Search Results: "porter"

2 July 2024

Bits from Debian: Bits from the DPL

Dear Debian community, Statement on Daniel Pocock The Debian project has successfully taken action to secure its trademarks and interests worldwide, as detailed in our press statement. I would like to personally thank everyone in the community who was involved in this process. I would have loved for you all to have spent your volunteer time on more fruitful things. Debian Boot team might need help I think I've identified the issue that finally motivated me to contact our teams: for a long time, I have had the impression that Debian is driven by several "one-person teams" (to varying extents of individual influence and susceptibility to burnout). As DPL, I see it as my task to find ways to address this issue and provide support. I received private responses from Debian Boot team members, which motivated me to kindly invite volunteers to some prominent and highly visible fields of work that you might find personally challenging. I recommend subscribing to the Debian Boot mailing list to see where you might be able to provide assistance. /usrmerge Helmut Grohne confirmed that the last remaining packages shipping aliased files inside the package set relevant to debootstrap were uploaded. Thanks a lot for Helmut and all contributors that helped to implement DEP17. Contacting more teams I'd like to repeat that I've registered a BoF for DebConf24 in Busan with the following description: This BoF is an attempt to gather as much as possible teams inside Debian to exchange experiences, discuss workflows inside teams, share their ways to attract newcomers etc. Each participant team should prepare a short description of their work and what team roles ( openings ) they have for new contributors. Even for delegated teams (membership is less fluid), it would be good to present the team, explain what it takes to be a team member, and what steps people usually go to end up being invited to participate. Some other teams can easily absorb contributions from salsa MRs, and at some point people get commit access. Anyway, the point is that we work on the idea that the pathway to become a team member becomes more clear from an outsider point-of-view. I'm lagging a bit behind my team contacting schedule and will not manage to contact every team before DebConf. As a (short) summary, I can draw some positive conclusions about my efforts to reach out to teams. I was able to identify some issues that were new to me and which I am now working on. Examples include limitations in Salsa and Salsa CI. I consider both essential parts of our infrastructure and will support both teams in enhancing their services. Some teams confirmed that they are basically using some common infrastructure (Salsa team space, mailing lists, IRC channels) but that the individual members of the team work on their own problems without sharing any common work. I have also not read about convincing strategies to attract newcomers to the team, as we have established, for instance, in the Debian Med team. DebConf attendance The amount of money needed to fly people to South Korea was higher than usual, so the DebConf bursary team had to make some difficult decisions about who could be reimbursed for travel expenses. I extended the budget for diversity and newcomers, which enabled us to invite some additional contributors. We hope that those who were not able to come this year can make it next year to Brest or to MiniDebConf Cambridge or Toulouse tag2upload On June 12, Sean Whitton requested comments on the debian-vote list regarding a General Resolution (GR) about tag2upload. The discussion began with technical details but unfortunately, as often happens in long threads, it drifted into abrasive language, prompting the community team to address the behavior of an opponent of the GR supporters. After 560 emails covering technical details, including a detailed security review by Russ Allbery, Sean finally proposed the GR on June 27, 2024 (two weeks after requesting comments). Firstly, I would like to thank the drivers of this GR and acknowledge the technical work behind it, including the security review. I am positively convinced that Debian can benefit from modernizing its infrastructure, particularly through stronger integration of Git into packaging workflows. Sam Hartman provided some historical context [1], [2], [3], [4], noting that this discussion originally took place five years ago with no results from several similarly lengthy threads. My favorite summary of the entire thread was given by Gregor Herrmann, which reflects the same gut feeling I have and highlights a structural problem within Debian that hinders technical changes. Addressing this issue is definitely a matter for the Debian Project Leader, and I will try to address it during my term. At the time of writing these bits, a proposal from ftpmaster, which is being continuously discussed, might lead to a solution. I was also asked to extend the GR discussion periods which I will do in separate mail. Talk: Debian GNU/Linux for Scientific Research I was invited to have a talk in the Systems-Facing Track of University of British Columbia (who is sponsoring rack space for several Debian servers). I admit it felt a bit strange to me after working more than 20 years for establishing Debian in scientific environments to be invited to such a talk "because I'm DPL". Kind regards Andreas.

6 June 2024

Debian Brasil: MiniDebConf Belo Horizonte 2024 - a brief report

From April 27th to 30th, 2024, MiniDebConf Belo Horizonte 2024 was held at the Pampulha Campus of UFMG - Federal University of Minas Gerais, in Belo Horizonte city. MiniDebConf BH 2024 banners This was the fifth time that a MiniDebConf (as an exclusive in-person event about Debian) took place in Brazil. Previous editions were in Curitiba (2016, 2017, and 2018), and in Bras lia 2023. We had other MiniDebConfs editions held within Free Software events such as FISL and Latinoware, and other online events. See our event history. Parallel to MiniDebConf, on 27th (Saturday) FLISOL - Latin American Free Software Installation Festival took place. It's the largest event in Latin America to promote Free Software, and It has been held since 2005 simultaneously in several cities. MiniDebConf Belo Horizonte 2024 was a success (as were previous editions) thanks to the participation of everyone, regardless of their level of knowledge about Debian. We value the presence of both beginner users who are familiarizing themselves with the system and the official project developers. The spirit of welcome and collaboration was present during all the event. MiniDebConf BH 2024 flisol 2024 edition numbers During the four days of the event, several activities took place for all levels of users and collaborators of the Debian project. The official schedule was composed of: MiniDebConf BH 2024 palestra The final numbers for MiniDebConf Belo Horizonte 2024 show that we had a record number of participants. Of the 224 participants, 15 were official Brazilian contributors, 10 being DDs (Debian Developers) and 05 (Debian Maintainers), in addition to several unofficial contributors. The organization was carried out by 14 people who started working at the end of 2023, including Prof. Lo c Cerf from the Computing Department who made the event possible at UFMG, and 37 volunteers who helped during the event. As MiniDebConf was held at UFMG facilities, we had the help of more than 10 University employees. See the list with the names of people who helped in some way in organizing MiniDebConf Belo Horizonte 2024. The difference between the number of people registered and the number of attendees in the event is probably explained by the fact that there is no registration fee, so if the person decides not to go to the event, they will not suffer financial losses. The 2024 edition of MiniDebconf Belo Horizonte was truly grand and shows the result of the constant efforts made over the last few years to attract more contributors to the Debian community in Brazil. With each edition the numbers only increase, with more attendees, more activities, more rooms, and more sponsors/supporters. MiniDebConf BH 2024 grupo

