (Thankfully, unlike Rilian, he doesn't talk like he's in a medieval Arthurian story.) Tirian finds out about Shift's scheme when a dryad appears at Tirian's camp, calling for justice for the trees of Lantern Waste who are being felled. Tirian rushes to investigate and stop this monstrous act, only to find the beasts of Narnia cutting down trees and hauling them away for Calormene overseers. When challenged on why they would do such a thing, they reply that it's at Aslan's orders. The Last Battle is largely the reason why I decided to do this re-read and review series. It is, let me be clear, a bad book. The plot is absurd, insulting to the characters, and in places actively offensive. It is also, unlike the rest of the Narnia series, dark and depressing for nearly all of the book. The theology suffers from problems faced by modern literature that tries to use the Book of Revelation and related Christian mythology as a basis. And it is, most famously, the site of one of the most notorious authorial betrayals of a character in fiction. And yet, The Last Battle, probably more than any other single book, taught me to be a better human being. It contains two very specific pieces of theology that I would now critique in multiple ways but which were exactly the pieces of theology that I needed to hear when I first understood them. This book steered me away from a closed, judgmental, and condemnatory mindset at exactly the age when I needed something to do that. For that, I will always have a warm spot in my heart for it. I'm going to start with the bad parts, though, because that's how the book starts. MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW. First, and most seriously, this is a second-order idiot plot. Shift shows up with a donkey wearing a lion skin (badly), only lets anyone see him via firelight, claims he's Aslan, and starts ordering the talking animals of Narnia to completely betray their laws and moral principles and reverse every long-standing political position of the country... and everyone just nods and goes along with this. This is the most blatant example of a long-standing problem in this series: Lewis does not respect his animal characters. They are the best feature of his world, and he treats them as barely more intelligent than their non-speaking equivalents and in need of humans to tell them what to do. Furthermore, despite the assertion of the narrator, Shift is not even close to clever. His deception has all the subtlety of a five-year-old who doesn't want to go to bed, and he offers the Narnians absolutely nothing in exchange for betraying their principles. I can forgive Puzzle for going along with the scheme since Puzzle has been so emotionally abused that he doesn't know what else to do, but no one else has any excuse, especially Shift's neighbors. Given his behavior in the book, everyone within a ten mile radius would be so sick of his whining, bullying, and lying within a month that they'd never believe anything he said again. Rishda and Ginger, a Calormene captain and a sociopathic cat who later take over Shift's scheme, do qualify as clever, but there's no realistic way Shift's plot would have gotten far enough for them to get involved. The things that Shift gets the Narnians to do are awful. This is by far the most depressing book in the series, even more than the worst parts of The Silver Chair. I'm sure I'm not the only one who struggled to read through the first part of this book, and raced through it on re-reads because everything is so hard to watch. The destruction is wanton and purposeless, and the frequent warnings from both characters and narration that these are the last days of Narnia add to the despair. Lewis takes all the beautiful things that he built over six books and smashes them before your eyes. It's a lot to take, given that previous books would have treated the felling of a single tree as an unspeakable catastrophe. I think some of these problems are due to the difficulty of using Christian eschatology in a modern novel. An antichrist is obligatory, but the animals of Narnia have no reason to follow an antichrist given their direct experience with Aslan, particularly not the aloof one that Shift tries to give them. Lewis forces the plot by making everyone act stupidly and out of character. Similarly, Christian eschatology says everything must become as awful as possible right before the return of Christ, hence the difficult-to-read sections of Narnia's destruction, but there's no in-book reason for the Narnians' complicity in that destruction. One can argue about whether this is good theology, but it's certainly bad storytelling. I can see the outlines of the moral points Lewis is trying to make about greed and rapacity, abuse of the natural world, dubious alliances, cynicism, and ill-chosen prophets, but because there is no explicable reason for Tirian's quiet kingdom to suddenly turn to murderous resource exploitation, none of those moral points land with any force. The best moral apocalypse shows the reader how, were they living through it, they would be complicit in the devastation as well. Lewis does none of that work, so the reader is just left angry and confused. The book also has several smaller poor authorial choices, such as the blackface incident. Tirian, Jill, and Eustace need to infiltrate Shift's camp, and use blackface to disguise themselves as Calormenes. That alone uncomfortably reveals how much skin tone determines nationality in this world, but Lewis makes it far worse by having Tirian comment that he "feel[s] a true man again" after removing the blackface and switching to Narnian clothes. All of this drags on and on, unlike Lewis's normally tighter pacing, to the point that I remembered this book being twice the length of any other Narnia book. It's not; it's about the same length as the rest, but it's such a grind that it feels interminable. The sum total of the bright points of the first two-thirds of the book are the arrival of Jill and Eustace, Jill's one moment of true heroism, and the loyalty of a single Dwarf. The rest is all horror and betrayal and doomed battles and abject stupidity. I do, though, have to describe Jill's moment of glory, since I complained about her and Eustace throughout The Silver Chair. Eustace is still useless, but Jill learned forestcraft during her previous adventures (not that we saw much sign of this previously) and slips through the forest like a ghost to steal Puzzle and his lion costume out from the under the nose of the villains. Even better, she finds Puzzle and the lion costume hilarious, which is the one moment in the book where one of the characters seems to understand how absurd and ridiculous this all is. I loved Jill so much in that moment that it makes up for all of the pointless bickering of The Silver Chair. She doesn't get to do much else in this book, but I wish the Jill who shows up in The Last Battle had gotten her own book. The end of this book, and the only reason why it's worth reading, happens once the heroes are forced into the stable that Shift and his co-conspirators have been using as the stage for their fake Aslan. Its door (for no well-explained reason) has become a door to Aslan's Country and leads to a reunion with all the protagonists of the series. It also becomes the frame of Aslan's final destruction of Narnia and judging of its inhabitants, which I suspect would be confusing if you didn't already know something about Christian eschatology. But before that, this happens, which is sufficiently and deservedly notorious that I think it needs to be quoted in full.
"Sir," said Tirian, when he had greeted all these. "If I have read the chronicle aright, there should be another. Has not your Majesty two sisters? Where is Queen Susan?" "My sister Susan," answered Peter shortly and gravely, "is no longer a friend of Narnia." "Yes," said Eustace, "and whenever you've tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says 'What wonderful memories you have! Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.'" "Oh Susan!" said Jill. "She's interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up." "Grown-up indeed," said the Lady Polly. "I wish she would grow up. She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she'll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age. Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one's life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can."
There are so many obvious and dire problems with this passage, and so many others have written about it at length, that I will only add a few points. First, I find it interesting that neither Lucy nor Edmund says a thing. (I would like to think that Edmund knows better.) The real criticism comes from three characters who never interacted with Susan in the series: the two characters introduced after she was no longer allowed to return to Narnia, and a character from the story that predated hers. (And Eustace certainly has some gall to criticize someone else for treating Narnia as a childish game.) It also doesn't say anything good about Lewis that he puts his rather sexist attack on Susan into the mouths of two other female characters. Polly's criticism is a somewhat generic attack on puberty that could arguably apply to either sex (although "silliness" is usually reserved for women), but Jill makes the attack explicitly gendered. It's the attack of a girl who wants to be one of the boys on a girl who embraces things that are coded feminine, and there's a whole lot of politics around the construction of gender happening here that Lewis is blindly reinforcing and not grappling with at all. Plus, this is only barely supported by single sentences in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Horse and His Boy and directly contradicts the earlier books. We're expected to believe that Susan the archer, the best swimmer, the most sensible and thoughtful of the four kids has abruptly changed her whole personality. Lewis could have made me believe Susan had soured on Narnia after the attempted kidnapping (and, although left unstated, presumably eventual attempted rape) in The Horse and His Boy, if one ignores the fact that incident supposedly happens before Prince Caspian where there is no sign of such a reaction. But not for those reasons, and not in that way. Thankfully, after this, the book gets better, starting with the Dwarfs, which is one of the two passages that had a profound influence on me. Except for one Dwarf who allied with Tirian, the Dwarfs reacted to the exposure of Shift's lies by disbelieving both Tirian and Shift, calling a pox on both their houses, and deciding to make their own side. During the last fight in front of the stable, they started killing whichever side looked like they were winning. (Although this is horrific in the story, I think this is accurate social commentary on a certain type of cynicism, even if I suspect Lewis may have been aiming it at atheists.) Eventually, they're thrown through the stable door by the Calormenes. However, rather than seeing the land of beauty and plenty that everyone else sees, they are firmly convinced they're in a dark, musty stable surrounded by refuse and dirty straw. This is, quite explicitly, not something imposed on them. Lucy rebukes Eustace for wishing Tash had killed them, and tries to make friends with them. Aslan tries to show them how wrong their perceptions are, to no avail. Their unwillingness to admit they were wrong is so strong that they make themselves believe that everything is worse than it actually is.
"You see," said Aslan. "They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out."
I grew up with the US evangelical version of Hell as a place of eternal torment, which in turn was used to justify religious atrocities in the name of saving people from Hell. But there is no Hell of that type in this book. There is a shadow into which many evil characters simply disappear, and there's this passage. Reading this was the first time I understood the alternative idea of Hell as the absence of God instead of active divine punishment. Lewis doesn't use the word "Hell," but it's obvious from context that the Dwarfs are in Hell. But it's not something Aslan does to them and no one wants them there; they could leave any time they wanted, but they're too unwilling to be wrong. You may have to be raised in conservative Christianity to understand how profoundly this rethinking of Hell (which Lewis tackles at greater length in The Great Divorce) undermines the system of guilt and fear that's used as motivation and control. It took me several re-readings and a lot of thinking about this passage, but this is where I stopped believing in a vengeful God who will eternally torture nonbelievers, and thus stopped believing in all of the other theology that goes with it. The second passage that changed me is Emeth's story. Emeth is a devout Calormene, a follower of Tash, who volunteered to enter the stable when Shift and his co-conspirators were claiming Aslan/Tash was inside. Some time after going through, he encounters Aslan, and this is part of his telling of that story (and yes, Lewis still has Calormenes telling stories as if they were British translators of the Arabian Nights):
[...] Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one? The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me, thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.
So, first, don't ever say this to anyone. It's horribly condescending and, since it's normally said by white Christians to other people, usually explicitly colonialist. Telling someone that their god is evil but since they seem to be a good person they're truly worshiping your god is only barely better than saying yours is the only true religion. But it is better, and as someone who, at the time, was wholly steeped in the belief that only Christians were saved and every follower of another religion was following Satan and was damned to Hell, this passage blew my mind. This was the first place I encountered the idea that someone who followed a different religion could be saved, or that God could transcend religion, and it came with exactly the context and justification that I needed given how close-minded I was at the time. Today, I would say that the Christian side of this analysis needs far more humility, and fobbing off all the evil done in the name of the Christian God by saying "oh, those people were really following Satan" is a total moral copout. But, nonetheless, Lewis opened a door for me that I was able to step through and move beyond to a less judgmental, dismissive, and hostile view of others. There's not much else in the book after this. It's mostly Lewis's charmingly Platonic view of the afterlife, in which the characters go inward and upward to truer and more complete versions of both Narnia and England and are reunited (very briefly) with every character of the series. Lewis knows not to try too hard to describe the indescribable, but it remains one of my favorite visions of an afterlife because it makes so explicit that this world is neither static or the last, but only the beginning of a new adventure. This final section of The Last Battle is deeply flawed, rather arrogant, a little bizarre, and involves more lectures on theology than precise description, but I still love it. By itself, it's not a bad ending for the series, although I don't think it has half the beauty or wonder of the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It's a shame about the rest of the book, and it's a worse shame that Lewis chose to sacrifice Susan on the altar of his prejudices. Those problems made it very hard to read this book again and make it impossible to recommend. Thankfully, you can read the series without it, and perhaps most readers would be better off imagining their own ending (or lack of ending) to Narnia than the one Lewis chose to give it. But the one redeeming quality The Last Battle will always have for me is that, despite all of its flaws, it was exactly the book that I needed to read when I read it. Rating: 4 out of 10

