Search Results: "rosh"

16 January 2022

Chris Lamb: Favourite films of 2021

In my four most recent posts, I went over the memoirs and biographies, the non-fiction, the fiction and the 'classic' novels that I enjoyed reading the most in 2021. But in the very last of my 2021 roundup posts, I'll be going over some of my favourite movies. (Saying that, these are perhaps less of my 'favourite films' than the ones worth remarking on after all, nobody needs to hear that The Godfather is a good movie.) It's probably helpful to remark you that I took a self-directed course in film history in 2021, based around the first volume of Roger Ebert's The Great Movies. This collection of 100-odd movie essays aims to make a tour of the landmarks of the first century of cinema, and I watched all but a handul before the year was out. I am slowly making my way through volume two in 2022. This tome was tremendously useful, and not simply due to the background context that Ebert added to each film: it also brought me into contact with films I would have hardly come through some other means. Would I have ever discovered the sly comedy of Trouble in Paradise (1932) or the touching proto-realism of L'Atalante (1934) any other way? It also helped me to 'get around' to watching films I may have put off watching forever the influential Battleship Potemkin (1925), for instance, and the ur-epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962) spring to mind here. Choosing a 'worst' film is perhaps more difficult than choosing the best. There are first those that left me completely dry (Ready or Not, Written on the Wind, etc.), and those that were simply poorly executed. And there are those that failed to meet their own high opinions of themselves, such as the 'made for Reddit' Tenet (2020) or the inscrutable Vanilla Sky (2001) the latter being an almost perfect example of late-20th century cultural exhaustion. But I must save my most severe judgement for those films where I took a visceral dislike how their subjects were portrayed. The sexually problematic Sixteen Candles (1984) and the pseudo-Catholic vigilantism of The Boondock Saints (1999) both spring to mind here, the latter of which combines so many things I dislike into such a short running time I'd need an entire essay to adequately express how much I disliked it.

Dogtooth (2009) A father, a mother, a brother and two sisters live in a large and affluent house behind a very high wall and an always-locked gate. Only the father ever leaves the property, driving to the factory that he happens to own. Dogtooth goes far beyond any allusion to Josef Fritzl's cellar, though, as the children's education is a grotesque parody of home-schooling. Here, the parents deliberately teach their children the wrong meaning of words (e.g. a yellow flower is called a 'zombie'), all of which renders the outside world utterly meaningless and unreadable, and completely mystifying its very existence. It is this creepy strangeness within a 'regular' family unit in Dogtooth that is both socially and epistemically horrific, and I'll say nothing here of its sexual elements as well. Despite its cold, inscrutable and deadpan surreality, Dogtooth invites all manner of potential interpretations. Is this film about the artificiality of the nuclear family that the West insists is the benchmark of normality? Or is it, as I prefer to believe, something more visceral altogether: an allegory for the various forms of ontological violence wrought by fascism, as well a sobering nod towards some of fascism's inherent appeals? (Perhaps it is both. In 1972, French poststructuralists Gilles and F lix Guattari wrote Anti-Oedipus, which plays with the idea of the family unit as a metaphor for the authoritarian state.) The Greek-language Dogtooth, elegantly shot, thankfully provides no easy answers.

Holy Motors (2012) There is an infamous scene in Un Chien Andalou, the 1929 film collaboration between Luis Bu uel and famed artist Salvador Dal . A young woman is cornered in her own apartment by a threatening man, and she reaches for a tennis racquet in self-defence. But the man suddenly picks up two nearby ropes and drags into the frame two large grand pianos... each leaden with a dead donkey, a stone tablet, a pumpkin and a bewildered priest. This bizarre sketch serves as a better introduction to Leos Carax's Holy Motors than any elementary outline of its plot, which ostensibly follows 24 hours in the life of a man who must play a number of extremely diverse roles around Paris... all for no apparent reason. (And is he even a man?) Surrealism as an art movement gets a pretty bad wrap these days, and perhaps justifiably so. But Holy Motors and Un Chien Andalou serve as a good reminder that surrealism can be, well, 'good, actually'. And if not quite high art, Holy Motors at least demonstrates that surrealism can still unnerving and hilariously funny. Indeed, recalling the whimsy of the plot to a close friend, the tears of laughter came unbidden to my eyes once again. ("And then the limousines...!") Still, it is unclear how Holy Motors truly refreshes surrealism for the twenty-first century. Surrealism was, in part, a reaction to the mechanical and unfeeling brutality of World War I and ultimately sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind. Holy Motors cannot be responding to another continental conflagration, and so it appears to me to be some kind of commentary on the roles we exhibit in an era of 'post-postmodernity': a sketch on our age of performative authenticity, perhaps, or an idle doodle on the function and psychosocial function of work. Or perhaps not. After all, this film was produced in a time that offers the near-universal availability of mind-altering substances, and this certainly changes the context in which this film was both created. And, how can I put it, was intended to be watched.

Manchester by the Sea (2016) An absolutely devastating portrayal of a character who is unable to forgive himself and is hesitant to engage with anyone ever again. It features a near-ideal balance between portraying unrecoverable anguish and tender warmth, and is paradoxically grandiose in its subtle intimacy. The mechanics of life led me to watch this lying on a bed in a chain hotel by Heathrow Airport, and if this colourless circumstance blunted the film's emotional impact on me, I am probably thankful for it. Indeed, I find myself reduced in this review to fatuously recalling my favourite interactions instead of providing any real commentary. You could write a whole essay about one particular incident: its surfaces, subtexts and angles... all despite nothing of any substance ever being communicated. Truly stunning.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) Roger Ebert called this movie one of the saddest films I have ever seen, filled with a yearning for love and home that will not ever come. But whilst it is difficult to disagree with his sentiment, Ebert's choice of sad is somehow not quite the right word. Indeed, I've long regretted that our dictionaries don't have more nuanced blends of tragedy and sadness; perhaps the Ancient Greeks can loan us some. Nevertheless, the plot of this film is of a gambler and a prostitute who become business partners in a new and remote mining town called Presbyterian Church. However, as their town and enterprise booms, it comes to the attention of a large mining corporation who want to bully or buy their way into the action. What makes this film stand out is not the plot itself, however, but its mood and tone the town and its inhabitants seem to be thrown together out of raw lumber, covered alternatively in mud or frozen ice, and their days (and their personalities) are both short and dark in equal measure. As a brief aside, if you haven't seen a Roger Altman film before, this has all the trappings of being a good introduction. As Ebert went on to observe: This is not the kind of movie where the characters are introduced. They are all already here. Furthermore, we can see some of Altman's trademark conversations that overlap, a superb handling of ensemble casts, and a quietly subversive view of the tyranny of 'genre'... and the latter in a time when the appetite for revisionist portrays of the West was not very strong. All of these 'Altmanian' trademarks can be ordered in much stronger measures in his later films: in particular, his comedy-drama Nashville (1975) has 24 main characters, and my jejune interpretation of Gosford Park (2001) is that it is purposefully designed to poke fun those who take a reductionist view of 'genre', or at least on the audience's expectations. (In this case, an Edwardian-era English murder mystery in the style of Agatha Christie, but where no real murder or detection really takes place.) On the other hand, McCabe & Mrs. Miller is actually a poor introduction to Altman. The story is told in a suitable deliberate and slow tempo, and the two stars of the film are shown thoroughly defrocked of any 'star status', in both the visual and moral dimensions. All of these traits are, however, this film's strength, adding up to a credible, fascinating and riveting portrayal of the old West.