MiniDebConf BH 2024 grupo Activities The MiniDebConf schedule was intense and diverse. On the 27th, 29th and 30th (Saturday, Monday and Tuesday) we had talks, discussions, workshops and many practical activities. MiniDebConf BH 2024 palestra On the 28th (Sunday), the Day Trip took place, a day dedicated to sightseeing around the city. In the morning we left the hotel and went, on a chartered bus, to the Belo Horizonte Central Market. People took the opportunity to buy various things such as cheeses, sweets, cacha as and souvenirs, as well as tasting some local foods. MiniDebConf BH 2024 mercado After a 2-hour tour of the Market, we got back on the bus and hit the road for lunch at a typical Minas Gerais food restaurant. MiniDebConf BH 2024 palestra With everyone well fed, we returned to Belo Horizonte to visit the city's main tourist attraction: Lagoa da Pampulha and Capela S o Francisco de Assis, better known as Igrejinha da Pampulha. MiniDebConf BH 2024 palestra We went back to the hotel and the day ended in the hacker space that we set up in the events room for people to chat, packaging, and eat pizzas. MiniDebConf BH 2024 palestra Crowdfunding For the third time we ran a crowdfunding campaign and it was incredible how people contributed! The initial goal was to raise the amount equivalent to a gold tier of R$ 3,000.00. When we reached this goal, we defined a new one, equivalent to one gold tier + one silver tier (R$ 5,000.00). And again we achieved this goal. So we proposed as a final goal the value of a gold + silver + bronze tiers, which would be equivalent to R$ 6,000.00. The result was that we raised R$7,239.65 (~ USD 1,400) with the help of more than 100 people! Thank you very much to the people who contributed any amount. As a thank you, we list the names of the people who donated. MiniDebConf BH 2024 doadores Food, accommodation and/or travel grants for participants Each edition of MiniDebConf brought some innovation, or some different benefit for the attendees. In this year's edition in Belo Horizonte, as with DebConfs, we offered bursaries for food, accommodation and/or travel to help those people who would like to come to the event but who would need some kind of help. In the registration form, we included the option for the person to request a food, accommodation and/or travel bursary, but to do so, they would have to identify themselves as a contributor (official or unofficial) to Debian and write a justification for the request. Number of people benefited: The food bursary provided lunch and dinner every day. The lunches included attendees who live in Belo Horizonte and the region. Dinners were paid for attendees who also received accommodation and/or travel. The accommodation was held at the BH Jaragu Hotel. And the travels included airplane or bus tickets, or fuel (for those who came by car or motorbike). Much of the money to fund the bursaries came from the Debian Project, mainly for travels. We sent a budget request to the former Debian leader Jonathan Carter, and He promptly approved our request. In addition to this event budget, the leader also approved individual requests sent by some DDs who preferred to request directly from him. The experience of offering the bursaries was really good because it allowed several people to come from other cities. MiniDebConf BH 2024 grupo Photos and videos You can watch recordings of the talks at the links below: And see the photos taken by several collaborators in the links below: Thanks We would like to thank all the attendees, organizers, volunteers, sponsors and supporters who contributed to the success of MiniDebConf Belo Horizonte 2024. MiniDebConf BH 2024 grupo Sponsors Gold: Silver: Bronze: Supporters Organizers

Paul Wise: FLOSS Activities May 2024

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

Changes

Issues

Review
  • Debian BTS usertags: changes for the month

Administration
  • Debian wiki: approve accounts

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

Sponsors All work was done on a volunteer basis.

20 May 2024

Russell Coker: Respect and Children

I attended the school Yarra Valley Grammer (then Yarra Valley Anglican School which I will refer to as YV ) and completed year 12 in 1990. The school is currently in the news for a spreadsheet some boys made rating girls where unrapeable was one of the ratings. The school s PR team are now making claims like Respect for each other is in the DNA of this school . I d like to know when this DNA change allegedly occurred because respect definitely wasn t in the school DNA in 1990! Before I go any further I have to note that if the school threatens legal action against me for this post it will be clear evidence that they don t believe in respect. The actions of that school have wronged me, several of my friends, many people who aren t friends but who I wish they hadn t had to suffer and I hadn t had to witness it, and presumably countless others that I didn t witness. If they have any decency they would not consider legal action but I have learned that as an institution they have no decency so I have to note that they should read the Wikipedia page about the Streisand Effect [1] and keep it in mind before deciding on a course of action. I think it is possible to create a school where most kids enjoy being there and enjoy learning, where hardly any students find it a negative experience and almost no-one finds it traumatic. But it is not possible to do that with the way schools tend to be run. When I was at high school there was a general culture that minor sex crimes committed by boys against boys weren t a problem, this probably applied to all high schools. Things like ripping a boy s pants off (known as dakking ) were considered a big joke. If you accept that ripping the pants off an unwilling boy is a good thing (as was the case when I was at school) then that leads to thinking that describing girls as unrapeable is acceptable. The Wikipedia page for Pantsing [2] has a reference for this issue being raised as a serious problem by the British Secretary of State for Education and Skills Alan Johnson in 2007. So this has continued to be a widespread problem around the world. Has YV become better than other schools in dealing with it or is Dakking and Wedgies as well accepted now as it was when I attended? There is talk about schools preparing kids for the workforce, but grabbing someone s underpants without consent will result in instant dismissal from almost all employment. There should be more tolerance for making mistakes at school than at work, but they shouldn t tolerate what would be serious crimes in other contexts. For work environments there have been significant changes to what is accepted, so it doesn t seem unreasonable to expect that schools can have a similar change in culture. One would hope that spending 6 years wondering who s going to grab your underpants next would teach boys the importance of consent and some sympathy for victims of other forms of sexual assault. But that doesn t seem to happen, apparently it s often the opposite. When I was young Autism wasn t diagnosed for anyone who was capable of having a normal life. Teachers noticed that I wasn t like other kids, some were nice, but some encouraged other boys to attack me as a form of corporal punishment by proxy not a punishment for doing anything wrong (detentions were adequate for that) but for being different. The lesson kids will take from that sort of thing is that if you are in a position of power you can mistreat other people and get away with it. There was a girl in my year level at YV who would probably be diagnosed as Autistic by today s standards, the way I witnessed her being treated was considerably worse than what was described in the recent news reports but it is quite likely that worse things have been done recently which haven t made the news yet. If this issue is declared to be over after 4 boys were expelled then I ll count that as evidence of a cover-up. These things don t happen in a vacuum, there s a culture that permits and encourages it. The word respect has different meanings, it can mean treat a superior as the master or treat someone as a human being . The phrase if you treat me with respect I ll treat you with respect usually means if you treat me as the boss then I ll treat you as a human being . The distinction is very important when discussing respect in schools. If teachers are considered the ultimate bosses whose behaviour can never be questioned then many boys won t need much help from Andrew Tate in developing the belief that they should be the boss of girls in the same way. Do any schools have a process for having students review teachers? Does YV have an ombudsman to take reports of misbehaving teachers in the way that corporations typically have an ombudsman to take reports about bad managers? Any time you have people whose behaviour is beyond scrutiny or oversight you will inevitably have bad people apply for jobs, then bad things will happen and it will create a culture of bad behaviour. If teachers can treat kids badly then kids will treat other kids badly, and this generally ends with girls being treated badly by boys. My experience at YV was that kids barely had the status of people. It seemed that the school operated more as a caretaker of the property of parents than as an organisation that cares for people. The current YV website has a Whistleblower policy [3] that has only one occurrence of the word student and that is about issues that endanger the health or safety of students. Students are the people most vulnerable to reprisal for complaining and not being listed as an eligible whistleblower shows their status. The web site also has a flowchart for complaints and grievances [4] which doesn t describe any policy for a complaint to be initiated by a student. One would hope that parents would advocate for their children but that often isn t the case. When discussing the possibility of boys being bullied at school with parents I ve had them say things like my son wouldn t be so weak that he would be bullied , no boy will tell his parents about being bullied if that s their attitude! I imagine that there are similar but different issues of parents victim-blaming when their daughter is bullied (presumably substituting immoral for weak) but don t have direct knowledge of the topic. The experience of many kids is being disrespected by their parents, the school system, and often siblings too. A school can t solve all the world s problems but can ideally be a refuge for kids who have problems at home. When I was at school the culture in the country and the school was homophobic. One teacher when discussing issues such as how students could tell him if they had psychological problems and no-one else to talk to said some things like the Village People make really good music which was the only time any teacher said anything like It s OK to be gay (the Village People were the gayest pop group at the time). A lot of the bullying at school had a sexual component to it. In addition to the wedgies and dakking (which while not happening often was something you had to constantly be aware of) I routinely avoided PE classes where a shower was necessary because of a thug who hung around by the showers and looked hungrily at my penis, I don t know if he had a particular liking to mine or if he stared at everyone that way. Flashing and perving was quite common in change rooms. Presumably as such boy-boy sexual misbehaviour was so accepted that led to boys mistreating girls. I currently work for a company that is active in telling it s employees about the possibility of free psychological assistance. Any employee can phone a psychologist to discuss problems (whether or not they are work related) free of charge and without their manager or colleagues knowing. The company is billed and is only given a breakdown of the number of people who used the service and roughly what the issue was (work stress, family, friends, grief, etc). When something noteworthy happens employees are given reminders about this such as if you need help after seeing a homeless man try to steal a laptop from the office then feel free to call the assistance program . Do schools offer something similar? With the school fees paid to a school like YV they should be able to afford plenty of psychologist time. Every day I was at YV I saw something considerably worse than laptop theft, most days something was done to me. The problems with schools are part of larger problems with society. About half of the adults in Australia still support the Liberal party in spite of their support of Christian Porter, Cardinal Pell, and Bruce Lehrmann. It s not logical to expect such parents to discourage their sons from mistreating girls or to encourage their daughters to complain when they are mistreated. The Anglican church has recently changed it s policy to suggesting that victims of sexual abuse can contact the police instead of or in addition to the church, previously they had encouraged victims to only contact the church which facilitated cover-ups. One would hope that schools associated with the Anglican church have also changed their practices towards such things. I approve of the respect is in our DNA concept, it s like Google s former slogan of Don t be evil which is something that they can be bound to. Here s a list of questions that could be asked of schools (not just YV but all schools) by journalists when reporting on such things:
  1. Do you have a policy of not trying to silence past students who have been treated badly?
  2. Do you take all sexual assaults seriously including wedgies and dakking?
  3. Do you take all violence at school seriously? Even if there s no blood? Even if the victim says they don t want to make an issue of it?
  4. What are your procedures to deal with misbehaviour from teachers? Do the students all know how to file complaints? Do they know that they can file a complaint if they aren t the victim?
  5. Does the school have policies against homophobia and transphobia and are they enforced?
  6. Does the school offer free psychological assistance to students and staff who need it? NB This only applies to private schools like YV that have huge amounts of money, public schools can t afford that.
  7. Are serious incidents investigated by people who are independent of the school and who don t have a vested interest in keeping things quiet?
  8. Do you encourage students to seek external help from organisations like the ones on the resources list of the Grace Tame Foundation [5]? Having your own list of recommended external organisations would be good too.
Counter Arguments I ve had practice debating such things, here s some responses to common counter arguments. Conclusion I don t think that YV is necessarily worse than other schools, although I m sure that representatives of other private schools are now working to assure parents of students and prospective students that they are. I don t think that all the people who were employed as teachers there when I attended were bad people, some of them were nice people who were competent teachers. But a few good people can t turn around a bad system. I will note that when I attended all the sports teachers were decent people, it was the only department I could say such things about. But sports involves situations that can lead to a bad result, issues started at other times and places can lead to violence or harassment in PE classes regardless of how good the teachers are. Teachers who know that there are problems need to be able to raise issues with the administration. When a teacher quits teaching to join the clergy and another teacher describes it as a loss for the clergy but a gain for YV it raises the question of why the bad teacher in question couldn t have been encouraged to leave earlier. A significant portion of the population will do whatever is permitted. If you say no teacher would ever bully a student so we don t need to look out for that then some teacher will do exactly that. I hope that this will lead to changes both in YV and in other schools. But if they declare this issue as resolved after expelling 4 students then something similar or worse will happen again. At least now students know that when this sort of thing happens they can send evidence to journalists to get some action.