1 August 2021

Paul Wise: FLOSS Activities July 2021

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

Changes

Issues

Review

Administration
  • libusbgx/gt: triage issues
  • Debian packages: triaged bugs for reintroduced packages
  • Debian servers: debug lists mail issue, debug lists subscription issue
  • Debian wiki: unblock IP addresses, approve accounts

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

Sponsors The microsoft-authentication-library-for-python and purple-discord work was sponsored by my employer. All other work was done on a volunteer basis.

19 July 2021

Antonio Terceiro: Getting help with autopkgtest for your package

If you have been involved in Debian packaging at all in the last few years, you are probably aware that autopkgtest is now an important piece of the Debian release process. Back in 2018, the automated testing migration process started considering autopkgtest test results as part of its decision making. Since them, this process has received several improvements. For example, during the bullseye freeze, non-key packages with a non-trivial autopkgtest test suite could migrate automatically to testing without their maintainers needing to open unblock requests, provided there was no regression in theirs autopkgtest (or those from their reverse dependencies). Since 2014 when ci.debian.net was first introduced, we have seen an amazing increase in the number of packages in Debian that can be automatically tested. We went from around 100 to 15,000 today. This means not only happier maintainers because their packages get to testing faster, but also improved quality assurance for Debian as a whole. Chart showing the number of packages tested by ci.debian.net. Starts from close to 0 in 2014, up to 15,000 in 2021. The growth tendency seems to slow down in the last year However, the growth rate seems to be decreasing. Maybe the low hanging fruit have all been picked, or maybe we just need to help more people jump in the automated testing bandwagon. With that said, we would like to encourage and help more maintainers to add autopkgtest to their packages. To that effect, I just created the autopkgtest-help repository on salsa, where we will take help requests from maintainers working on autopkgtest for their packages. If you want help, please go ahead and create an issue in there. To quote the repository README:
Valid requests:
  • "I want to add autopkgtest to package X. X is a tool that [...] and it works by [...]. How should I approach testing it?" It's OK if you have no idea where to start. But at least try to describe your package, what it does and how it works so we can try to help you.
  • "I started writing autopkgtest for X, here is my current work in progress [link]. But I encountered problem Y. How to I move forward?" If you already have an autopkgtest but is having trouble making it work as you think it should, you can also ask here.
Invalid requests:
  • "Please write autopkgtest for my package X for me". As with anything else in free software, please show appreciation for other people's time, and do your own research first. If you pose your question with enough details (see above) and make it interesting, it may be that whoever answers will write at least a basic structure for you, but as the maintainer you are still the expert in the package and what tests are relevant.
If you ask your question soon, you might get your answer recorded in video: we are going to have a DebConf21 talk next month, where we I and Paul Gevers (elbrus) will answer a few autopkgtest questions in video for posterity. Now, if you have experience enabling autopkgtest for you own packages, please consider watching that repository there to help us help our fellow maintainers.