Detour (1945) Detour was filmed in less than a week, and it's difficult to decide out of the actors and the screenplay which is its weakest point.... Yet it still somehow seemed to drag me in. The plot revolves around luckless Al who is hitchhiking to California. Al gets a lift from a man called Haskell who quickly falls down dead from a heart attack. Al quickly buries the body and takes Haskell's money, car and identification, believing that the police will believe Al murdered him. An unstable element is soon introduced in the guise of Vera, who, through a set of coincidences that stretches credulity, knows that this 'new' Haskell (ie. Al pretending to be him) is not who he seems. Vera then attaches herself to Al in order to blackmail him, and the world starts to spin out of his control. It must be understood that none of this is executed very well. Rather, what makes Detour so interesting to watch is that its 'errors' lend a distinctively creepy and unnatural hue to the film. Indeed, in the early twentieth century, Sigmund Freud used the word unheimlich to describe the experience of something that is not simply mysterious, but something creepy in a strangely familiar way. This is almost the perfect description of watching Detour its eerie nature means that we are not only frequently second-guessed about where the film is going, but are often uncertain whether we are watching the usual objective perspective offered by cinema. In particular, are all the ham-fisted segues, stilted dialogue and inscrutable character motivations actually a product of Al inventing a story for the viewer? Did he murder Haskell after all, despite the film 'showing' us that Haskell died of natural causes? In other words, are we watching what Al wants us to believe? Regardless of the answers to these questions, the film succeeds precisely because of its accidental or inadvertent choices, so it is an implicit reminder that seeking the director's original intention in any piece of art is a complete mirage. Detour is certainly not a good film, but it just might be a great one. (It is a short film too, and, out of copyright, it is available online for free.)

Safe (1995) Safe is a subtly disturbing film about an upper-middle-class housewife who begins to complain about vague symptoms of illness. Initially claiming that she doesn't feel right, Carol starts to have unexplained headaches, a dry cough and nosebleeds, and eventually begins to have trouble breathing. Carol's family doctor treats her concerns with little care, and suggests to her husband that she sees a psychiatrist. Yet Carol's episodes soon escalate. For example, as a 'homemaker' and with nothing else to occupy her, Carol's orders a new couch for a party. But when the store delivers the wrong one (although it is not altogether clear that they did), Carol has a near breakdown. Unsure where to turn, an 'allergist' tells Carol she has "Environmental Illness," and so Carol eventually checks herself into a new-age commune filled with alternative therapies. On the surface, Safe is thus a film about the increasing about of pesticides and chemicals in our lives, something that was clearly felt far more viscerally in the 1990s. But it is also a film about how lack of genuine healthcare for women must be seen as a critical factor in the rise of crank medicine. (Indeed, it made for something of an uncomfortable watch during the coronavirus lockdown.) More interestingly, however, Safe gently-yet-critically examines the psychosocial causes that may be aggravating Carol's illnesses, including her vacant marriage, her hollow friends and the 'empty calorie' stimulus of suburbia. None of this should be especially new to anyone: the gendered Victorian term 'hysterical' is often all but spoken throughout this film, and perhaps from the very invention of modern medicine, women's symptoms have often regularly minimised or outright dismissed. (Hilary Mantel's 2003 memoir, Giving Up the Ghost is especially harrowing on this.) As I opened this review, the film is subtle in its messaging. Just to take one example from many, the sound of the cars is always just a fraction too loud: there's a scene where a group is eating dinner with a road in the background, and the total effect can be seen as representing the toxic fumes of modernity invading our social lives and health. I won't spoiler the conclusion of this quietly devasting film, but don't expect a happy ending.

The Driver (1978) Critics grossly misunderstood The Driver when it was first released. They interpreted the cold and unemotional affect of the characters with the lack of developmental depth, instead of representing their dissociation from the society around them. This reading was encouraged by the fact that the principal actors aren't given real names and are instead known simply by their archetypes instead: 'The Driver', 'The Detective', 'The Player' and so on. This sort of quasi-Jungian erudition is common in many crime films today (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, Layer Cake, Fight Club), so the critics' misconceptions were entirely reasonable in 1978. The plot of The Driver involves the eponymous Driver, a noted getaway driver for robberies in Los Angeles. His exceptional talent has far prevented him from being captured thus far, so the Detective attempts to catch the Driver by pardoning another gang if they help convict the Driver via a set-up robbery. To give himself an edge, however, The Driver seeks help from the femme fatale 'Player' in order to mislead the Detective. If this all sounds eerily familiar, you would not be far wrong. The film was essentially remade by Nicolas Winding Refn as Drive (2011) and in Edgar Wright's 2017 Baby Driver. Yet The Driver offers something that these neon-noir variants do not. In particular, the car chases around Los Angeles are some of the most captivating I've seen: they aren't thrilling in the sense of tyre squeals, explosions and flying boxes, but rather the vehicles come across like wild animals hunting one another. This feels especially so when the police are hunting The Driver, which feels less like a low-stakes game of cat and mouse than a pack of feral animals working together a gang who will tear apart their prey if they find him. In contrast to the undercar neon glow of the Fast & Furious franchise, the urban realism backdrop of the The Driver's LA metropolis contributes to a sincere feeling of artistic fidelity as well. To be sure, most of this is present in the truly-excellent Drive, where the chase scenes do really communicate a credible sense of stakes. But the substitution of The Driver's grit with Drive's soft neon tilts it slightly towards that common affliction of crime movies: style over substance. Nevertheless, I can highly recommend watching The Driver and Drive together, as it can tell you a lot about the disconnected socioeconomic practices of the 1980s compared to the 2010s. More than that, however, the pseudo-1980s synthwave soundtrack of Drive captures something crucial to analysing the world of today. In particular, these 'sounds from the past filtered through the present' bring to mind the increasing role of nostalgia for lost futures in the culture of today, where temporality and pop culture references are almost-exclusively citational and commemorational.

The Souvenir (2019) The ostensible outline of this quietly understated film follows a shy but ambitious film student who falls into an emotionally fraught relationship with a charismatic but untrustworthy older man. But that doesn't quite cover the plot at all, for not only is The Souvenir a film about a young artist who is inspired, derailed and ultimately strengthened by a toxic relationship, it is also partly a coming-of-age drama, a subtle portrait of class and, finally, a film about the making of a film. Still, one of the geniuses of this truly heartbreaking movie is that none of these many elements crowds out the other. It never, ever feels rushed. Indeed, there are many scenes where the camera simply 'sits there' and quietly observes what is going on. Other films might smother themselves through references to 18th-century oil paintings, but The Souvenir somehow evades this too. And there's a certain ring of credibility to the story as well, no doubt in part due to the fact it is based on director Joanna Hogg's own experiences at film school. A beautifully observed and multi-layered film; I'll be happy if the sequel is one-half as good.