2 May 2024

Paul Wise: FLOSS Activities April 2024

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

Changes

Issues

Administration
  • Debian IRC: updated #debian-dpl access list for new DPL
  • Debian wiki: unblock IP addresses, approve accounts

Communication

Sponsors The SWH work was sponsored. All other work was done on a volunteer basis.

12 April 2024

NOKUBI Takatsugu: mailman3-web error when upgrading to bookworm

I tried to upgrade bullseye machien to bookworm, so I got the following error:
File /usr/lib/python3/dist-packages/django/contrib/auth/mixins.py , line 5, in
from django.contrib.auth.views import redirect_to_login
File /usr/lib/python3/dist-packages/django/contrib/auth/views.py , line 20, in
from django.utils.http import (
ImportError: cannot import name url_has_allowed_host_and_scheme from django.utils.http (/usr/lib/python3/dist-packages/django/utils/http.py) During handling of the above exception, another exception occurred:
It is similar to #1000810, but it is already closed. My solution is: I tried to send to the report, but it rerutns 550 Unknown or archived bug

5 April 2024

Paul Wise: FLOSS Activities March 2024

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

Changes

Issues

Administration
  • Debian wiki: approve accounts

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

Sponsors The SWH work was sponsored. All other work was done on a volunteer basis.

24 March 2024

Jacob Adams: Regular Reboots

Uptime is often considered a measure of system reliability, an indication that the running software is stable and can be counted on. However, this hides the insidious build-up of state throughout the system as it runs, the slow drift from the expected to the strange. As Nolan Lawson highlights in an excellent post entitled Programmers are bad at managing state, state is the most challenging part of programming. It s why did you try turning it off and on again is a classic tech support response to any problem. In addition to the problem of state, installing regular updates periodically requires a reboot, even if the rest of the process is automated through a tool like unattended-upgrades. For my personal homelab, I manage a handful of different machines running various services. I used to just schedule a day to update and reboot all of them, but that got very tedious very quickly. I then moved the reboot to a cronjob, and then recently to a systemd timer and service. I figure that laying out my path to better management of this might help others, and will almost certainly lead to someone telling me a better way to do this. UPDATE: Turns out there s another option for better systemd cron integration. See systemd-cron below.

Stage One: Reboot Cron The first, and easiest approach, is a simple cron job. Just adding the following line to /var/spool/cron/crontabs/root1 is enough to get your machine to reboot once a month2 on the 6th at 8:00 AM3:
0 8 6 * * reboot
I had this configured for many years and it works well. But you have no indication as to whether it succeeds except for checking your uptime regularly yourself.

Stage Two: Reboot systemd Timer The next evolution of this approach for me was to use a systemd timer. I created a regular-reboot.timer with the following contents:
[Unit]
Description=Reboot on a Regular Basis
[Timer]
Unit=regular-reboot.service
OnBootSec=1month
[Install]
WantedBy=timers.target
This timer will trigger the regular-reboot.service systemd unit when the system reaches one month of uptime. I ve seen some guides to creating timer units recommend adding a Wants=regular-reboot.service to the [Unit] section, but this has the consequence of running that service every time it starts the timer. In this case that will just reboot your system on startup which is not what you want. Care needs to be taken to use the OnBootSec directive instead of OnCalendar or any of the other time specifications, as your system could reboot, discover its still within the expected window and reboot again. With OnBootSec your system will not have that problem. Technically, this same problem could have occurred with the cronjob approach, but in practice it never did, as the systems took long enough to come back up that they were no longer within the expected window for the job. I then added the regular-reboot.service:
[Unit]
Description=Reboot on a Regular Basis
Wants=regular-reboot.timer
[Service]
Type=oneshot
ExecStart=shutdown -r 02:45
You ll note that this service is actually scheduling a specific reboot time via the shutdown command instead of just immediately rebooting. This is a bit of a hack needed because I can t control when the timer runs exactly when using OnBootSec. This way different systems have different reboot times so that everything doesn t just reboot and fail all at once. Were something to fail to come back up I would have some time to fix it, as each machine has a few hours between scheduled reboots. One you have both files in place, you ll simply need to reload configuration and then enable and start the timer unit:
systemctl daemon-reload
systemctl enable --now regular-reboot.timer
You can then check when it will fire next:
# systemctl status regular-reboot.timer
  regular-reboot.timer - Reboot on a Regular Basis
     Loaded: loaded (/etc/systemd/system/regular-reboot.timer; enabled; preset: enabled)
     Active: active (waiting) since Wed 2024-03-13 01:54:52 EDT; 1 week 4 days ago
    Trigger: Fri 2024-04-12 12:24:42 EDT; 2 weeks 4 days left
   Triggers:   regular-reboot.service
Mar 13 01:54:52 dorfl systemd[1]: Started regular-reboot.timer - Reboot on a Regular Basis.

Sidenote: Replacing all Cron Jobs with systemd Timers More generally, I ve now replaced all cronjobs on my personal systems with systemd timer units, mostly because I can now actually track failures via prometheus-node-exporter. There are plenty of ways to hack in cron support to the node exporter, but just moving to systemd units provides both support for tracking failure and logging, both of which make system administration much easier when things inevitably go wrong.

systemd-cron An alternative to converting everything by hand, if you happen to have a lot of cronjobs is systemd-cron. It will make each crontab and /etc/cron.* directory into automatic service and timer units. Thanks to Alexandre Detiste for letting me know about this project. I have few enough cron jobs that I ve already converted, but for anyone looking at a large number of jobs to convert you ll want to check it out!