1 July 2021

Paul Wise: FLOSS Activities June 2021

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

Changes

Issues

Review
  • Spam: reported 3 Debian bug reports and 135 Debian mailing list posts
  • Debian wiki: RecentChanges for the month
  • Debian BTS usertags: changes for the month
  • Debian screenshots:
    • approved php-horde endless-sky claws-mail memtester
    • rejected python-gdal/weboob-qt (unrelated software)

Administration
  • Debian: restart bacula director
  • Debian wiki: approve accounts

Communication
  • This month I left freenode, an IRC network I had been on for at least 16 years, for reasons that you probably all read about. I think the biggest lesson I take from this situation and ones happening around the same time is that proper governance in peer production projects is absolutely critical.
  • Respond to queries from Debian users and contributors on the mailing lists and IRC

Sponsors The purple-discord/flower work was sponsored by my employers. All other work was done on a volunteer basis.

28 June 2021

Shirish Agarwal: Indian Capital Markets, BSE, NSE

I had been meaning to write on the above topic for almost a couple of months now but just kept procrastinating about it. That push came to a shove when Sucheta Dalal and Debasis Basu shared their understanding, wisdom, and all in the new book called Absolute Power Inside story of the National Stock Exchange s amazing success, leading to hubris, regulatory capture and algo scam . Now while I will go into the details of the new book as currently, I have not bought it but even if I had bought it and shared some of the revelations from it, it wouldn t have done justice to either the book or what is sharing before knowing some of the background before it.

Before I jump ahead, I would suggest people to read my sort of introductory blog post on banking history so they know where I m coming from. I m going to deviate a bit from Banking as this is about trade and capital markets, although Banking would come in later on. And I will also be sharing some cultural insights along with history so people are aware of why things happened the way they did. Calicut, Calcutta, Kolkata, one-time major depot around the world Now, one cannot start any topic about trade without talking about Kolkata. While today, it seems like a bastion of communism, at one time it was one of the major trade depots around the world. Both William Dalrymple and the Chinese have many times mentioned Kolkata as being one of the major centers of trade. This was between the 13th and the late 19th century. A cursory look throws up this article which talks about Kolkata or Calicut as it was known as a major trade depot. There are of course many, many articles and even books which do tell about how Kolkata was a major trade depot. Now between the 13th and 19th century, a lot of changes happened which made Kolkata poorer and shifted trade to Mumbai/Bombay which in those times was nothing but just a port city like many others.

The Rise of the Zamindar Around the 15th century when Babur Invaded Hindustan, he realized that Hindustan is too big a country to be governed alone. And Hindustan was much broader than independent India today. So he created the title of Zamindars. Interestingly, if you look at the Mughal period, they were much more in tune with Hindustani practices than the British who came later. They used the caste divisions and hierarchy wisely making sure that the status quo was maintained as far as castes/creed were concerned. While in-fighting with various rulers continued, it was more or less about land and power other than anything else. When the Britishers came they co-opted the same arrangement with a minor adjustment. While in the before system, the zamindars didn t have powers to be landowners. The Britishers gave them land ownerships. A huge percentage of thess zamindars especially in Bengal were from my own caste Banias or Baniyas. The problem and the solution for the Britishers had been this was a large land to control and exploit and the number of British officers and nobles were very less. So they gave virtually a lot of powers to the Banias. The only thing the British insisted on were very high rents from the newly minted Zamindars. The Zamindar in turn used the powers of personal fiefdom to give loans at very high interest rates when the poor were unable to pay the interest rate, they would take the land while at the same time slavery was forced on both men and women, many a time rapes and affairs. While there have been many records shedding light on it, don t think it could be any more powerful as enacted and shared by Shabana Azmi in Ankur:the Seedling. Another prominent grouping was formed around the same time was the Bhadralok. Now as shared Bhadralok while having all the amenities of belonging to the community, turned a blind eye to the excesses being done by the Zamindars. How much they played a hand in the decimation of Bengal has been a matter of debate, but they did have a hand, that much is not contested.

The Rise of Stock Exchanges Sadly and interestingly, many people believe and continue to believe that stock exchanges is recent phenomena. The first stock exchange though was the Calcutta Stock Exchange rather than the Bombay Stock Exchange. How valuable was Calcutta to the Britishers in its early years can be gauged from the fact that at one time it was made the capital of India in 1772 . In fact, after the Grand Trunk Road (on which there had been even Train names in both countries) x number of books have been written of the trade between Calcutta and Peshawar (Now in Pakistan). And it was not just limited to trade but also cultural give-and-take between the two centers. Even today, if you look at YT (Youtube) and look up some interviews of old people, you find many interesting anecdotes of people sharing both culture and trade.

The problem of the 60 s and rise of BSE
After India became independent and the Constitutional debates happened, the new elites understood that there cannot be two power centers that could govern India. On one hand, were the politicians who had come to power on the back of the popular vote, the other was the Zamindars, who more often than not had abused their powers which resulted in widespread poverty. The Britishers are to blame, but so do the middlemen as they became willing enablers to the same system of oppression. Hence, you had the 1951 amendment to the Constitution and the 1956 Zamindari Abolition Act. In fact, you can find much more of an in-depth article both about Zamindars and their final abolition here. Now once Zamindari was gone, there was nothing to replace it with. The Zamindars ousted of their old roles turned and tried to become Industrialists. The problem was that the poor and the downtrodden had already had experiences with the Zamindars. Also, some Industrialists from North and West also came to Bengal but they had no understanding of either the language or the cultural understanding of what had happened in Bengal. And notice that I have not talked about both the famines and the floods that wrecked Bengal since time immemorial and some of the ones which got etched on soul of Bengal and has marks even today  The psyche of the Bengali and the Bhadralok has gone through enormous shifts. I have met quite a few and do see the guilt they feel. If one wonders as to how socialist parties are able to hold power in Bengal, look no further than Tarikh which tells and shares with you that even today how many Bengalis still feel somewhat lost.

The Rise of BSE Now, while Kolkata Stock Exchange had been going down, for multiple reasons other than listed above. From the 1950s onwards Jawaharlal Nehru had this idea of 5-year plans, borrowed from socialist countries such as Russia, China etc. His vision and ambition for the newly minted Indian state were huge, while at the same time he understood we were poor. The loot by East India Company and the Britishers and on top of that the division of wealth with Pakistan even though the majority of Muslims chose and remained with India. Travel on Indian Railways was a risky affair. My grandfather had shared numerous tales where he used to fill money in socks and put the socks on in boots when going between either Delhi Kolkata or Pune Kolkata. Also, as the Capital became Delhi, it unofficially was for many years, the transparency from Kolkata-based firms became less. So many Kolkata firms either mismanaged and shut down while Maharashtra, my own state, saw a huge boon in Industrialization as well as farming. From the 1960s to the 1990s there were many booms and busts in the stock exchanges but most were manageable.