The Wrestler (2008) Randy 'The Ram' Robinson is long past his prime, but he is still rarin' to go in the local pro-wrestling circuit. Yet after a brutal beating that seriously threatens his health, Randy hangs up his tights and pursues a serious relationship... and even tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter. But Randy can't resist the lure of the ring, and readies himself for a comeback. The stage is thus set for Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, which is essentially about what drives Randy back to the ring. To be sure, Randy derives much of his money from wrestling as well as his 'fitness', self-image, self-esteem and self-worth. Oh, it's no use insisting that wrestling is fake, for the sport is, needless to say, Randy's identity; it's not for nothing that this film is called The Wrestler. In a number of ways, The Sound of Metal (2019) is both a reaction to (and a quiet remake of) The Wrestler, if only because both movies utilise 'cool' professions to explore such questions of identity. But perhaps simply when The Wrestler was produced makes it the superior film. Indeed, the role of time feels very important for the Wrestler. In the first instance, time is clearly taking its toll on Randy's body, but I felt it more strongly in the sense this was very much a pre-2008 film, released on the cliff-edge of the global financial crisis, and the concomitant precarity of the 2010s. Indeed, it is curious to consider that you couldn't make The Wrestler today, although not because the relationship to work has changed in any fundamentalway. (Indeed, isn't it somewhat depressing the realise that, since the start of the pandemic and the 'work from home' trend to one side, we now require even more people to wreck their bodies and mental health to cover their bills?) No, what I mean to say here is that, post-2016, you cannot portray wrestling on-screen without, how can I put it, unwelcome connotations. All of which then reminds me of Minari's notorious red hat... But I digress. The Wrestler is a grittily stark darkly humorous look into the life of a desperate man and a sorrowful world, all through one tragic profession.

Thief (1981) Frank is an expert professional safecracker and specialises in high-profile diamond heists. He plans to use his ill-gotten gains to retire from crime and build a life for himself with a wife and kids, so he signs on with a top gangster for one last big score. This, of course, could be the plot to any number of heist movies, but Thief does something different. Similar to The Wrestler and The Driver (see above) and a number of other films that I watched this year, Thief seems to be saying about our relationship to work and family in modernity and postmodernity. Indeed, the 'heist film', we are told, is an understudied genre, but part of the pleasure of watching these films is said to arise from how they portray our desired relationship to work. In particular, Frank's desire to pull off that last big job feels less about the money it would bring him, but a displacement from (or proxy for) fulfilling some deep-down desire to have a family or indeed any relationship at all. Because in theory, of course, Frank could enter into a fulfilling long-term relationship right away, without stealing millions of dollars in diamonds... but that's kinda the entire point: Frank needing just one more theft is an excuse to not pursue a relationship and put it off indefinitely in favour of 'work'. (And being Federal crimes, it also means Frank cannot put down meaningful roots in a community.) All this is communicated extremely subtly in the justly-lauded lowkey diner scene, by far the best scene in the movie. The visual aesthetic of Thief is as if you set The Warriors (1979) in a similarly-filthy Chicago, with the Xenophon-inspired plot of The Warriors replaced with an almost deliberate lack of plot development... and the allure of The Warriors' fantastical criminal gangs (with their alluringly well-defined social identities) substituted by a bunch of amoral individuals with no solidarity beyond the immediate moment. A tale of our time, perhaps. I should warn you that the ending of Thief is famously weak, but this is a gritty, intelligent and strangely credible heist movie before you get there.

Uncut Gems (2019) The most exhausting film I've seen in years; the cinematic equivalent of four cups of double espresso, I didn't even bother even trying to sleep after downing Uncut Gems late one night. Directed by the two Safdie Brothers, it often felt like I was watching two films that had been made at the same time. (Or do I mean two films at 2X speed?) No, whatever clumsy metaphor you choose to adopt, the unavoidable effect of this film's finely-tuned chaos is an uncompromising and anxiety-inducing piece of cinema. The plot follows Howard as a man lost to his countless vices mostly gambling with a significant side hustle in adultery, but you get the distinct impression he would be happy with anything that will give him another high. A true junkie's junkie, you might say. You know right from the beginning it's going to end in some kind of disaster, the only question remaining is precisely how and what. Portrayed by an (almost unrecognisable) Adam Sandler, there's an uncanny sense of distance in the emotional chasm between 'Sandler-as-junkie' and 'Sandler-as-regular-star-of-goofy-comedies'. Yet instead of being distracting and reducing the film's affect, this possibly-deliberate intertextuality somehow adds to the masterfully-controlled mayhem. My heart races just at the memory. Oof.

Woman in the Dunes (1964) I ended up watching three films that feature sand this year: Denis Villeneuve's Dune (2021), Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Woman in the Dunes. But it is this last 1964 film by Hiroshi Teshigahara that will stick in my mind in the years to come. Sure, there is none of the Medician intrigue of Dune or the Super Panavision-70 of Lawrence of Arabia (or its quasi-orientalist score, itself likely stolen from Anton Bruckner's 6th Symphony), but Woman in the Dunes doesn't have to assert its confidence so boldly, and it reveals the enormity of its plot slowly and deliberately instead. Woman in the Dunes never rushes to get to the film's central dilemma, and it uncovers its terror in little hints and insights, all whilst establishing the daily rhythm of life. Woman in the Dunes has something of the uncanny horror as Dogtooth (see above), as well as its broad range of potential interpretations. Both films permit a wide array of readings, without resorting to being deliberately obscurantist or being just plain random it is perhaps this reason why I enjoyed them so much. It is true that asking 'So what does the sand mean?' sounds tediously sophomoric shorn of any context, but it somehow applies to this thoughtfully self-contained piece of cinema.

A Quiet Place (2018) Although A Quiet Place was not actually one of the best films I saw this year, I'm including it here as it is certainly one of the better 'mainstream' Hollywood franchises I came across. Not only is the film very ably constructed and engages on a visceral level, I should point out that it is rare that I can empathise with the peril of conventional horror movies (and perhaps prefer to focus on its cultural and political aesthetics), but I did here. The conceit of this particular post-apocalyptic world is that a family is forced to live in almost complete silence while hiding from creatures that hunt by sound alone. Still, A Quiet Place engages on an intellectual level too, and this probably works in tandem with the pure 'horrorific' elements and make it stick into your mind. In particular, and to my mind at least, A Quiet Place a deeply American conservative film below the surface: it exalts the family structure and a certain kind of sacrifice for your family. (The music often had a passacaglia-like strain too, forming a tombeau for America.) Moreover, you survive in this dystopia by staying quiet that is to say, by staying stoic suggesting that in the wake of any conflict that might beset the world, the best thing to do is to keep quiet. Even communicating with your loved ones can be deadly to both of you, so not emote, acquiesce quietly to your fate, and don't, whatever you do, speak up. (Or join a union.) I could go on, but The Quiet Place is more than this. It's taut and brief, and despite cinema being an increasingly visual medium, it encourages its audience to develop a new relationship with sound.

1 January 2022

Russ Allbery: 2021 Book Reading in Review

In 2021, I finished and reviewed 43 books, yet another (tiny) increase over 2020 and once again the best year for reading since 2012 (which was the last time I averaged 5 books a month). The year got off to a good reading start and closed strong, but once again had sags in the spring and summer when I got behind on reviews and fell out of the habit of reading daily. This year, at least, the end-of-year catch-up was less dramatic; all but two of the books I reviewed in December were finished in December. The best books I read this year were Naomi Novik's magic boarding school fantasies A Deadly Education and The Last Graduate, which I rated a 9 and a 10 respectively. Memorable characters, some great world-building, truly exceptional characterization of a mother/daughter relationship, adroit avoidance of genre pitfalls, and two of my favorite fictional tropes: for me, this series has it all. The third and concluding book of that series is my most anticipated book of 2022. My large reviewing project of this year was a complete re-read of C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, starting with my 1000th published review. As you can see, I have a lot of opinions about those books; they were a huge part of my childhood, and I'd been talking about writing those reviews for years. They were the longest reviews I've published and, unusually for me, full-spoiler reviews, and they took up a lot of my reviewing energy for the year. Of the seven books in the series, I was pleased to see that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Magician's Nephew held up and are still very much worth reading. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, in particular, is an exceptional sense-of-wonder fantasy novel with a story structure that remains rare. The best non-fiction book I read in 2021 is a prosaic choice that's only of specialist interest, but JavaScript: The Definitive Guide is precisely the type of programming language manual that I look for when learning a new language. It taught me what I was hoping to learn when I picked it up. Honorable mentions are a crowded field this year; I read a lot of books that were good but not great. Worth calling out are Arkady Martine's A Desolation Called Peace (sequel to the excellent A Memory Called Empire), if for nothing else than Three Seagrass; Micaiah Johnson's impressive debut The Space Between Worlds; and Becky Chambers's last Wayfarer novel, The Galaxy, and the Ground Within. On the non-fiction side, Allie Brosh's Solutions and Other Problems is a much harder and sadder book than the exceptional Hyperbole and a Half, but it was still very much worth reading. This was another year spent reading mostly recently-published books, without much backfill of either award winners or my existing library. In 2022, I hope to balance keeping up with new books of interest with returning to series I left unfinished, award lists I left only partly explored, and books I snapped up in earlier years and then never got around to. The full analysis includes some additional personal reading statistics, probably only of interest to me.