Stage Three: Monitor that it s working The final step here is confirm that these units actually work, beyond just firing regularly. I now have the following rule in my prometheus-alertmanager rules:
  - alert: UptimeTooHigh
    expr: (time() - node_boot_time_seconds job="node" ) / 86400 > 35
    annotations:
      summary: "Instance  Has Been Up Too Long!"
      description: "Instance  Has Been Up Too Long!"
This will trigger an alert anytime that I have a machine up for more than 35 days. This actually helped me track down one machine that I had forgotten to set up this new unit on4.

Not everything needs to scale Is It Worth The Time One of the most common fallacies programmers fall into is that we will jump to automating a solution before we stop and figure out how much time it would even save. In taking a slow improvement route to solve this problem for myself, I ve managed not to invest too much time5 in worrying about this but also achieved a meaningful improvement beyond my first approach of doing it all by hand.
  1. You could also add a line to /etc/crontab or drop a script into /etc/cron.monthly depending on your system.
  2. Why once a month? Mostly to avoid regular disruptions, but still be reasonably timely on updates.
  3. If you re looking to understand the cron time format I recommend crontab guru.
  4. In the long term I really should set up something like ansible to automatically push fleetwide changes like this but with fewer machines than fingers this seems like overkill.
  5. Of course by now writing about it, I ve probably doubled the amount of time I ve spent thinking about this topic but oh well

9 March 2024

Iustin Pop: Finally learning some Rust - hello photo-backlog-exporter!

After 4? 5? or so years of wanting to learn Rust, over the past 4 or so months I finally bit the bullet and found the motivation to write some Rust. And the subject. And I was, and still am, thoroughly surprised. It s like someone took Haskell, simplified it to some extents, and wrote a systems language out of it. Writing Rust after Haskell seems easy, and pleasant, and you: On the other hand: However, overall, one can clearly see there s more movement in Rust, and the quality of some parts of the toolchain is better (looking at you, rust-analyzer, compared to HLS). So, with that, I ve just tagged photo-backlog-exporter v0.1.0. It s a port of a Python script that was run as a textfile collector, which meant updates every ~15 minutes, since it was a bit slow to start, which I then rewrote in Go (but I don t like Go the language, plus the GC - if I have to deal with a GC, I d rather write Haskell), then finally rewrote in Rust. What does this do? It exports metrics for Prometheus based on the count, age and distribution of files in a directory. These files being, for me, the pictures I still have to sort, cull and process, because I never have enough free time to clear out the backlog. The script is kind of designed to work together with Corydalis, but since it doesn t care about file content, it can also double (easily) as simple file count/age exporter . And to my surprise, writing in Rust is soo pleasant, that the feature list is greater than the original Python script, and - compared to that untested script - I ve rather easily achieved a very high coverage ratio. Rust has multiple types of tests, and the combination allows getting pretty down to details on testing: I had to combine a (large) number of testing crates to get it expressive enough, but it was worth the effort. The last find from yesterday, assert_cmd, is excellent to describe testing/assertion in Rust itself, rather than via a separate, new DSL, like I was using shelltest for, in Haskell. To some extent, I feel like I found the missing arrow in the quiver. Haskell is good, quite very good for some type of workloads, but of course not all, and Rust complements that very nicely, with lots of overlap (as expected). Python can fill in any quick-and-dirty scripting needed. And I just need to learn more frontend, specifically Typescript (the language, not referring to any specific libraries/frameworks), and I ll be ready for AI to take over coding So, for now, I ll need to split my free time coding between all of the above, and keep exercising my skills. But so glad to have found a good new language!

3 March 2024

Paul Wise: FLOSS Activities Feb 2024

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

Changes

Issues

Review
  • Spam: reported 1 Debian bug report
  • Debian BTS usertags: changes for the month

Administration
  • Debian BTS: unarchive/reopen/triage bugs for reintroduced packages: ovito, tahoe-lafs, tpm2-tss-engine
  • Debian wiki: produce HTML dump for a user, unblock IP addresses, approve accounts

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

Sponsors The SWH work was sponsored. All other work was done on a volunteer basis.

25 February 2024

Russ Allbery: Review: The Fund

Review: The Fund, by Rob Copeland
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Copyright: 2023
ISBN: 1-250-27694-2
Format: Kindle
Pages: 310
I first became aware of Ray Dalio when either he or his publisher plastered advertisements for The Principles all over the San Francisco 4th and King Caltrain station. If I recall correctly, there were also constant radio commercials; it was a whole thing in 2017. My brain is very good at tuning out advertisements, so my only thought at the time was "some business guy wrote a self-help book." I think I vaguely assumed he was a CEO of some traditional business, since that's usually who writes heavily marketed books like this. I did not connect him with hedge funds or Bridgewater, which I have a bad habit of confusing with Blackwater. The Principles turns out to be more of a laundered cult manual than a self-help book. And therein lies a story. Rob Copeland is currently with The New York Times, but for many years he was the hedge fund reporter for The Wall Street Journal. He covered, among other things, Bridgewater Associates, the enormous hedge fund founded by Ray Dalio. The Fund is a biography of Ray Dalio and a history of Bridgewater from its founding as a vehicle for Dalio's advising business until 2022 when Dalio, after multiple false starts and title shuffles, finally retired from running the company. (Maybe. Based on the history recounted here, it wouldn't surprise me if he was back at the helm by the time you read this.) It is one of the wildest, creepiest, and most abusive business histories that I have ever read. It's probably worth mentioning, as Copeland does explicitly, that Ray Dalio and Bridgewater hate this book and claim it's a pack of lies. Copeland includes some of their denials (and many non-denials that sound as good as confirmations to me) in footnotes that I found increasingly amusing.
A lawyer for Dalio said he "treated all employees equally, giving people at all levels the same respect and extending them the same perks."
Uh-huh. Anyway, I personally know nothing about Bridgewater other than what I learned here and the occasional mention in Matt Levine's newsletter (which is where I got the recommendation for this book). I have no independent information whether anything Copeland describes here is true, but Copeland provides the typical extensive list of notes and sourcing one expects in a book like this, and Levine's comments indicated it's generally consistent with Bridgewater's industry reputation. I think this book is true, but since the clear implication is that the world's largest hedge fund was primarily a deranged cult whose employees mostly spied on and rated each other rather than doing any real investment work, I also have questions, not all of which Copeland answers to my satisfaction. But more on that later. The center of this book are the Principles. These were an ever-changing list of rules and maxims for how people should conduct themselves within Bridgewater. Per Copeland, although Dalio later published a book by that name, the version of the Principles that made it into the book was sanitized and significantly edited down from the version used inside the company. Dalio was constantly adding new ones and sometimes changing them, but the common theme was radical, confrontational "honesty": never being silent about problems, confronting people directly about anything that they did wrong, and telling people all of their faults so that they could "know themselves better." If this sounds like textbook abusive behavior, you have the right idea. This part Dalio admits to openly, describing Bridgewater as a firm that isn't for everyone but that achieves great results because of this culture. But the uncomfortably confrontational vibes are only the tip of the iceberg of dysfunction. Here are just a few of the ways this played out according to Copeland: In one of the common and all-too-disturbing connections between Wall Street finance and the United States' dysfunctional government, James Comey (yes, that James Comey) ran internal security for Bridgewater for three years, meaning that he was the one who pulled evidence from surveillance cameras for Dalio to use to confront employees during his trials. In case the cult vibes weren't strong enough already, Bridgewater developed its own idiosyncratic language worthy of Scientology. The trials were called "probings," firing someone was called "sorting" them, and rating them was called "dotting," among many other Bridgewater-specific terms. Needless to say, no one ever probed Dalio himself. You will also be completely unsurprised to learn that Copeland documents instances of sexual harassment and discrimination at Bridgewater, including some by Dalio himself, although that seems to be a relatively small part of the overall dysfunction. Dalio was happy to publicly humiliate anyone regardless of gender. If you're like me, at this point you're probably wondering how Bridgewater continued operating for so long in this environment. (Per Copeland, since Dalio's retirement in 2022, Bridgewater has drastically reduced the cult-like behaviors, deleted its archive of probings, and de-emphasized the Principles.) It was not actually a religious cult; it was a hedge fund that has to provide investment services to huge, sophisticated clients, and by all accounts it's a very successful one. Why did this bizarre nightmare of a workplace not interfere with Bridgewater's business? This, I think, is the weakest part of this book. Copeland makes a few gestures at answering this question, but none of them are very satisfying. First, it's clear from Copeland's account that almost none of the employees of Bridgewater had any control over Bridgewater's investments. Nearly everyone was working on other parts of the business (sales, investor relations) or on cult-related obsessions. Investment decisions (largely incorporated into algorithms) were made by a tiny core of people and often by Dalio himself. Bridgewater also appears to not trade frequently, unlike some other hedge funds, meaning that they probably stay clear of the more labor-intensive high-frequency parts of the business. Second, Bridgewater took off as a hedge fund just before the hedge fund boom in the 1990s. It transformed from Dalio's personal consulting business and investment newsletter to a hedge fund in 1990 (with an earlier investment from the World Bank in 1987), and the 1990s were a very good decade for hedge funds. Bridgewater, in part due to Dalio's connections and effective marketing via his newsletter, became one of the largest hedge funds in the world, which gave it a sort of institutional momentum. No one was questioned for putting money into Bridgewater even in years when it did poorly compared to its rivals. Third, Dalio used the tried and true method of getting free publicity from the financial press: constantly predict an upcoming downturn, and aggressively take credit whenever you were right. From nearly the start of his career, Dalio predicted economic downturns year after year. Bridgewater did very well in the 2000 to 2003 downturn, and again during the 2008 financial crisis. Dalio aggressively takes credit for predicting both of those downturns and positioning Bridgewater correctly going into them. This is correct; what he avoids mentioning is that he also predicted downturns in every other year, the majority of which never happened. These points together create a bit of an answer, but they don't feel like the whole picture and Copeland doesn't connect the pieces. It seems possible that Dalio may simply be good at investing; he reads obsessively and clearly enjoys thinking about markets, and being an abusive cult leader doesn't take up all of his time. It's also true that to some extent hedge funds are semi-free money machines, in that once you have a sufficient quantity of money and political connections you gain access to investment opportunities and mechanisms that are very likely to make money and that the typical investor simply cannot access. Dalio is clearly good at making personal connections, and invested a lot of effort into forming close ties with tricky clients such as pools of Chinese money. Perhaps the most compelling explanation isn't mentioned directly in this book but instead comes from Matt Levine. Bridgewater touts its algorithmic trading over humans making individual trades, and there is some reason to believe that consistently applying an algorithm without regard to human emotion is a solid trading strategy in at least some investment areas. Levine has asked in his newsletter, tongue firmly in cheek, whether the bizarre cult-like behavior and constant infighting is a strategy to distract all the humans and keep them from messing with the algorithm and thus making bad decisions. Copeland leaves this question unsettled. Instead, one comes away from this book with a clear vision of the most dysfunctional workplace I have ever heard of, and an endless litany of bizarre events each more astonishing than the last. If you like watching train wrecks, this is the book for you. The only drawback is that, unlike other entries in this genre such as Bad Blood or Billion Dollar Loser, Bridgewater is a wildly successful company, so you don't get the schadenfreude of seeing a house of cards collapse. You do, however, get a helpful mental model to apply to the next person who tries to talk to you about "radical honesty" and "idea meritocracy." The flaw in this book is that the existence of an organization like Bridgewater is pointing to systematic flaws in how our society works, which Copeland is largely uninterested in interrogating. "How could this have happened?" is a rather large question to leave unanswered. The sheer outrageousness of Dalio's behavior also gets a bit tiring by the end of the book, when you've seen the patterns and are hearing about the fourth variation. But this is still an astonishing book, and a worthy entry in the genre of capitalism disasters. Rating: 7 out of 10