While the 60s began on a good note as Goa was finally freed from the Portuguese army and influence, the 1962 war with the Chinese made many a soul question where we went wrong. Jawaharlal Nehru went all over the world to ask for help but had to return home empty-handed. Bollywood showed a world of bell-bottoms and cars and whatnot, while the majority were still trying to figure out how to put two square meals on the table. India suffered one of the worst famines in those times. People had to ration food. Families made do with either one meal or just roti (flatbread) rather than rice. In Bengal, things were much more severe. There were huge milk shortages, so Bengalis were told to cut down on sweets. This enraged the Bangalis as nothing else could. Note If one wants to read how bad Indians felt at that time, all one has to read is V.S. Naipaul s An Area of darkness . This was also the time when quite a few Indians took their first step out of India. While Air India had just started, the fares were prohibitive. Those who were not well off, either worked on ships or went via passenger or cargo ships to Dubai/Qatar middle-east. Some went to Russia and some even to States. While today s migr s want to settle in the west forever and have their children and grandchildren grow up in the West, in the 1960s and 70s the idea was far different. The main purpose for a vast majority was to get jobs and whatnot, save maximum money and send it back to India as a remittance. The idea was to make enough money in 3-5-10 years, come back to India, and then lead a comfortable life. Sadly, there has hardly been any academic work done in India, at least to my knowledge to document the sacrifices done by Indians in search of jobs, life, purpose, etc. in the 1960s and 1970s. The 1970s was also when alternative cinema started its journey with people like Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah who portrayed people s struggles on-screen. Most of them didn t have commercial success because the movies and the stories were bleak. While the acting was superb, most Indians loved to be captured by fights, car-chases, and whatnot rather than the deary existence which they had. And the alt cinema forced them to look into the mirror, which was frowned upon both by the masses and the classes. So cinema which could have been a wake-up call for a lot of Indians failed. One of the most notable works of that decade, at least to me, was Manthan. 1961 was also marked by the launch of Economic Times and Financial Express which tells that there was some appetite for financial news and understanding. The 1970s was also a very turbulent time in the corporate sector and stock exchanges. Again, the companies which were listed were run by the very well-off and many of them had been abroad. At the same time, you had fly-by-night operators. One of the happenings which started in this decade is you had corporate wars and hostile takeovers, quite a few of them of which could well have a Web series or two of their own. This was also a decade marked by huge labor unrest, which again changed the face of Bombay/Mumbai. From the 1950s till the 1970s, Bombay was known for its mills. So large migrant communities from all over India came to Bombay to become the next Bollywood star and if that didn t happen, they would get jobs in the mills. Bombay/Mumbai has/had this unique feature that somehow you will make money to make ends meet. Of course, with the pandemic, even that has gone for a toss. Labor unrest was a defining character of that decade. Three movies, Kaala Patthar, Kalyug, and Ankush give a broad outlook of what happened in that decade. One thing which is present and omnipresent then and now is how time and time again we lost our demographic dividend. Again there was an exodus of young people who ventured out to seek fortunes elsewhere. The 1970s and 80s were also famous for the license Raj which they bought in. Just like the Soviets, there were waiting periods for everything. A telephone line meant waiting for things anywhere from 4 to 8 years. In 1987, when we applied and got a phone within 2-3 months, most of my relatives both from my mother and father s side could not believe we paid 0 to get a telephone line. We did pay the telephone guy INR 10/- which was a somewhat princely sum when he was installing it, even then they could not believe it as in Northern India, you couldn t get a phone line even if your number had come. You had to pay anywhere from INR 500/1000 or more to get a line. This was BSNL and to reiterate there were no alternatives at that time.

The 1990s and the Harshad Mehta Scam The 90s was when I was a teenager. You do all the stupid things for love, lust, whatever. That is also the time you are introduced really to the world of money. During my time, there were only three choices, Sciences, Commerce, and Arts. If History were your favorite subject then you would take Arts and if it was not, and you were not studious, then you would up commerce. This is how careers were chosen. So I enrolled in Commerce. Due to my grandfather and family on my mother s side interested in stocks both as a saving and compounding tool, I was able to see Pune Stock Exchange in action one day. The only thing I remember that day is people shouting loudly with various chits. I had no idea that deals of maybe thousands or even lakhs. The Pune Stock Exchange had been newly minted. I also participated in a couple of mock stock exchanges and came to understand that one has to be aggressive in order to win. You had to be really loud to be heard over others, you could not afford to be shy. Also, spread your risks. Sadly, nothing about the stock markets was there in the syllabus. 1991 was also when we saw the Iraq war, the balance of payments crisis in India, and didn t know that the Harshad Mehta scam was around the corner. Most of the scams in India have been caught because the person who was doing it was flashy. And this was the reason that even he was caught as Ms. Sucheta Dalal, a young beat reporter from Indian Express who had been covering Indian stock market. Many of her articles were thought-provoking. Now, a brief understanding is required to know before we actually get to the scam. Because of the 1991 balance of payments crisis, IMF rescued India on the condition that India throws its market open. In the 1980s itself, Rajeev Gandhi had wanted to partially make India open but both politicians and Industrialists advised him not to do the same, we are/were not ready. On 21st May 1991, Rajeev Gandhi was assassinated by the LTTE. A month later, due to the sympathy vote, the Narsimha Rao Govt. took power. While for most new Governments there is usually a honeymoon period lasting 6 months or so till they get settled in their roles before people start asking tough questions. It was not to be for this Govt. Immediately, The problem had been building for a few years. Although, in many ways, our economy was better than it is today. The only thing India didn t do well at that time was managing foreign exchange. As only a few Indians had both the money and the opportunity to go abroad and need for electronics was limited. One of the biggest imports of the time then and still today is Energy, Oil. While today it is Oil/Gas and electronics, at that time it was only OIl. The Oil import bill was ballooning while exports were more or less stagnant and mostly comprised of raw materials rather than finished products. Even today, it is largely this, one of the biggest Industrialists in India Ambani exports gas/oil while Adani exports coal. Anyways, the deficit was large enough to trigger a payment crisis. And Narsimha Rao had to throw open the Indian market almost overnight. Some changes became quickly apparent, while others took a long time to come.