18 February 2021

Russ Allbery: Review: Solutions and Other Problems

Review: Solutions and Other Problems, by Allie Brosh
Publisher: Gallery Books
Copyright: September 2020
ISBN: 1-9821-5694-5
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 519
Solutions and Other Problems is the long-awaited second volume of Allie Brosh's work, after the amazing Hyperbole and a Half. The first collection was a mix of original material and pieces that first appeared on her blog. This is all new work, although one of the chapters is now on her blog as a teaser. As with all of Brosh's previous work, Solutions and Other Problems is mostly drawings (in her highly original, deceptively simple style) with a bit of prose in between. It's a similar mix of childhood stories, off-beat interpretations of day-to-day life, and deeper and more personal topics. But this is not the same type of book as Hyperbole and a Half, in a way that is hard to capture in a review. When this book was postponed and then temporarily withdrawn, I suspected that something had happened to Brosh. I was hoping that it was just the chaos of her first book publication, but, sadly, no. We find out about some of what happened in Solutions and Other Problems, in varying amounts of detail, and it's heart-wrenching. That by itself gives the book a more somber tone. But, beyond that, I think Solutions and Other Problems represents a shift in mood and intention. The closest I can come to it is to say that Hyperbole and a Half felt like Brosh using her own experiences as a way to tell funny stories, and this book feels like Brosh using funny stories to talk about her experiences. There are still childhood hijinks and animal stories mixed in, but even those felt more earnest, more sad, and less assured or conclusive. This is in no way a flaw, to be clear; just be aware that if you were expecting more work exactly like Hyperbole and a Half, this volume is more challenging and a bit more unsettling. This does not mean Brosh's trademark humor is gone. Chapter seventeen, "Loving-Kindness Exercise," is one of the funniest things I've ever read. "Neighbor Kid" captures my typical experience of interacting with children remarkably well. And there are, of course, more stories about not-very-bright pets, including a memorable chapter ("The Kangaroo Pig Gets Drunk") on just how baffling our lives must be to the animals around us. But this book is more serious, even when there's humor and absurdity layered on top, and anxiety felt like a constant companion. As with her previous book, many of the chapters are stories from Brosh's childhood. I have to admit this is not my favorite part of Brosh's work, and the stories in this book in particular felt a bit less funny and somewhat more uncomfortable and unsettling. This may be a very individual reaction; you can judge your own in advance by reading "Richard," the second chapter of the book, which Brosh posted to her blog. I think it's roughly typical of the childhood stories here. The capstone of Hyperbole and a Half was Brosh's fantastic two-part piece on depression, which succeeded in being hilarious and deeply insightful at the same time. I think the capstone of Solutions and Other Problems is the last chapter, "Friend," which is about being friends with yourself. For me, it was a good encapsulation of both the merits of this book and the difference in tone. It's less able to find obvious humor in a psychological struggle, but it's just as empathetic and insightful. The ending is more ambiguous and more conditional; the tone is more wistful. It felt more personal and more raw, and therefore a bit less generalized. Her piece on depression made me want to share it with everyone I knew; this piece made me want to give Brosh a virtual hug and tell her I'm glad she's alive and exists in the world. That about sums up my reaction to this book. I bought Solutions and Other Problems in hardcover because I think this sort of graphic work benefits from high-quality printing, and I was very happy with that decision. Gallery Books used heavy, glossy paper and very clear printing. More of the text is outside of the graphic panels than I remember from the previous book. I appreciated that; I thought it made the stories much easier to read. My one quibble is that Brosh does use fairly small lettering in some of the panels and the color choices and the scrawl she uses for stylistic reasons sometimes made that text difficult for me to read. In those few places, I would have appreciated the magnifying capabilities of reading on a tablet. I don't think this is as good as Hyperbole and a Half, but it is still very good and very worth reading. It's harder reading, though, and you'll need to brace yourself more than you did before. If you're new to Brosh, start with Hyperbole and a Half, or with the blog, but if you liked those, read this too. Rating: 8 out of 10

21 July 2020

Bits from Debian: New Debian Developers and Maintainers (May and June 2020)

The following contributors got their Debian Developer accounts in the last two months: The following contributors were added as Debian Maintainers in the last two months: Congratulations!