16 February 2024

David Bremner: Generating ikiwiki markdown from org

My web pages are (still) in ikiwiki, but lately I have started authoring things like assignments and lectures in org-mode so that I can have some literate programming facilities. There is is org-mode export built-in, but it just exports source blocks as examples (i.e. unhighlighted verbatim). I added a custom exporter to mark up source blocks in a way ikiwiki can understand. Luckily this is not too hard the second time.
(with-eval-after-load "ox-md"
  (org-export-define-derived-backend 'ik 'md
    :translate-alist '((src-block . ik-src-block))
    :menu-entry '(?m 1 ((?i "ikiwiki" ik-export-to-ikiwiki)))))
(defun ik-normalize-language  (str)
  (cond
   ((string-equal str "plait") "racket")
   ((string-equal str "smol") "racket")
   (t str)))
(defun ik-src-block (src-block contents info)
  "Transcode a SRC-BLOCK element from Org to beamer
         CONTENTS is nil.  INFO is a plist used as a communication
         channel."
  (let* ((body  (org-element-property :value src-block))
         (lang  (ik-normalize-language (org-element-property :language src-block))))
    (format "[[!format <span class="error">Error: unsupported page format &#37;s</span>]]" lang body)))
(defun ik-export-to-ikiwiki
    (&optional async subtreep visible-only body-only ext-plist)
  "Export current buffer as an ikiwiki markdown file.
    See org-md-export-to-markdown for full docs"
  (require 'ox)
  (interactive)
  (let ((file (org-export-output-file-name ".mdwn" subtreep)))
    (org-export-to-file 'ik file
      async subtreep visible-only body-only ext-plist)))

11 February 2024

Freexian Collaborators: Debian Contributions: Upcoming Improvements to Salsa CI, /usr-move, and more! (by Utkarsh Gupta)

Contributing to Debian is part of Freexian s mission. This article covers the latest achievements of Freexian and their collaborators. All of this is made possible by organizations subscribing to our Long Term Support contracts and consulting services.

Upcoming Improvements to Salsa CI, by Santiago Ruano Rinc n Santiago started picking up the work made by Outreachy Intern, Enock Kashada (a big thanks to him!), to solve some long-standing issues in Salsa CI. Currently, the first job in a Salsa CI pipeline is the extract-source job, used to produce a debianize source tree of the project. This job was introduced to make it possible to build the projects on different architectures, on the subsequent build jobs. However, that extract-source approach is sub-optimal: not only it increases the execution time of the pipeline by some minutes, but also projects whose source tree is too large are not able to use the pipeline. The debianize source tree is passed as an artifact to the build jobs, and for those large projects, the size of their source tree exceeds the Salsa s limits. This is specific issue is documented as issue #195, and the proposed solution is to get rid of the extract-source job, relying on sbuild in the very build job (see issue #296). Switching to sbuild would also help to improve the build source job, solving issues such as #187 and #298. The current work-in-progress is very preliminary, but it has already been possible to run the build (amd64), build-i386 and build-source job using sbuild with the unshare mode. The image on the right shows a pipeline that builds grep. All the test jobs use the artifacts of the new build job. There is a lot of remaining work, mainly making the integration with ccache work. This change could break some things, it will also be important to test how the new pipeline works with complex projects. Also, thanks to Emmanuel Arias, we are proposing a Google Summer of Code 2024 project to improve Salsa CI. As part of the ongoing work in preparation for the GSoC 2024 project, Santiago has proposed a merge request to make more efficient how contributors can test their changes on the Salsa CI pipeline.

/usr-move, by Helmut Grohne In January, we sent most of the moving patches for the set of packages involved with debootstrap. Notably missing is glibc, which turns out harder than anticipated via dumat, because it has Conflicts between different architectures, which dumat does not analyze. Patches for diversion mitigations have been updated in a way to not exhibit any loss anymore. The main change here is that packages which are being diverted now support the diverting packages in transitioning their diversions. We also supported a few packages with non-trivial changes such as netplan.io. dumat has been enhanced to better support derivatives such as Ubuntu.