Satellite Television and Entry of Foreign Banks Almost overnight, from 1 channel we became multi-channel. Star TV (Rupert Murdoch) bought us Bold and Beautiful, while CNN broadcasted the Iraq War. It was unbelievable for us that we were getting reports of what had happened 24-48 hours earlier. Fortunately or unfortunately, I was still very much a teenager to understand the import of what was happening. Even in my college, except for one or two-person, it wasn t a topic for debate or talk or even the economy. We were basically somehow cocooned in our own little world. But this was not the case for the rest of India and especially banks. The entry of foreign banks was a rude shock to Indian banks. The foreign banks were bringing both technology and sophistication in their offerings, and Indian Banks needed and wanted fast money to show hefty profits. Demand for credit wasn t much, at least nowhere the level it today is. At the same time, default on credit was nowhere high as today is. But that will require its own space and article. To quench the thirst for hefty profits by banks, Enter Harshad Mehta. At that point in time, banks were not permitted at all to invest in the securities/share market. They could only buy Government securities or bonds which had a coupon rate of say 8-10% which was nowhere enough to satisfy the need for hefty profits as desired by Indian banks. On top of it, that cash was blocked for a long time. Most of these Government bonds had anywhere between 10-20 year maturity date and some even longer. Now, one loophole in that was that the banks themselves could not buy these securities. They had to approach a registered broker of the share market who will do these transactions on their behalf. Here is where Mr. Mehta played his game. He shared both legal and illegal ways in which both the bank and he would prosper. While banking at one time was thought to be conservative and somewhat cautious, either because they were too afraid that Western private banks will take that pie or whatever their reasons might be, they agreed to his antics. To play the game, Harshad Mehta needed lots of cash, which the banks provided him in the guise of buying securities that were never bought, but the amounts were transferred to his account. He actively traded stocks, at the same time made a group, and also made the rumor mill work to his benefit. The share market is largely a reactionary market. It operates on patience, news, and rumor-mill. The effect of his shenanigans was that the price of a stock that was trending at say INR 200 reached the stratospheric height of INR 9000/- without any change in the fundamentals or outlook of the stock. His thirst didn t remain restricted to stocks but also ventured into the unglamorous world of Govt. securities where he started trading even in them in large quantities. In order to attract new clients, he coveted a fancy lifestyle. The fancy lifestyle was what caught the eye of Sucheta Dalal, and she started investigating the deals he was doing. Being a reporter, she had the advantage of getting many doors to open and get information that otherwise would be under lock and key. On 23rd April 1992, Sucheta Dalal broke the scam.

The Impact The impact was almost like a shock to the markets. Even today, it can be counted as one of the biggest scams in the Indian market if you adjust it for inflation. I haven t revealed much of the scam and what happened, simply because Sucheta Dalal and Debasis Basu wrote The Scam for that purpose. How do I shorten a story and experience which has been roughly written in 300 odd pages in one or two paragraphs, it is simply impossible. The impact though was severe. The Indian stock market became a bear market for two years. Sucheta Dalal was kicked out/made to resign out of Indian Express. The thing is simple, all newspapers survive on readership and advertisements with advertisements. Companies who were having a golden run, whether justified or not, on the bourses/Stock Exchange. For many companies, having a good number on the stock exchange was better than the company fundamentals. There was supposed to be a speedy fast-track court setup for Financial crimes, but it worked only for the Harshad Mehta case and still took over 5 years. It led to the creation of NSE (National Stock Exchange). It also led to the creation of SEBI, perhaps one of the most powerful regulators, giving it a wide range of powers and remit but on the ground more often that proved to be no more than a glorified postman. And the few times it used, it used on the wrong people and people had to go to courts to get justice. But then this is not about SEBI nor is this blog post about NSE. I have anyways shared about Absolute power above, so will not repeat the link here. The Anecdotal impact was widespread. Our own family broker took the extreme step. For my grandfather on the mother s side, he was like the second son. The news of his suicide devastated my grandfather quite a bit, which we realized much later when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer s. Our family stockbroker had been punting, taking lots of cash from the market at very high rates, betting on stocks wildly as the stock market was reaching for the stars when the market crashed, he was insolvent. How the family survived is a tale in itself. They had just got married just a few years ago and had a cute boy and girl soon after. While today, both are grown-up, at that time what the wife faced only she knows. There were also quite a few shareholders who also took the extreme step. The stock markets in those days were largely based on trust and even today is unless you are into day-trading. So there was always some money left on the table for the share/stockbroker which would be squared off in the next deal/transaction where again you will leave something. My grandfather once thought of going over and meeting them, and we went to the lane where their house is, seeing the line of people who had come for recovery of loans, we turned back with a heavy heart. There was another taboo that kinda got broken that day. The taboo was that the stock market is open to scams. From 1992 to 2021 has been a cycle of scams. Even now, today, the stock market is at unnatural highs. We know for sure that a lot of hot money is rolling around, a lot of American pension funds etc. Till it will work, it will work, some news something and that money will be moved out. Who will be left handing the can, the Indian investors? A Few days back, Ambani writes about Adani. Now while the facts shared are correct, is Adani the only one, the only company to have a small free float in the market. There probably are more than 1/4th or 1/3rd of well-respected companies who may have a similar configuration, the only problem is it is difficult to know who the proxies are. Now if I were to reflect and compare this either with the 1960s or even the 1990s I don t find much difference apart from the fact that the proxy is sitting in Mauritius. At the same time, today you can speculate on almost anything. Whether it is stocks, commodities, derivatives, foreign exchange, cricket matches etc. the list is endless. Since 2014, the rise in speculation rather than investment has been dramatic, almost stratospheric. Sadly, there are no studies or even attempts made to document this. How much official and unofficial speculation is there in the market nobody knows. Money markets have become both fluid and non-transparent. In theory, you have all sorts of regulators, but it is still very much like the Wild West. One thing to note that even Income tax had to change and bring it provisions to account for speculative income.So, starting from being totally illegitimate, it has become kind of legal and is part of Income Tax. And if speculation is not wrong, why not make Indian cricket officially a speculative event, that will be honest and GOI will get part of the proceeds.

Conclusion I wish there was some positive conclusion I could drive, but sadly there is not. Just today read two articles about the ongoing environmental issues in Himachal Pradesh. As I had shared even earlier, the last time I visited those places in 2011, and even at that time I was devastated to see the kind of construction going on. Jogiwara Road which they showed used to be flat single ground/first floor dwellings, most of which were restaurants and whatnot. I had seen the water issues both in Himachal and UT (Uttarakhand) back then and this is when they made huge dams. In U.S. they are removing dams and here we want more dams

27 June 2021

Antonio Terceiro: Debian Continuous Integration now using Salsa logins

I have just updated the Debian Continuous Integration platform with debci 3.1. This update brings a few database performance improvements, courtesy of adding indexes to very important columns that were missing them. And boy, querying a table with 13 million rows without the proper indexes is bad! :-) Now, the most user visible change in this update is the change from Debian SSO to Salsa Logins, which is part of Pavit Kaur's GSoC work. She has been working with me and Paul Gevers for a few weeks, and this was the first official task in the internship. For users, this means that you now can only log in via Salsa. If you have an existing session where you logged in with an SSO certificate, it will still be valid. When you log in with Salsa, your username will be changed to match the one in Salsa. This means that if your account on salsa gets renamed, it will automatically be renamed on Debian CI when you log in the next time. Unfortunately we don't have a logout feature yet, but in the meantime you can use the developer toolbar to delete any existing cookies you might have for ci.debian.net. Migrating to Salsa logins was in my TODO list for a while. I had the impression that it could do it pretty quick to do by using pre-existing libraries that provide gitlab authentication integration for Rack (Ruby's de facto standard web application interface, like uwsgi for Python). But in reality, the devil was in the details. We went through several rounds of reviews to get it right. During the entire process, Pavit demonstrated an excelent capacity for responding to feedback, and overall I'm very happy with her performance in the internship so far. While we were discussing the Salsa logins, we noted a limitation in the existing database structure, where we stored usernames directly as the test requestor field, and decided it was better to normalize that relationship with a proper foreign key to the users table, which she also worked on. This update also include the very first (and non-user visible) step of her next task, which is adding support for having private tests. Those will be useful for implementing testing for embargoed security updates, and other use cases. This was broken up into 7 or 8 seperate steps, so there is still some work to do there. I'm looking forward to the continuation of this work.