17 October 2017

Russ Allbery: Bundle haul

Confession time: I started making these posts (eons ago) because a close friend did as well, and I enjoyed reading them. But the main reason why I continue is because the primary way I have to keep track of the books I've bought and avoid duplicates is, well, grep on these posts. I should come up with a non-bullshit way of doing this, but time to do more elegant things is in short supply, and, well, it's my blog. So I'm boring all of you who read this in various places with my internal bookkeeping. I do try to at least add a bit of commentary. This one will be more tedious than most since it includes five separate Humble Bundles, which increases the volume a lot. (I just realized I'd forgotten to record those purchases from the past several months.) First, the individual books I bought directly: Ilona Andrews Sweep in Peace (sff)
Ilona Andrews One Fell Sweep (sff)
Steven Brust Vallista (sff)
Nicky Drayden The Prey of Gods (sff)
Meg Elison The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (sff)
Pat Green Night Moves (nonfiction)
Ann Leckie Provenance (sff)
Seanan McGuire Once Broken Faith (sff)
Seanan McGuire The Brightest Fell (sff)
K. Arsenault Rivera The Tiger's Daughter (sff)
Matthew Walker Why We Sleep (nonfiction)
Some new books by favorite authors, a few new releases I heard good things about, and two (Night Moves and Why We Sleep) from references in on-line articles that impressed me. The books from security bundles (this is mostly work reading, assuming I'll get to any of it), including a blockchain bundle: Wil Allsop Unauthorised Access (nonfiction)
Ross Anderson Security Engineering (nonfiction)
Chris Anley, et al. The Shellcoder's Handbook (nonfiction)
Conrad Barsky & Chris Wilmer Bitcoin for the Befuddled (nonfiction)
Imran Bashir Mastering Blockchain (nonfiction)
Richard Bejtlich The Practice of Network Security (nonfiction)
Kariappa Bheemaiah The Blockchain Alternative (nonfiction)
Violet Blue Smart Girl's Guide to Privacy (nonfiction)
Richard Caetano Learning Bitcoin (nonfiction)
Nick Cano Game Hacking (nonfiction)
Bruce Dang, et al. Practical Reverse Engineering (nonfiction)
Chris Dannen Introducing Ethereum and Solidity (nonfiction)
Daniel Drescher Blockchain Basics (nonfiction)
Chris Eagle The IDA Pro Book, 2nd Edition (nonfiction)
Nikolay Elenkov Android Security Internals (nonfiction)
Jon Erickson Hacking, 2nd Edition (nonfiction)
Pedro Franco Understanding Bitcoin (nonfiction)
Christopher Hadnagy Social Engineering (nonfiction)
Peter N.M. Hansteen The Book of PF (nonfiction)
Brian Kelly The Bitcoin Big Bang (nonfiction)
David Kennedy, et al. Metasploit (nonfiction)
Manul Laphroaig (ed.) PoC GTFO (nonfiction)
Michael Hale Ligh, et al. The Art of Memory Forensics (nonfiction)
Michael Hale Ligh, et al. Malware Analyst's Cookbook (nonfiction)
Michael W. Lucas Absolute OpenBSD, 2nd Edition (nonfiction)
Bruce Nikkel Practical Forensic Imaging (nonfiction)
Sean-Philip Oriyano CEHv9 (nonfiction)
Kevin D. Mitnick The Art of Deception (nonfiction)
Narayan Prusty Building Blockchain Projects (nonfiction)
Prypto Bitcoin for Dummies (nonfiction)
Chris Sanders Practical Packet Analysis, 3rd Edition (nonfiction)
Bruce Schneier Applied Cryptography (nonfiction)
Adam Shostack Threat Modeling (nonfiction)
Craig Smith The Car Hacker's Handbook (nonfiction)
Dafydd Stuttard & Marcus Pinto The Web Application Hacker's Handbook (nonfiction)
Albert Szmigielski Bitcoin Essentials (nonfiction)
David Thiel iOS Application Security (nonfiction)
Georgia Weidman Penetration Testing (nonfiction)
Finally, the two SF bundles: Buzz Aldrin & John Barnes Encounter with Tiber (sff)
Poul Anderson Orion Shall Rise (sff)
Greg Bear The Forge of God (sff)
Octavia E. Butler Dawn (sff)
William C. Dietz Steelheart (sff)
J.L. Doty A Choice of Treasons (sff)
Harlan Ellison The City on the Edge of Forever (sff)
Toh Enjoe Self-Reference ENGINE (sff)
David Feintuch Midshipman's Hope (sff)
Alan Dean Foster Icerigger (sff)
Alan Dean Foster Mission to Moulokin (sff)
Alan Dean Foster The Deluge Drivers (sff)
Taiyo Fujii Orbital Cloud (sff)
Hideo Furukawa Belka, Why Don't You Bark? (sff)
Haikasoru (ed.) Saiensu Fikushon 2016 (sff anthology)
Joe Haldeman All My Sins Remembered (sff)
Jyouji Hayashi The Ouroboros Wave (sff)
Sergei Lukyanenko The Genome (sff)
Chohei Kambayashi Good Luck, Yukikaze (sff)
Chohei Kambayashi Yukikaze (sff)
Sakyo Komatsu Virus (sff)
Miyuki Miyabe The Book of Heroes (sff)
Kazuki Sakuraba Red Girls (sff)
Robert Silverberg Across a Billion Years (sff)
Allen Steele Orbital Decay (sff)
Bruce Sterling Schismatrix Plus (sff)
Michael Swanwick Vacuum Flowers (sff)
Yoshiki Tanaka Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Volume 1: Dawn (sff)
Yoshiki Tanaka Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Volume 2: Ambition (sff)
Yoshiki Tanaka Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Volume 3: Endurance (sff)
Tow Ubukata Mardock Scramble (sff)
Sayuri Ueda The Cage of Zeus (sff)
Sean Williams & Shane Dix Echoes of Earth (sff)
Hiroshi Yamamoto MM9 (sff)
Timothy Zahn Blackcollar (sff)
Phew. Okay, all caught up, and hopefully won't have to dump something like this again in the near future. Also, more books than I have any actual time to read, but what else is new.

2 July 2017

Bits from Debian: New Debian Developers and Maintainers (May and June 2017)

The following contributors got their Debian Developer accounts in the last two months: The following contributors were added as Debian Maintainers in the last two months: Congratulations!

19 December 2016

Mike Gabriel: [Arctica Project] Release of nx-libs (version

Introduction NX is a software suite which implements very efficient compression of the X11 protocol. This increases performance when using X applications over a network, especially a slow one. NX (v3) has been originally developed by NoMachine and has been Free Software ever since. Since NoMachine obsoleted NX (v3) some time back in 2013/2014, the maintenance has been continued by a versatile group of developers. The work on NX (v3) is being continued under the project name "nx-libs". Release Announcement On Monday, Dec 19th, version of nx-libs has been released [1]. This release brings another major backport of libNX_X11 (to the status of's libX11 1.6.4, i.e. latest HEAD) and also a major backport of the xtrans library (status of latest HEAD at, as well). This big chunk of work has again been performed by Ulrich Sibiller. Thanks for your work on this. This release is also the first version of nx-libs (v3) that has dropped nxcompext as shared library. We discovered that shipping nxcompext as shared library is a big design flaw as it has to be built against header files private to the Xserver (namely, dix.h). Conclusively, code from nxcompext was moved into the nxagent DDX [2]. Furthermore, we worked again and again on cleaning up the code base. We dropped various files from the Xserver code shipped in nx-libs and various compilier warnings have been amended. In the upstream ChangeLog you will find some more items around code clean-ups and .deb packaging, see the diff [3] on the ChangeLog file for details. A very special and massive thanks to all major contributors, namely Ulrich Sibiller, Mihai Moldovan and Vadim Troshchinskiy. Well done!!! Also a special thanks to Vadim Troshchinskiy for fixing some regressions in nxcomp introduced by the Unix socketeering support. Change Log A list of recent changes (since can be obtained from here. Known Issues from (solved in This version of nx-libs now works fine again with LDFLAGS / CFLAGS having the -pie / -fPIE hardening flags set. Binary Builds You can obtain binary builds of nx-libs for Debian (jessie, stretch, unstable) and Ubuntu (trusty, xenial) via these apt-URLs: Our package server's archive key is: 0x98DE3101 (fingerprint: 7A49 CD37 EBAE 2501 B9B4 F7EA A868 0F55 98DE 3101). Use this command to make APT trust our package server:
 wget -qO -   sudo apt-key add -
The nx-libs software project brings to you the binary packages nxproxy (client-side component) and nxagent (nx-X11 server, server-side component). Ubuntu developers, please note: we have added nightly builds for Ubuntu latest to our build server. This has been Ubuntu 16.10 so far, but we will soon drop 16.10 support in nightly builds and add 17.04 support. References