Miscellaneous contributions
  • Python 3.12 migration trundles on. Stefano Rivera helped port several new packages to support 3.12.
  • Stefano updated the Sphinx configuration of DebConf Video Team s documentation, which was broken by Sphinx 7.
  • Stefano published the videos from the Cambridge MiniDebConf to YouTube and PeerTube.
  • DebConf 24 planning has begun, and Stefano & Utkarsh have started work on this.
  • Utkarsh re-sponsored the upload of golang-github-prometheus-community-pgbouncer-exporter for Lena.
  • Colin Watson added Incus support to autopkgtest.
  • Colin discovered Perl::Critic and used it to tidy up some poor practices in several of his packages, including debconf.
  • Colin did some overdue debconf maintenance, mainly around tidying up error message handling in several places (1, 2, 3).
  • Colin figured out how to update the mirror size documentation in debmirror, last updated in 2010. It should now be much easier to keep it up to date regularly.
  • Colin issued a man-db buster update to clean up some irritations due to strict sandboxing.
  • Thorsten Alteholz adopted two more packages, magicfilter and ifhp, for the debian-printing team. Those packages are the last ones of the latest round of adoptions to preserve the old printing protocol within Debian. If you know of other packages that should be retained, please don t hesitate to contact Thorsten.
  • Enrico participated in /usr-merge discussions with Helmut.
  • Helmut sent patches for 16 cross build failures.
  • Helmut supported Matthias Klose (not affiliated with Freexian) with adding -for-host support to gcc-defaults.
  • Helmut uploaded dput-ng enabling dcut migrate and merging two MRs of Ben Hutchings.
  • Santiago took part in the discussions relating to the EU Cyber Resilience Act (CRA) and the Debian public statement that was published last year. He participated in a meeting with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), Marcel Kolaja and Karen Melchior, and their teams to clarify some points about the impact of the CRA and Debian and downstream projects, and the improvements in the last version of the proposed regulation.

6 February 2024

Louis-Philippe V ronneau: Montreal's Debian & Stuff - February 2024

New Year, Same Great People! Our Debian User Group met for the first of our 2024 bi-monthly meetings on February 4th and it was loads of fun. Around twelve different people made it this time to Koumbit, where the meeting happened. As a reminder, our meetings are called "Debian & Stuff" because we want to be as open as possible and welcome people that want to work on "other stuff" than Debian. Here is what we did: pollo: LeLutin: mjeanson: lavamind: viashimo: tvaz & tassia: joeDoe: anarcat: Pictures I was pretty busy this time around and ended up not taking a lot of pictures. Here's a bad one of the ceiling at Koumbit I took, and a picture by anarcat of the content of his boxes of loot: A picture of the ceiling at Koumbit The content of anarcat's boxes of loot

1 February 2024

Paul Wise: FLOSS Activities January 2024

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

Changes
  • OpenStreetMap: fixed a bunch of broken website URLs
  • Debian pass-otp: oathtool safety
  • reportbug: fix crash
  • Debian BTS usertags: fix Python, Ruby, QA, porter, archive, release tags
  • Debian wiki pages: TransitionUploadHook

Issues

Review
  • Debian BTS usertags: changes for the month
  • Debian screenshots:

Administration
  • Debian wiki: unblock IP addresses, approve accounts

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

Sponsors All work was done on a volunteer basis.

16 January 2024

Matthew Palmer: Pwned Certificates on the Fediverse

As well as the collection and distribution of compromised keys, the pwnedkeys project also matches those pwned keys against issued SSL certificates. I m excited to announce that, as of the beginning of 2024, all matched certificates are now being published on the Fediverse, thanks to the botsin.space Mastodon server. Want to know which sites are susceptible to interception and interference, in (near-)real time? Do you have a burning desire to know who is issuing certificates to people that post their private keys in public? Now you can.

How It Works The process for publishing pwned certs is, roughly, as follows:
  1. All the certificates in Certificate Transparency (CT) logs are hoovered up (using my scrape-ct-log tool, the fastest log scraper in the west!), and the fingerprint of the public key of each certificate is stored in an LMDB datafile.
  2. As new private keys are identified as having been compromised, the fingerprint of that key is checked against all the LMDB files, which map key fingerprints to certificates (actually to CT log entry IDs, from which the certificates themselves are retrieved).
  3. If one or more matches are found, then the certificates using the compromised key are forwarded to the tooter , which publishes them for the world to marvel at.
This makes it sound all very straightforward, and it is in theory. The trick comes in optimising the pipeline so that the five million or so new certificates every day can get indexed on the one slightly middle-aged server I ve got, without getting backlogged.

Why Don t You Just Have the Certificates Revoked? Funny story about that I used to notify CAs of certificates they d issued using compromised keys, which had the effect of requiring them to revoke the associated certificates. However, several CAs disliked having to revoke all those certificates, because it cost them staff time (and hence money) to do so. They went so far as to change their procedures from the standard way of accepting problem reports (emailing a generic attestation of compromise), and instead required CA-specific hoop-jumping to notify them of compromised keys. Since the effectiveness of revocation in the WebPKI is, shall we say, homeopathic at best, I decided I couldn t be bothered to play whack-a-mole with CAs that just wanted to be difficult, and I stopped sending compromised key notifications to CAs. Instead, now I m publishing the details of compromised certificates to everyone, so that users can protect themselves directly should they choose to.

Further Work The astute amongst you may have noticed, in the above How It Works description, a bit of a gap in my scanning coverage. CAs can (and do!) issue certificates for keys that are already compromised, including weak keys that have been known about for a decade or more (1, 2, 3). However, as currently implemented, the pwnedkeys certificate checker does not automatically find such certificates. My plan is to augment the CT scraping / cert processing pipeline to check all incoming certificates against the existing (2M+) set of pwned keys. Though, with over five million new certificates to check every day, it s not necessarily as simple as just hit the pwnedkeys API for every new cert . The poor old API server might not like that very much.

Support My Work If you d like to see this extra matching happen a bit quicker, I ve setup a ko-fi supporters page, where you can support my work on pwnedkeys and the other open source software and projects I work on by buying me a refreshing beverage. I would be very appreciative, and your support lets me know I should do more interesting things with the giant database of compromised keys I ve accumulated.

13 January 2024

Freexian Collaborators: Debian Contributions: LXD/Incus backend bug, /usr-merge updates, gcc-for-host, and more! (by Utkarsh Gupta)

Contributing to Debian is part of Freexian s mission. This article covers the latest achievements of Freexian and their collaborators. All of this is made possible by organizations subscribing to our Long Term Support contracts and consulting services.

LXD/Incus backend bug in autopkgtest by Stefano Rivera While working on the Python 3.12 transition, Stefano repeatedly ran into a bug in autopkgtest when using LXD (or in the future Incus), that caused it to hang when running cython s multi-hour autopkgtests. After some head-banging, the bug turned out to be fairly straightforward: LXD didn t shut down on receiving a SIGTERM, so when a testsuite timed out, it would hang forever. A simple fix has been applied.

/usr-merge, by Helmut Grohne Thanks to Christian Hofstaedtler and others, the effort is moving into a community effort and the work funded by Freexian becomes more difficult to separate from non-funded work. In particular, since the community fully handled all issues around lost udev rules, dh_installudev now installs rules to /usr. The story around diversions took another detour. We learned that conflicts do not reliably prevent concurrent unpack and the reiterated mitigation for molly-guard triggered this. After a bit of back and forth and consultation with the developer mailing list, we concluded that avoiding the problematic behavior when using apt or an apt-based upgrader combined with a loss mitigation would be good enough. The involved packages bfh-container, molly-guard, progress-linux-container and systemd have since been uploaded to unstable and the matter seems finally solved except that it doesn t quite work with sysvinit yet. The same approach is now being proposed for the diversions of zutils for gzip. We thank involved maintainers for their timely cooperation.

gcc-for-host, by Helmut Grohne Since forever, it has been difficult to correctly express a toolchain build dependency. This can be seen in the Build-Depends of the linux source package for instance. While this has been solved for binutils a while back, the patches for gcc have been unfinished. With lots of constructive feedback from gcc package maintainer Matthias Klose, Helmut worked on finalizing and testing these patches. Patch stacks are now available for gcc-13 and gcc-14 and Matthias already included parts of them in test builds for Ubuntu noble. Finishing this work would enable us to resolve around 1000 cross build dependency satisfiability issues in unstable.