20 June 2021

Mike Gabriel: BBB Packaging for Debian, a short Heads-Up

Over the past days, I have received tons of positive feedback on my previous blog post about forming the Debian BBB Packaging Team [1]. Feedback arrived via mail, IRC, [matrix] and Mastodon. Awesome. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, folks... Therefore, here comes a short ... Heads-Up on the current Ongoings ... around packaging BigBlueButton for Debian: Credits light+love
Mike Gabriel

[1] https://sunweavers.net/blog/node/133
[2] https://bigbluebutton.org/event-page/
[3] https://docs.google.com/document/d/1kpYJxYFVuWhB84bB73kmAQoGIS59ari1_hn2...

Russ Allbery: Review: The Magician's Nephew

Review: The Magician's Nephew, by C.S. Lewis
Illustrator: Pauline Baynes
Series: Chronicles of Narnia #6
Publisher: Collier Books
Copyright: 1955
Printing: 1978
ISBN: 0-02-044230-0
Format: Mass market
Pages: 186
The Magician's Nephew is the sixth book of the Chronicles of Narnia in the original publication order, but it's a prequel, set fifty years before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It's therefore put first in the new reading order. I have always loved world-building and continuities and, as a comics book reader (Marvel primarily), developed a deep enjoyment of filling in the pieces and reconstructing histories from later stories. It's no wonder that I love reading The Magician's Nephew after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The experience of fleshing out backstory with detail and specifics makes me happy. If that's also you, I recommend the order in which I'm reading these books. Reading this one first is defensible, though. One of the strongest arguments for doing so is that it's a much stronger, tighter, and better-told story than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and therefore might start the series off on a better foot for you. It stands alone well; you don't need to know any of the later events to enjoy this, although you will miss the significance of a few things like the lamp post and you don't get the full introduction to Aslan. The Magician's Nephew is the story of Polly Plummer, her new neighbor Digory Kirke, and his Uncle Andrew, who fancies himself a magician. At the start of the book, Digory's mother is bed-ridden and dying and Digory is miserable, which is the impetus for a friendship with Polly. The two decide to explore the crawl space of the row houses in which they live, seeing if they can get into the empty house past Digory's. They don't calculate the distances correctly and end up in Uncle Andrew's workroom, where Digory was forbidden to go. Uncle Andrew sees this as a golden opportunity to use them for an experiment in travel to other worlds. MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW. The Magician's Nephew, like the best of the Narnia books, does not drag its feet getting started. It takes a mere 30 pages to introduce all of the characters, establish a friendship, introduce us to a villain, and get both of the kids into another world. When Lewis is at his best, he has an economy of storytelling and a grasp of pacing that I wish was more common. It's also stuffed to the brim with ideas, one of the best of which is the Wood Between the Worlds. Uncle Andrew has crafted pairs of magic rings, yellow and green, and tricks Polly into touching one of the yellow ones, causing her to vanish from our world. He then uses her plight to coerce Digory into going after her, carrying two green rings that he thinks will bring people back into our world, and not incidentally also observing that world and returning to tell Uncle Andrew what it's like. But the world is more complicated than he thinks it is, and the place where the children find themselves is an eerie and incredibly peaceful wood, full of grass and trees but apparently no other living thing, and sprinkled with pools of water. This was my first encounter with the idea of a world that connects other worlds, and it remains the most memorable one for me. I love everything about the Wood: the simplicity of it, the calm that seems in part to be a defense against intrusion, the hidden danger that one might lose one's way and confuse the ponds for each other, and even the way that it tends to make one lose track of why one is there or what one is trying to accomplish. That quiet forest filled with pools is still an image I use for infinite creativity and potential. It's quiet and nonthreatening, but not entirely inviting either; it's magnificently neutral, letting each person bring what they wish to it. One of the minor plot points of this book is that Uncle Andrew is wrong about the rings because he's wrong about the worlds. There aren't just two worlds; there are an infinite number, with the Wood as a nexus, and our reality is neither the center nor one of an important pair. The rings are directional, but relative to the Wood, not our world. The kids, who are forced to experiment and who have open minds, figure this out quickly, but Uncle Andrew never shifts his perspective. This isn't important to the story, but I've always thought it was a nice touch of world-building. Where this story is heading, of course, is the creation of Narnia and the beginning of all of the stories told in the rest of the series. But before that, the kids's first trip out of the Wood is to one of the best worlds of children's fantasy: Charn. If the Wood is my mental image of a world nexus, Charn will forever be my image of a dying world: black sky, swollen red sun, and endless abandoned and crumbling buildings as far as the eye can see, full of tired silences and eerie noises. And, of course, the hall of statues, with one of the most memorable descriptions of history and empire I've ever read (if you ignore the racialized description):
All of the faces they could see were certainly nice. Both the men and women looked kind and wise, and they seemed to come of a handsome race. But after the children had gone a few steps down the room they came to faces that looked a little different. These were very solemn faces. You felt you would have to mind your P's and Q's, if you ever met living people who looked like that. When they had gone a little farther, they found themselves among faces they didn't like: this was about the middle of the room. The faces here looked very strong and proud and happy, but they looked cruel. A little further on, they looked crueller. Further on again, they were still cruel but they no longer looked happy. They were even despairing faces: as if the people they belonged to had done dreadful things and also suffered dreadful things.
The last statue is of a fierce, proud woman that Digory finds strikingly beautiful. (Lewis notes in an aside that Polly always said she never found anything specially beautiful about her. Here, as in The Silver Chair, the girl is the sensible one and things would have gone better if the boy had listened to her, a theme that I find immensely frustrating because Susan was the sensible one in the first two books of the series but then Lewis threw that away.) There is a bell in the middle of this hall, and the pillar that holds that bell has an inscription on it that I think every kid who grew up on Narnia knows by heart.
Make your choice, adventurous Stranger;
Strike the bell and bide the danger,
Or wonder, till it drives you mad,
What would have followed if you had.
Polly has no intention of striking the bell, but Digory fights her and does it anyway, waking Jadis from where she sat as the final statue in the hall and setting off one of the greatest reimaginings of a villain in children's literature. Jadis will, of course, become the White Witch who holds Narnia in endless winter some thousand Narnian years later. But the White Witch was a mediocre villain at best, the sort of obvious and cruel villain common in short fairy tales where the author isn't interested in doing much characterization. She exists to be evil, do bad things, and be defeated. She has a few good moments in conflict with Aslan, but that's about it. Jadis in this book is another matter entirely: proud, brilliant, dangerous, and creative. The death of everything on Charn was Jadis's doing: an intentional spell, used to claim a victory of sorts from the jaws of defeat by her sister in a civil war. (I find it fascinating that Lewis puts aside his normally sexist roles here.) Despite the best attempts of the kids to lose her both in Charn and in the Wood (which is inimical to her, in another nice bit of world-building), she manages to get back to England with them. The result is a remarkably good bit of villain characterization. Jadis is totally out of her element, used to a world-spanning empire run with magic and (from what hints we get) vaguely medieval technology. Her plan to take over their local country and eventually the world should be absurd and is played somewhat for laughs. Her magic, which is her great weapon, doesn't even work in England. But Jadis learns at a speed that the reader can watch. She's observant, she pays attention to things that don't fit her expectations, she changes plans, and she moves with predatory speed. Within a few hours in London she's stolen jewels and a horse and carriage, and the local police seem entirely overmatched. There's no way that one person without magic should be a real danger to England around the turn of the 20th century, but by the time the kids manage to pull her back into the Wood, you're not entirely sure England would have been safe. A chaotic confrontation, plus the ability of the rings to work their magic through transitive human contact, ends up with the kids, Uncle Andrew, Jadis, a taxicab driver and his horse all transported through the Wood to a new world. In this case, literally a new world: Narnia at the point of its creation. Here again, Lewis translates Christian myth, in this case the Genesis creation story, into a more vivid and in many ways more beautiful story than the original. Aslan singing the world into existence is an incredible image, as is the newly-created world so bursting with life that even things that normally could not grow will do so. (Which, of course, is why there is a lamp post burning in the middle of the western forest of Narnia for the Pevensie kids to find later.) I think my favorite part is the creation of the stars, but the whole sequence is great. There's also an insightful bit of human psychology. Uncle Andrew can't believe that a lion is singing, so he convinces himself that Aslan is not singing, and thus prevents himself from making any sense of the talking animals later.
Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.
As with a lot in Lewis, he probably meant this as a statement about faith, but it generalizes well beyond the religious context. What disappointed me about the creation story, though, is the animals. I didn't notice this as a kid, but this re-read has sensitized me to how Lewis consistently treats the talking animals as less than humans even though he celebrates them. That happens here too: the newly-created, newly-awakened animals are curious and excited but kind of dim. Some of this is an attempt to show that they're young and are just starting to learn, but it also seems to be an excuse for Aslan to set up a human king and queen over them instead of teaching them directly how to deal with the threat of Jadis who the children inadvertently introduced into the world. The other thing I dislike about The Magician's Nephew is that the climax is unnecessarily cruel. Once Digory realizes the properties of the newly-created world, he hopes to find a way to use that to heal his mother. Aslan points out that he is responsible for Jadis entering the world and instead sends him on a mission to obtain a fruit that, when planted, will ward Narnia against her for many years. The same fruit would heal his mother, and he has to choose Narnia over her. (It's a fairly explicit parallel to the Garden of Eden, except in this case Digory passes.) Aslan, in the end, gives Digory the fruit of the tree that grows, which is still sufficient to heal his mother, but this sequence made me angry when re-reading it. Aslan knew all along that what Digory is doing will let him heal his mother as well, but hides this from him to make it more of a test. It's cruel and mean; Aslan could have promised to heal Digory's mother and then seen if he would help Narnia without getting anything in return other than atoning for his error, but I suppose that was too transactional for Lewis's theology or something. Meh. But, despite that, the only reason why this is not the best Narnia book is because The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the only Narnia book that also nails the ending. The Magician's Nephew, up through Charn, Jadis's rampage through London, and the initial creation of Narnia, is fully as good, perhaps better. It sags a bit at the end, partly because it tries to hard to make the Narnian animals humorous and partly because of the unnecessary emotional torture of Digory. But this still holds up as the second-best Narnia book, and one I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading. If anything, Jadis and Charn are even better than I remembered. Followed by the last book of the series, the somewhat notorious The Last Battle. Rating: 9 out of 10