6 July 2016

Mike Gabriel: [Arctica Project] Release of nx-libs (version

Introduction NX is a software suite which implements very efficient compression of the X11 protocol. This increases performance when using X applications over a network, especially a slow one. NX (v3) has been originally developed by NoMachine and has been Free Software ever since. Since NoMachine obsoleted NX (v3) some time back in 2013/2014, the maintenance has been continued by a versatile group of developers. The work on NX (v3) is being continued under the project name "nx-libs". History Until January 2015, nx-libs was more mainly a redistribution approach of the original NX (v3) software. We (we as in mainly a group of X2Go developers) kept changes applied to the original NoMachine sources as minimal as possible. We also kept the original files and folders structure. Patches had been maintained via the quilt utility on top of a Git repository, the patches had always been kept separate. That was the 3.5.0.x series of nx-libs. In January 2015, the characteristics of nx-libs as maintained by the X2Go project between 2011 and 2015 changed. A decision was reached: This effort is now about to be released as "nx-libs". Contributors Since 2011, the nx-libs code base has to a great extent been maintained in the context of the X2Go Project [1]. Qindel Group joining in... In 2014, developers from the Qindel Group [2] joined the nx-libs maintenance. They found X2Go's work on nx-libs and suggested joining forces as best as possible on hacking nx-libs. The Arctica Project comming up... Starting in January 2015, the development on the 3.6.x branch of the project was moved into a new project called the Arctica Project [3]. Development Funding by Qindel In September 2015, a funding project was set up at Qindel. Since then, the Qindel group greatly supports the development of nx-libs 3.6.x monetarily and with provided man power. The funding project officially is a cooperation between Qindel and DAS-NETZWERKTEAM (business run by Mike Gabriel, long term maintainer of nx-libs). The funding is split into two subprojects and lasts until August 2017: The current nx-libs development effort is coordinated in the context of the Arctica Project (by Mike Gabriel), with use cases in Arctica, X2Go and TheQVD (VDI product worked on at Qindel) in mind. People involved There are various people involved in nx-libs 3.6.x maintenance and development, some of them shall be explicitly named here (in alphabetical order of surnames): Some other people have contributed, but have left the project already. Thanks for your work on nx-libs: A big thanks to everyone involved!!! Special thanks go to Stefan Baur for employing Mihai Moldovan and handling all the bureaucracy, so that Mihai can work on this project and get funded for his work. Achievements of nx-libs We are very close to our self-defined release goal 3.6.0. The below tasks have already been (+/-) completed for version In a previous blog post [4], the code reduction in nx-libs has already been discussed. With this announcement, we want to give a status update about our effort of shrinking the nx-libs code base:
    [mike@minobo nx-libs (3.6.x)]$ cloc --match-f '.*\.(c cpp h)' .
        1896 text files.
        1896 unique files.                                          
        7430 files ignored. v 1.60  T=5.88 s (307.3 files/s, 143310.5 lines/s)
    Language                     files          blank        comment           code
    C                              958          68574          74891         419638
    C/C++ Header                   730          25683          33957         130418
    C++                            120          17007          11721          61292
    SUM:                          1808         111264         120569         611348
The previous statistics had these sums in the last line. First the nx-libs 3.5.0.x code tree (where we came from):
    SUM:                          5614         329279         382337        1757743
Then the nx-libs 3.6.x status as it was on May 9th 2016:
    SUM:                          1922         118581         126783         662635
Another 50.000 lines of code have been removed over the past two months. Work pending for the final 3.6.0 release goal Known Issues There are several open issues on the nx-libs Github project space, see Testing the nx-libs We are currently working on provisioning release builds and nightly builds of nx-libs for various recent Linux distributions. Please stay tuned and watch Mike Gabriel's blog [5]. We already have nightly builds of nx-libs for Debian and Ubuntu [6], but there are more to come soon. Until now, please use the build recipes provided in the file of the nx-libs source tree [7]. References

21 June 2016

Russ Allbery: Review: Furiously Happy

Review: Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson
Publisher: Flatiron
Copyright: September 2015
ISBN: 1-250-07700-1
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 329
Jenny Lawson, who blogs as The Bloggess, is best known for a combination of being extremely funny and being extremely open about her struggles with mental illness (a combination of anxiety and depression, alongside a few other problems). Her first book primarily told the story of her family, childhood, and husband. Furiously Happy is a more random and disconnected book, but insofar as it has a theme, it's about surviving depression, anxiety, and other manifestations of your brain being an asshole. I described Lawson's previous book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, as the closest thing I've found to a stand-up comedy routine in book form. Furiously Happy is very similar, but it lacks the cohesiveness of a routine. Instead, it feels like a blog collection: a pile of essays with only some vague themes and not a lot of continuity from essay to essay. This doesn't surprise me. Second books are very different than first books, particularly second books by someone whose writing focus is not writing books, and particularly for non-fiction. I feel like Let's Pretend This Never Happened benefited from drawing on Lawson's full life experience to form the best book she could write. When that became wildly popular, everyone of course wanted a second book, including me. But when the writing is this personal, the second book is, out of necessity, partly leftovers. Lawson's recent experiences don't generate as much material as her whole life up to the point of the first book. That said, there is a bit of a theme, and the title fits it. Early in the book, Lawson describes how, after the death of a friend and a bout of depression, she decided to be furiously, vehemently happy to get back at the universe, to spite its attempts to destroy her mood. It's one of the best bits in this book. The surrounding philosophy is about embracing the moment, enjoying the hell out of everything that one can enjoy, and taking a lot of chances. A lot of the stories in this book come after the beginning of Lawson's fame and popularity. She has book tours, a vacation tour of Australia, and a community of people from her blog. That, of course, doesn't make the depression and anxiety any better; indeed, it provides a lot of material for her anxiety to work with. Lawson talks a lot about surviving, about how important that community is to her, about not believing your brain when it lies to you. This isn't as uniformly funny as her first book, and sometimes it feels a bit too much like an earnest pep talk. But there are also moments of insightful life philosophy mixed into the madcap adventures and stream-of-consciousness wild associations. Lawson also does for anxiety what Allie Brosh does for depression: make the severe form of it relatable to people who have not suffered from it. I was particularly struck by her description of flying: the people around her are getting nervous and anxious as the plane starts to take off, and she's finally able to relax because her anxiety focused on all the things she had to do in order to get onto the right plane at the right time. Once she didn't have to make any decisions or do anything other than sit in one place, her anxiety let go. I don't have any type of clinical anxiety, but I was able to identify with that moment of relief and its contrast with anxiety in a deeper way than with other descriptions. Furiously Happy is a bit more serious and earnest, and I'm not sure it worked as well. I liked Lawson's first book better; this felt more like a blog archive. But she's still funny, entertaining, and delightful, and I'm happy to support her with a book purchase. Start with either her blog or Let's Pretend This Never Happened if you're new to Lawson, but if you're already a fan, here's more of her writing. Rating: 7 out of 10