Miscellaneous contributions
  • Stefano continued work on the Python 3.12 transition, including uploads of cython, pycxx, numpy, python-greenlet, twisted, foolscap and dh-python.
  • Stefano reviewed and selected from a new round of DebConf 24 bids, as part of the DebConf Committee. Busan, South Korea was selected.
  • For debian-printing Thorsten uploaded hplip to unstable to fix a /usr-merge bug and cups to Bookworm to fix bugs related to printing in color.
  • Utkarsh helped newcomers in mentoring and reviewing their packaging; eg: golang-github-prometheus-community-pgbouncer-exporter.
  • Helmut sent patches for 42 cross build failures unrelated to the gcc-for-host work.
  • Helmut continues to maintain rebootstrap. In December, blt started depending on libjpeg and this poses a dependency loop. Ideally, Python would stop depending on blt. Also linux-libc-dev having become Multi-Arch: foreign poses non-trivial issues that are not fully resolved yet.
  • Enrico participated in /usr-merge discussions with Helmut.

4 January 2024

Aigars Mahinovs: Figuring out finances part 5

At the end of the last part of this, we got a Home Assistant OS installation that contains in itself a Firefly III instance and that contains all the current financial information. They are communicating and calculating predictions for me. The only part that I was not 100% happy with was accounting of cash transactions. You see payments in cash are mostly made away from computer and sometimes even in areas without a mobile Internet connection. And all Firefly III apps that I tried failed at the task of creating a new transaction when offline. Even the one recommended Telegram bot from Firefly III page used a dialog-based approach for creating even a simplest transaction. Issue asking for a one-shot transaction creation option stands as unresolved. Theoretically it would have been best if I could simply contribute that feature to that particular Telegram bot ... but it's written in Javascript. By mapping the API onto tasks somehow. After about 4 hours I still could not figure out where in the code anything actually happens. It all looked like just sugar or spagetty. Connectors on connectors on mappers. So I did the real open-source thing and just wrote my own tool. firefly3_telegram_oneshot is a maximally simple Telegram bot based on python-telegram-bot library. So what does it do? The primary usage for me is to simply send a message to the bot at any time with text like "23.2 coffee and cake" and when the message eventually reaches the bot, it then should create a new transaction from my "cash" account to "Unknown" account in amount of 23.20 and description "coffee and cake". That is the key. Everything else in the bot is comfort. For example "/undo" command deletes the last transaction in cash account (presumably added by error) and "/last" shows which transaction the "/undo" would delete. And to help with expense categorisation one can also do a message like "6.1 beer, dest=Edeka, cat=alcohol" that would search for a destination account that would fuzzy match to "Edeka" (a supermarket in Germany) and add the transation to the category fuzzy matched to "alcohol", like "Shopping - alcoholic drinks". And to make that fuzzy matching more reliable I also added "/cat something" and "/dest something" commands that would show which category or destination account would be matched with a given string. All of that in around 250 lines of Python code and executed by a 17 line Dockerfile (via the Portainer on my Home Assistant OS). One remaining function that could be nice is creating a category or destination account on request (for example when the first character of the supplied string is "+"). I am really plesantly surprised about how much can be done with how little code using the above Python library. And you never need to have any open incoming ports anywhere to runs such bots, so the attack surface for such bot-based service is much tighter. All in all the system works and works well. The only exception is that for my particual bank there is still no automatic way of extracting data about credit card transactions. For those I still have to manually log into the Internet bank, export a CSV file and then feed that into the Firefly III importer. Annoying. And I am not really motivated to try to hack my bank :D Has this been useful to any of you? Any ideas to expand or improve what I have? Just find me as "aigarius" on any social media and speak up :)

17 November 2023

Jonathan Dowland: HLedger, regex matches and field assignments

I've finally landed a patch/feature for HLedger I've been working on-and-off (mostly off) since around March. HLedger has a powerful CSV importer which you configure with a set of rules. Rules consist of conditional matchers (does field X in this CSV row match this regular expression?) and field assignments (set the resulting transaction's account to Y). motivating problem 1 Here's an example of one of my rules for handling credit card repayments. This rule is applied when I import a CSV for my current account, which pays the credit card:
if AMERICAN EXPRESS
    account2 liabilities:amex
This results in a ledger entry like the following
2023-10-31 AMERICAN EXPRESS
    assets:current           - 6.66
    liabilities:amex           6.66
My current account statements cover calendar months. My credit card period spans mid-month to mid-month. I pay it off by direct debit, which comes out after the credit card period, towards the very end of the calendar month. That transaction falls roughly halfway through the next credit card period. On my credit card statements, that repayment is "warped" to the start of the list of transactions, clearing the outstanding balance from the previous period. When I import my credit card data to HLedger, I want to compare the result against a PDF statement to make sure my ledger matches reality. The repayment "warping" makes this awkward, because it means the balance for roughly half the new transactions (those that fall before the real-date of the repayment) don't match up. motivating problem 2 I start new ledger files each year. I need to import the closing balances from the previous year to the next, which I do by exporting the final balance from the previous year in CSV and importing that into the new ledgers in the usual way. Between 2022 and 2023 I changed the scheme I use for account names so I need to translate between the old and the new in the opening balances. I couldn't think of a way of achieving this in the import rules (besides writing a bespoke rule for every possible old account name) so I abused another HLedger feature instead, HLedger aliases. For example I added this alias in my family ledger file for 2023
alias /^family:(.*)/ = \1
These are ugly and I'd prefer to get rid of them. regex match groups A common feature of regular expressions is defining match groups which can be referenced elsewhere, such as on the far-side of a substitution. I added match group support to HLedger's field assignments. addressing date warping Here's an updated version rule from the first motivating problem:
if AMERICAN EXPRESS
& %date (..)/(..)/(....)
    account2 liabilities:amex
    comment2 date:\3-\2-16
We now match on on extra date field, and surround the day/month/year components with parentheses to define match groups. We add a second field assignment too, setting the second posting's "comment" field to a string which, once the match groups are interpolated, instructs HLedger to do date warping (I wrote about this in date warping in HLedger) The new transaction looks like this:
2023-10-31 AMERICAN EXPRESS
    assets:current           - 6.66
    liabilities:amex           6.66 ; date:2023-10-16
getting rid of aliases In the second problem, I can strip off the unwanted account name prefixes at CSV import time, with rules like this
if %account2 ^family:(.*)$
    account2 \1
When! This stuff landed a week ago in early November, and is not yet in a Hledger release.