8 June 2021

Pavit Kaur: GSoC: About my Project and Community Bonding Period

alt text To start writing about updates regarding my GSoC project, the first obvious thing I need to do is to explain what my project really is. So let s get started.

About my project

What is debci? Directly stating from the official docs:
The Debian continuous integration (debci) is an automated system that coordinates the execution of automated tests against packages in the Debian system.

Let s try decoding it: Debian is a huge system with thousands of packages and within these packages exist inter-package dependencies. So if any package is updated, it is important to test if that package is working correctly but it is equally important to test that all the packages which are dependent on this updated package are working correctly too. Debci is a platform serving this purpose of automated testing for the entire Debian archive whenever a new version of the package, or of any package in its dependency chain is available. It comes with a UI that lets developers easily run tests and see their results if they pass or not. For my GSoC project, I am working to implement some incremental improvements to debci making it easier to use and maintain.

Community Bonding Period

The debci community Everyone I have come across till now in the community is very nice. The debci community in itself is a small but active community. It really feels good to be a part of conversations here.

Weekly call set up I have two mentors for this project Antonio Terceiro and Paul Gevers and they have set up a weekly sync call with me in which I will share my updates regarding the work done in the past week, any issues I am facing, and discuss the work for next week. In addition to this, I can always contact them on IRC for any issue I am stuck in.

Work till now The first thing I did in the community bonding period is setting up this blog. I wanted to have one for a long time and this seems to be a really nice opportunity to start. And the fact this has been added to Planet Debian too makes me happier to write. I am still trying to get a hang of this and definitely need to learn how to spend less time writing it. I also worked on my already opened merge requests during this period and got them merged. Since I am already familiar with the codebase, so I started with my first deliverable a bit earlier before the official coding period begins which is migrating the logins to Salsa, Debian s Gitlab Instance. Currently, debci uses Debian SSO client certificates for logging in, but that is deprecated so it needs to be migrated to use Salsa as an identity provider. The OmniAuth library is being used to implement this with help of ruby-omniauth-gitlab strategy. I explored a great deal about integrating OmniAuth with our application and bumped into so many issues too when I began implementing that. Once I am done integrating the Salsa Authentication with debci, I am planning to write a separate tutorial on that which could be helpful to other people using OmniAuth with their application. With that, the community bonding period has ended on 7th June and the coding period officially begins and for now, I will be continuing working on my first deliverable. That s all for now. See you next time!