9 May 2016

Mike Gabriel: Recent progress in NXv3 development

This is to give a comprehensive overview on the recent progress made in NXv3 (aka nx-libs) development. The upstream sources of nx-libs can be found at / viewed on / cloned from Github: A great portion of the current work is sponsored by the Qindel Group [1] in Spain (QINDEL FORMACI N Y SERVICIOS, S.L.). Thanks for making this possible. Planned release date: 2nd July, 2016 We aim at releasing a completely tidied up nx-libs code tree versioned 3.6.0 on July 2nd, 2016. There is still a whole bunch of work to do for this, but I am positive that we can make this release date. Goals of our Efforts There are basically two major goals for spending a considerable amount of time, money and energy on NXv3 hacking: The efforts undertaken always have the various existing use cases in mind (esp. the framework of the coming-up Arctica Project, TheQVD and X2Go). Overview on Recent Development Progress General Code Cleanups Making this beast maintainable means first of all: identifying code redundancies, unused code passages, etc. and remove them. This is where we came from (NoMachine's NX 3.5.x, including nxcomp, nxcompext, nxcompshad, nx-X11 and nxagent): 1,757,743 lines of C/C++ code.
[mike@minobo nx-libs.35 (3.5.0.x)]$ cloc --match-f '.*\.(c cpp h)$' .
    5624 text files.
    5614 unique files.                                          
    2701 files ignored. v 1.60  T=18.59 s (302.0 files/s, 132847.4 lines/s)
Language                     files          blank        comment           code
C                             3134         231180         252893        1326393
C/C++ Header                  2274          78062         116132         349743
C++                            206          20037          13312          81607
SUM:                          5614         329279         382337        1757743
On the current 3.6.x branch of nx-libs (at commit 6c6b6b9), this is where we are now: 662,635 lines of C/C++ code, amount of code reduced to a third of the original code lines.
[mike@minobo nx-libs (3.6.x)]$ cloc --match-f '.*\.(c cpp h)' .
    2012 text files.
    2011 unique files.                                          
    1898 files ignored. v 1.60  T=5.63 s (341.5 files/s, 161351.5 lines/s)
Language                     files          blank        comment           code
C                             1015          74605          81625         463244
C/C++ Header                   785          26992          34354         138063
C++                            122          16984          10804          61328
SUM:                          1922         118581         126783         662635
The latest development branch currently has these statistics: 619,353 lines of C/C++ code, another 40,000 lines could be dropped.
[mike@minobo nx-libs (pr/libnx-xext-drop-unused-extensions)]$ cloc --match-f '.*\.(c cpp h)' .
    1932 text files.
    1931 unique files.                                          
    1898 files ignored. v 1.60  T=5.66 s (325.4 files/s, 150598.1 lines/s)
Language                     files          blank        comment           code
C                              983          69474          77186         426564
C/C++ Header                   738          25616          33048         131599
C++                            121          16984          10802          61190
SUM:                          1842         112074         121036         619353
Dropping various libNX_X* shared libraries (and using shared client libraries instead) At first, various bundled libraries could be dropped from the nx-X11 code tree. Secondly, several of the bundled libraries could be dropped, because we managed to build against those libraries as provided system-wide. Then, and this undertaking is much trickier, we could drop nearly all Xlib extension libraries that are used by nxagent with its role of being an X11 client. We could sucessfully drop these Xlib extension libraries from nx-X11, because we managed to build nxagent against the matching libraries in libNX_Xdmcp, libNX_Xfixes, libNX_XComposite, libNX_Xdamage, libNX_Xtst, libNX_Xinerama, libNX_Xfont, libNX_xkbui, and various others. All these droppings happened without a loss of functionality. However, some shared X client libraries are not easy to remove without loss of functionality, or rather not removable at all. Dropping libNX_Xrender We recently dropped libNX_Xrender [2] and now build nxagent against's libXrender. However, this cost us a compression feature in NX. The libNX_Xrender code has passages that do zero padding of the unused memory portions in non-32bit-depth glyphs (the NX_RENDER_CLEANUP feature). However, we have hope for being able to reintroduce that feature again later, but current efforts [3] still fail at run-time. Dropping libNX_Xext is not possible... ...the libNX_Xext / Xserver Xext code has been cleaned up instead. Quite an amount of research and testing has been spent on removing the libNX_Xext library from the build workflow of nxagent. However, it seems that building against's libXext will require us to update the Xext part of the nxagent Xserver at the same time. While taking this deep look into Xext code, we dropped various Xext extensions from the nx-X11 Xserver code. The extensions that got dropped [5] are all extensions that already have been dropped from's Xserver code, as well. Further investigation, however, showed, that actually the only used client side extension code from libNX_Xext is the XShape extension. Thus, all other client side extension got dropped now in a very recent pull request [4]. Dropping libNX_X11 not easy, research summary given here For the sake of dropping the Xlib library bundled with nx-libs, we have attempted at writing a shared library called libNX_Xproxy. This library is supposed to contain a subset of the NXtrans related Xlib code that NoMachine patched into's libX11 (and libxtrans). Results of this undertaking [6] so far: Over the weekend, I thought this all through once more and I am pretty sure right now, that we can actually make libNX_Xproxy work and drop all of libNX_X11 from nx-libs soon. Although we have to port (i.e. copy) various functions related to the NX transport from libNX_X11 into libNX_Xproxy, this change will allow us to drop all Xlib drawing routines and use those provided by's Xlib shared library directly. Composite extension backport in nxagent to version 0.4 Mihai Moldovan looked at what it needs to make the Composite extension functional in nxagent. Unfortunately, the exact answer cannot be given, yet. As a start, Mihai backported latest Composite extension (v0.4) code from's Xserver into the nxagent Xserver [7]. The currently shipped Composite extension version in nxagent is v0.2. Work on the NX Compression shared library (aka nxcomp v3) Fernando Carvajal and Salvador Fandi o from the Qindel Group [1] filed three pull requests against the nxcomp part of nx-libs recently, two of them have been code cleanups (done by Fernando), the third one is a feature enhancement regarding channels in nxcomp (provided by Salva). Protocol clean-up: drop pre-3.5 support With the release of nx-libs 3.6.x, we will drop support for nxcomp versions earlier than 3.5. Thus, if you are still on nxcomp 3.4, be prepared for upgrading at least to version 3.5.x. The code removal had been issued as pull request #111 ("Remove compatibility code for nxcomp before 3.5.0") [8]. The PR has already been reviewed and merged. Fernando filed another code cleanup PR (#119 [9]) against nx-libs that also already got merged into the 3.6.x branch. UNIX Socket Support for Channels The nxcomp library (and thus, nxproxy) provides a feature called "channels". Channels in nxcomp can be used for forwarding traffic between NX client side and the NX server side (along the graphical X11 transport that nxcomp is designed for). Until version 3.5.x, nxcomp was only able to use local TCP sockets for providing / connecting to channel endpoints. We consider local TCP sockets as insecure and aim at adding UNIX file socket support to nxcomp whereever a connection is established. Salva provided a patch against nxcomp that provides UNIX socket support to channel endpoints. The initial use case for this patch is: connect to client side pulseaudio socket file and avoid enabling the TCP listening socket in pulseaudio. The traffic then is channeled to the server side, so that pulse clients can connect to a UNIX socket file rather than to a local TCP port. The channel support patch has already been reviewed and merged into the 3.6.x branch of nx-libs. Rebasing nxagent against latest Ulrich Sibiller spent a considerable amount of time and energy on providing a build chain that allows building nxagent against a modularized 7.0 (rather than against the monolithic build tree of 6.9, like we still do in nx-libs 3.6.x). We plan to adapt and minimize this build workflow for nx-libs 3.7.x (scheduled for summer 2017). A short howto that shows how to build nxagent with that new workflow will be posted on this blog within the next days. So stay tuned. Further work accomplished Quite a lot of code cleanup PRs have been filed by myself against nx-libs. Most of them target at removal of unnecessary code from the nx-X11 Xserver code base and the nxagent DDX: The third one (PR #120) in the list requires some detailled explanation: We discovered that nxagent ships overrides some symbols from the original Xserver code base. These overrides are induced by copies of some files from some Xserver sub-directory placed into the hw/nxagent/ DDX path. All those files' names match the pattern NX*.c. These copies of code are done in a way that the C compiler suppresses throwing its 'symbol "" redefined: first defined in ""; redefined in ""' errors. The approach taken, however, requires to have quite a few 10.000 lines of redundant code in hw/nxagent/NX*.c that also gets shipped in some Xserver sub-directory (mostly dix/ and render/). With pull request #120, we have identified all code passages in hw/nxagent/NX*.c that must be considered as NX'ish. We differentiated the NX'ish functions from functions that never got changed by NoMachine when developing nxagent. I then came up with four different approaches ([13,14,15,16]) of dropping redundant code from those hw/nxagent/NX*.c files. We (Mihai Moldovan and myself) discussed the various approaches and favoured the disable-Xserver-code-and-include-into-NX*.c variant [14] over the others for the following reasons: In the long run, the Xserver portion of the patches provided via this pull request #120 are required to be upstreamed into's Xserver. The discussion around this will be started when we fully dive into rebasing nxagent's Xserver code base against latest Xserver. Tasks ahead before the 3.6.x Release Various tasks we face before 3.6.x can be released. Here is a probably incomplete list: Tasks ahead after the 3.6.x Release (i.e., for 3.7.x) Here is an even rougher and probably highly incomplete list for tasks after the 3.6.x release: Credits Some people have to be named here that give their heart and love to this project. Thank you guys for supporting the development efforts around nx-libs and the Arctica Project: Thanks to Nico Arenas Alonso from and on behalf of the Qindel Group for coordinating the current funding project around nx-libs. Thanks to Ulrich Sibiller for giving a great amount of spare time to working on the effort. Thanks to Mihai Moldovan for doing endless code reviews and being available for contracted work via BAUR-ITCS UG [17] on NXv3, as well. Thanks to Mario Becroft for providing a patch that allows us to hook into nxagent X11 sessions with VNC and have the session fully available over VNC while the NX transport is in suspended state. Also Mario is pouring some fancy UDP ideas into the re-invention of remote desktop computing process performed in the Arctica Project. Mario has been an NX supporter for years, I am glad to have him still around after so many years (although he was close to abandoning NX usage at least once). Thanks to Fernando Carvajal from Qindel (until April 2016) for cleaning up nxcomp code. Thanks to Orion Poplawski from the Fedora Project for working on the first bundled libraries removal patches and being a resource on RPM packaging. Thanks to my friend Lee for working behind the scenes on the Arctica Core code and constantly pouring various of his ideas into my head. Thanks for regularly reminding me on benchmarking things.
Folks, thanks to all of you for all your various efforts on this huge beast of software. You are a great resource of expertise and it's a pleasure and honour working with you all.
New Faces Last but not least, I'd like to let everyone know that the Qindel Group sponsors another developer joining in on NXv3 development: Vadim Troshchinskiy (aka vatral on Github). Vadim has worked on NXv3 before and we are looking forward to having him and his skills in the team soon (probably end of May 2016). Welcome on board of the team, Vadim.
[13] (include NX'ish code into Xserver)
[14] (include Xserver code into NX*.c)
[15] (use weak symbols and non-static symbols)
[16] (override symbols with interceptions)