25 October 2023

Russ Allbery: Review: Going Infinite

Review: Going Infinite, by Michael Lewis
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Copyright: 2023
ISBN: 1-324-07434-5
Format: Kindle
Pages: 255
My first reaction when I heard that Michael Lewis had been embedded with Sam Bankman-Fried working on a book when Bankman-Fried's cryptocurrency exchange FTX collapsed into bankruptcy after losing billions of dollars of customer deposits was "holy shit, why would you talk to Michael Lewis about your dodgy cryptocurrency company?" Followed immediately by "I have to read this book." This is that book. I wasn't sure how Lewis would approach this topic. His normal (although not exclusive) area of interest is financial systems and crises, and there is lots of room for multiple books about cryptocurrency fiascoes using someone like Bankman-Fried as a pivot. But Going Infinite is not like The Big Short or Lewis's other financial industry books. It's a nearly straight biography of Sam Bankman-Fried, with just enough context for the reader to follow his life. To understand what you're getting in Going Infinite, I think it's important to understand what sort of book Lewis likes to write. Lewis is not exactly a reporter, although he does explain complicated things for a mass audience. He's primarily a storyteller who collects people he finds fascinating. This book was therefore never going to be like, say, Carreyrou's Bad Blood or Isaac's Super Pumped. Lewis's interest is not in a forensic account of how FTX or Alameda Research were structured. His interest is in what makes Sam Bankman-Fried tick, what's going on inside his head. That's not a question Lewis directly answers, though. Instead, he shows you Bankman-Fried as Lewis saw him and was able to reconstruct from interviews and sources and lets you draw your own conclusions. Boy did I ever draw a lot of conclusions, most of which were highly unflattering. However, one conclusion I didn't draw, and had been dubious about even before reading this book, was that Sam Bankman-Fried was some sort of criminal mastermind who intentionally plotted to steal customer money. Lewis clearly doesn't believe this is the case, and with the caveat that my study of the evidence outside of this book has been spotty and intermittent, I think Lewis has the better of the argument. I am utterly fascinated by this, and I'm afraid this review is going to turn into a long summary of my take on the argument, so here's the capsule review before you get bored and wander off: This is a highly entertaining book written by an excellent storyteller. I am also inclined to believe most of it is true, but given that I'm not on the jury, I'm not that invested in whether Lewis is too credulous towards the explanations of the people involved. What I do know is that it's a fantastic yarn with characters who are too wild to put in fiction, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There are a few things that everyone involved appears to agree on, and therefore I think we can take as settled. One is that Bankman-Fried, and most of the rest of FTX and Alameda Research, never clearly distinguished between customer money and all of the other money. It's not obvious that their home-grown accounting software (written entirely by one person! who never spoke to other people! in code that no one else could understand!) was even capable of clearly delineating between their piles of money. Another is that FTX and Alameda Research were thoroughly intermingled. There was no official reporting structure and possibly not even a coherent list of employees. The environment was so chaotic that lots of people, including Bankman-Fried, could have stolen millions of dollars without anyone noticing. But it was also so chaotic that they could, and did, literally misplace millions of dollars by accident, or because Bankman-Fried had problems with object permanence. Something that was previously less obvious from news coverage but that comes through very clearly in this book is that Bankman-Fried seriously struggled with normal interpersonal and societal interactions. We know from multiple sources that he was diagnosed with ADHD and depression (Lewis describes it specifically as anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure). The ADHD in Lewis's account is quite severe and does not sound controlled, despite medication; for example, Bankman-Fried routinely played timed video games while he was having important meetings, forgot things the moment he stopped dealing with them, was constantly on his phone or seeking out some other distraction, and often stimmed (by bouncing his leg) to a degree that other people found it distracting. Perhaps more tellingly, Bankman-Fried repeatedly describes himself in diary entries and correspondence to other people (particularly Caroline Ellison, his employee and on-and-off secret girlfriend) as being devoid of empathy and unable to access his own emotions, which Lewis supports with stories from former co-workers. I'm very hesitant to diagnose someone via a book, but, at least in Lewis's account, Bankman-Fried nearly walks down the symptom list of antisocial personality disorder in his own description of himself to other people. (The one exception is around physical violence; there is nothing in this book or in any of the other reporting that I've seen to indicate that Bankman-Fried was violent or physically abusive.) One of the recurrent themes of this book is that Bankman-Fried never saw the point in following rules that didn't make sense to him or worrying about things he thought weren't important, and therefore simply didn't. By about a third of the way into this book, before FTX is even properly started, very little about its eventual downfall will seem that surprising. There was no way that Sam Bankman-Fried was going to be able to run a successful business over time. He was extremely good at probabilistic trading and spotting exploitable market inefficiencies, and extremely bad at essentially every other aspect of living in a society with other people, other than a hit-or-miss ability to charm that worked much better with large audiences than one-on-one. The real question was why anyone would ever entrust this man with millions of dollars or decide to work for him for longer than two weeks. The answer to those questions changes over the course of this story. Later on, it was timing. Sam Bankman-Fried took the techniques of high frequency trading he learned at Jane Street Capital and applied them to exploiting cryptocurrency markets at precisely the right time in the cryptocurrency bubble. There was far more money than sense, the most ruthless financial players were still too leery to get involved, and a rising tide was lifting all boats, even the ones that were piles of driftwood. When cryptocurrency inevitably collapsed, so did his businesses. In retrospect, that seems inevitable. The early answer, though, was effective altruism. A full discussion of effective altruism is beyond the scope of this review, although Lewis offers a decent introduction in the book. The short version is that a sensible and defensible desire to use stronger standards of evidence in evaluating charitable giving turned into a bizarre navel-gazing exercise in making up statistical risks to hypothetical future people and treating those made-up numbers as if they should be the bedrock of one's personal ethics. One of the people most responsible for this turn is an Oxford philosopher named Will MacAskill. Sam Bankman-Fried was already obsessed with utilitarianism, in part due to his parents' philosophical beliefs, and it was a presentation by Will MacAskill that converted him to the effective altruism variant of extreme utilitarianism. In Lewis's presentation, this was like joining a cult. The impression I came away with feels like something out of a science fiction novel: Bankman-Fried knew there was some serious gap in his thought processes where most people had empathy, was deeply troubled by this, and latched on to effective altruism as the ethical framework to plug into that hole. So much of effective altruism sounds like a con game that it's easy to think the participants are lying, but Lewis clearly believes Bankman-Fried is a true believer. He appeared to be sincerely trying to make money in order to use it to solve existential threats to society, he does not appear to be motivated by money apart from that goal, and he was following through (in bizarre and mostly ineffective ways). I find this particularly believable because effective altruism as a belief system seems designed to fit Bankman-Fried's personality and justify the things he wanted to do anyway. Effective altruism says that empathy is meaningless, emotion is meaningless, and ethical decisions should be made solely on the basis of expected value: how much return (usually in safety) does society get for your investment. Effective altruism says that all the things that Sam Bankman-Fried was bad at were useless and unimportant, so he could stop feeling bad about his apparent lack of normal human morality. The only thing that mattered was the thing that he was exceptionally good at: probabilistic reasoning under uncertainty. And, critically to the foundation of his business career, effective altruism gave him access to investors and a recruiting pool of employees, things he was entirely unsuited to acquiring the normal way. There's a ton more of this book that I haven't touched on, but this review is already quite long, so I'll leave you with one more point. I don't know how true Lewis's portrayal is in all the details. He took the approach of getting very close to most of the major players in this drama and largely believing what they said happened, supplemented by startling access to sources like Bankman-Fried's personal diary and Caroline Ellis's personal diary. (He also seems to have gotten extensive information from the personal psychiatrist of most of the people involved; I'm not sure if there's some reasonable explanation for this, but based solely on the material in this book, it seems to be a shocking breach of medical ethics.) But Lewis is a storyteller more than he's a reporter, and his bias is for telling a great story. It's entirely possible that the events related here are not entirely true, or are skewed in favor of making a better story. It's certainly true that they're not the complete story. But, that said, I think a book like this is a useful counterweight to the human tendency to believe in moral villains. This is, frustratingly, a counterweight extended almost exclusively to higher-class white people like Bankman-Fried. This is infuriating, but that doesn't make it wrong. It means we should extend that analysis to more people. Once FTX collapsed, a lot of people became very invested in the idea that Bankman-Fried was a straightforward embezzler. Either he intended from the start to steal everyone's money or, more likely, he started losing money, panicked, and stole customer money to cover the hole. Lots of people in history have done exactly that, and lots of people involved in cryptocurrency have tenuous attachments to ethics, so this is a believable story. But people are complicated, and there's also truth in the maxim that every villain is the hero of their own story. Lewis is after a less boring story than "the crook stole everyone's money," and that leads to some bias. But sometimes the less boring story is also true. Here's the thing: even if Sam Bankman-Fried never intended to take any money, he clearly did intend to mix customer money with Alameda Research funds. In Lewis's account, he never truly believed in them as separate things. He didn't care about following accounting or reporting rules; he thought they were boring nonsense that got in his way. There is obvious criminal intent here in any reading of the story, so I don't think Lewis's more complex story would let him escape prosecution. He refused to follow the rules, and as a result a lot of people lost a lot of money. I think it's a useful exercise to leave mental space for the possibility that he had far less obvious reasons for those actions than that he was a simple thief, while still enforcing the laws that he quite obviously violated. This book was great. If you like Lewis's style, this was some of the best entertainment I've read in a while. Highly recommended; if you are at all interested in this saga, I think this is a must-read. Rating: 9 out of 10

Next.