1 June 2021

Russ Allbery: Review: The Horse and His Boy

Review: The Horse and His Boy, by C.S. Lewis
Illustrator: Pauline Baynes
Series: Chronicles of Narnia #5
Publisher: Collier Books
Copyright: 1954
Printing: 1978
ISBN: 0-02-044200-9
Format: Mass market
Pages: 217
The Horse and His Boy was the fifth published book in the Chronicles of Narnia, but it takes place during the last chapter of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, in the midst of the golden age of Narnia. It's the only true side story of the series and it doesn't matter much where in sequence you read it, as long as it's after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and before The Last Battle (which would spoil its ending somewhat). MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW. The Horse and His Boy is also the only book of the series that is not a portal fantasy. The Pevensie kids make an appearance, but as the ruling kings and queens of Narnia, and only as side characters. The protagonists are a boy named Shasta, a girl named Aravis, and horses named Bree and Hwin. Aravis is a Calormene, a native of the desert (and extremely Orientalist, but more on that later) kingdom to the south of Narnia and Archenland. Shasta starts the book as the theoretically adopted son but mostly slave of a Calormene fisherman. The Horse and His Boy is the story of their journey from Calormen north to Archenland and Narnia, just in time to defend Narnia and Archenland from an invasion. This story starts with a great hook. Shasta's owner is hosting a passing Tarkaan, a Calormene lord, and overhears a negotiation to sell Shasta to the Tarkaan as his slave (and, in the process, revealing that he rescued Shasta as an infant from a rowboat next to a dead man). Shasta starts talking to the Tarkaan's horse and is caught by surprise when the horse talks back. He is a Talking Horse from Narnia, kidnapped as a colt, and eager to return to Narnia and the North. He convinces Shasta to attempt to escape with him. This has so much promise. For once, we're offered a story where one of the talking animals of Narnia is at least a co-protagonist and has some agency in the story. Bree takes charge of Shasta, teaches him to ride (or, mostly, how to fall off a horse), and makes most of the early plans. Finally, a story that recognizes that Narnia stories don't have to revolve around the humans! Unfortunately, Bree is an obnoxious, arrogant character. I wanted to like him, but he makes it very hard. This gets even worse when Shasta is thrown together with Aravis, a noble Calormene girl who is escaping an arranged marriage on her own talking mare, Hwin. Bree is a warhorse, Hwin is a lady's riding mare, and Lewis apparently knows absolutely nothing about horses, because every part of Bree's sexist posturing and Hwin's passive meekness is awful and cringe-worthy. I am not a horse person, so will link to Judith Tarr's much more knowledgeable critique at Tor.com, but suffice it to say that mares are not meekly deferential or awed by stallions. If Bree had behaved that way with a real mare, he would have gotten the crap beaten out of him (which might have improved his attitude considerably). As is, we have to put up with rather a lot of Bree's posturing and Hwin (who I liked much better) barely gets a line and acts disturbingly like she was horribly abused. This makes me sad, because I like Bree's character arc. He's spent his whole life being special and different from those around him, and while he wants to escape this country and return home, he's also gotten used to being special. In Narnia, he will just be a normal talking horse. To get everything else he wants, he also has to let go of the idea that he's someone special. If Lewis had done more with this and made Bree a more sympathetic character, this could have been very effective. As written, it only gets a few passing mentions (mostly via Bree being weirdly obsessed with whether talking horses roll) and is therefore overshadowed by Shasta's chosen one story and Bree's own arrogant behavior. The horses aside, this is a passable adventure story with some well-done moments. The two kids and their horses end up in Tashbaan, the huge Calormene capital, where they stumble across the Narnians and Shasta is mistaken for one of their party. Radagast, the prince of Calormen, is proposing marriage to Susan, and the Narnians are in the process of realizing he doesn't plan to take no for an answer. Aravis, meanwhile, has to sneak out of the city via the Tisroc's gardens, which results in her hiding behind a couch as she hears Radagast's plans to invade Archenland and Narnia to take Susan as his bride by force. Once reunited, Shasta, Aravis, and the horses flee across the desert to bring warning to Archenland and then Narnia. Of all the Narnia books, The Horse and His Boy leans the hardest into the personal savior angle of Christianity. Parts of it, such as Shasta's ride over the pass into Narnia, have a strong "Footprints" feel to them. Most of the events of the book are arranged by Aslan, starting with Shasta's early life. Readers of the series will know this when a lion shows up early to herd the horses where they need to go, or when a cat keeps Shasta company in the desert and frightens away jackals. Shasta only understands near the end. I remember this being compelling stuff as a young Christian reader. This personal attention and life shaping from God is pure Christian wish fulfillment of the "God has a plan for your life" variety, even more so than Shasta turning out to be a lost prince. As an adult re-reader, I can see that Lewis is palming the theodicy card rather egregiously. It's great that Aslan was making everything turn out well in the end, but why did he have to scare the kids and horses half to death in the process? They were already eager to do what he wanted, but it's somehow inconceivable that Aslan would simply tell them what to do rather than manipulate them. There's no obvious in-story justification why he couldn't have made the experience much less terrifying. Or, for that matter, prevented Shasta from being kidnapped as an infant in the first place and solved the problem of Radagast in a more direct way. This sort of theology takes as an unexamined assumption that a deity must refuse to use his words and instead do everything in weirdly roundabout and mysterious ways, which makes even less sense in Narnia than in our world given how directly and straightforwardly Aslan has acted in previous books. It was also obvious to me on re-read how unfair Lewis's strict gender roles are to Aravis. She's an excellent rider from the start of the book and has practiced many of the things Shasta struggles to do, but Shasta is the boy and Aravis is the girl, so Aravis has to have girl adventures involving tittering princesses, luxurious baths, and eavesdropping behind couches, whereas Shasta has boy adventures like riding to warn the king or bringing word to Narnia. There's nothing very objectionable about Shasta as a character (unlike Bree), but he has such a generic character arc. The Horse and Her Girl with Aravis and Hwin as protagonists would have been a more interesting story, and would have helpfully complicated the whole Narnia and the North story motive. As for that storyline, wow the racism is strong in this one, starting with the degree that The Horse and His Boy is deeply concerned with people's skin color. Shasta is white, you see, clearly marking him as from the North because all the Calormenes are dark-skinned. (This makes even less sense in this fantasy world than in our world because it's strongly implied in The Magician's Nephew that all the humans in Calormen came from Narnia originally.) The Calormenes all talk like characters from bad translations of the Arabian Nights and are shown as cruel, corrupt slavers with a culture that's a Orientalist mishmash of Arab, Persian, and Chinese stereotypes. Everyone is required to say "may he live forever" after referencing the Tisroc, which is an obvious and crude parody of Islam. This stereotype fest culminates in the incredibly bizarre scene that Aravis overhears, in which the grand vizier literally grovels on the floor while Radagast kicks him and the Tisroc, Radagast's father, talks about how Narnia's freedom offends him and the barbarian kingdom would be more profitable and orderly when conquered. The one point to Lewis's credit is that Aravis is also Calormene, tells stories in the same style, and is still a protagonist and just as acceptable to Aslan as Shasta is. It's not enough to overcome the numerous problems with Lewis's lazy world-building, but it makes me wish even more that Aravis had gotten her own book and more meaningful scenes with Aslan. I had forgotten that Susan appears in this book, although that appearance doesn't add much to the general problem of Susan in Narnia except perhaps to hint at Lewis's later awful choices. She is shown considering marriage to the clearly villainous Radagast, and then only mentioned later with a weird note that she doesn't ride to war despite being the best archer of the four. I will say again that it's truly weird to see the Pevensie kids as (young) adults discussing marriage proposals, international politics, and border wars while remembering they all get dumped back into their previous lives as British schoolkids. This had to have had dramatic effects on their lives that Lewis never showed. (I know, the real answer is that Lewis is writing these books according to childhood imaginary adventure logic, where adventures don't have long-term consequences of that type.) I will also grumble once more at how weirdly ineffectual Narnians are until some human comes to tell them what to do. Calormen is obviously a threat; Susan just escaped from an attempted forced marriage. Archenland is both their southern line of defense and is an ally separated by a mountain pass in a country full of talking eagles, among other obvious messengers. And yet, it falls to Shasta to ride to give warning because he's the human protagonist of the story. Everyone else seems to be too busy with quirky domesticity or endless faux-medieval chivalric parties. The Horse and His Boy was one of my favorites when I was a kid, but reading as an adult I found it much harder to tolerate Bree or read past the blatant racial and cultural stereotyping. The bits with Aslan also felt less magical to me than they did as a kid because I was asking more questions about why Aslan had to do everything in such an opaque and perilous way. It's still not a bad adventure; Aravis is a great character, the bits in Tashbaan are at least memorable, and I still love the Hermit of the Southern March and want to know more about him. But I would rank it below the top tier of Narnia books, alongside Prince Caspian as a book with some great moments and some serious flaws. Followed in original publication order by The Magician's Nephew. Rating: 7 out of 10

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