13 January 2016

Norbert Preining: Ian Buruma: Wages of Guilt

Since moving to Japan, I got more and more interested in history, especially the recent history of the 20th century. The book I just finished, Ian Buruma (Wiki, home page) Wages of Guilt Memories of War in Germany and Japan (Independent, NYRB), has been a revelation for me. As an Austrian living in Japan, I am experiencing the discrepancy between these two countries with respect to their treatment of war legacy practically daily, and many of my blog entries revolve around the topic of Japanese non-reconciliation.
Willy Brandt went down on his knees in the Warsaw ghetto, after a functioning democracy had been established in the Federal Republic of Germany, not before. But Japan, shielded from the evil world, has grown into an Oskar Matzerath: opportunistic, stunted, and haunted by demons, which it tries to ignore by burying them in the sand, like Oskar s drum.
Ian Buruma, Wages of Guilt, Clearing Up the Ruins
Buruma-Wages_of_Guilt The comparison of Germany and Japan with respect to their recent history as laid out in Buruma s book throws a spotlight on various aspects of the psychology of German and Japanese population, while at the same time not falling into the easy trap of explaining everything with difference in the guilt culture. A book of great depth and broad insights everyone having even the slightest interest in these topics should read.
This difference between (West) German and Japanese textbooks is not just a matter of detail; it shows a gap in perception.
Ian Buruma, Wages of Guilt, Romance of the Ruins
Only thinking about giving a halfway full account of this book is something impossible for me. The sheer amount of information, both on the German and Japanese side, is impressive. His incredible background (studies of Chinese literature and Japanese movie!) and long years as journalist, editor, etc, enriches the book with facets normally not available: In particular his knowledge of both the German and Japanese movie history, and the reflection of history in movies, were complete new aspects for me (see my recent post (in Japanese)). The book is comprised of four parts: The first with the chapters War Against the West and Romance of the Ruins; the second with the chapters Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Nanking; the third with History on Trial, Textbook Resistance, and Memorials, Museums, and Monuments; and the last part with A Normal Country, Two Normal Towns, and Clearing Up the Ruins. Let us look at the chapters in turn: The boook somehow left me with a bleak impression of Japanese post-war times as well as Japanese future. Having read other books about the political ignorance in Japan (Norma Field s In the realm of a dying emperor, or the Chibana history), Buruma s characterization of Japanese politics is striking. He couldn t foresee the recent changes in legislation pushed through by the Abe government actually breaking the constitution, or the rewriting of history currently going on with respect to comfort women and Nanking. But reading his statement about Article Nine of the constitution and looking at the changes in political attitude, I am scared about where Japan is heading to:
The Nanking Massacre, for leftists and many liberals too, is the main symbol of Japanese militarism, supported by the imperial (and imperialist) cult. Which is why it is a keystone of postwar pacifism. Article Nine of the constitution is necessary to avoid another Nanking Massacre. The nationalist right takes the opposite view. To restore the true identity of Japan, the emperor must be reinstated as a religious head of state, and Article Nine must be revised to make Japan a legitimate military power again. For this reason, the Nanking Massacre, or any other example of extreme Japanese aggression, has to be ignored, softened, or denied.
Ian Buruma, Wages of Guilt, Nanking
While there are signs of resistance in the streets of Japan (Okinawa and the Hanako bay, the demonstrations against secrecy law and reversion of the constitution), we are still to see a change influenced by the people in a country ruled and distributed by oligarchs. I don t think there will be another Nanking Massacre in the near future, but Buruma s books shows that we are heading back to a nationalistic regime similar to pre-war times, just covered with a democratic veil to distract critics.
I close with several other quotes from the book that caught my attention: In the preface and introduction:
[ ] mainstream conservatives made a deliberate attempt to distract people s attention from war and politics by concentrating on economic growth.
The curious thing was that much of what attracted Japanese to Germany before the war Prussian authoritarianism, romantic nationalism, pseudo-scientific racialism had lingered in Japan while becoming distinctly unfashionable in Germany.
In Romance of the Ruins:
The point of all this is that Ikeda s promise of riches was the final stage of what came to be known as the reverse course, the turn away from a leftist, pacifist, neutral Japan a Japan that would never again be involved in any wars, that would resist any form of imperialism, that had, in short, turned its back for good on its bloody past. The Double Your Incomes policy was a deliberate ploy to draw public attention away from constitutional issues.
In Hiroshima:
The citizens of Hiroshima were indeed victims, primarily of their own military rulers. But when a local group of peace activists petitioned the city of Hiroshima in 1987 to incorporate the history of Japanese aggression into the Peace Memorial Museum, the request was turned down. The petition for an Aggressors Corner was prompted by junior high school students from Osaka, who had embarrassed Peace Museum officials by asking for an explanation about Japanese responsibility for the war.
The history of the war, or indeed any history, is indeed not what the Hiroshima spirit is about. This is why Auschwitz is the only comparison that is officially condoned. Anything else is too controversial, too much part of the flow of history .
In Nanking, by the governmental pseudo-historian Tanaka:
Unlike in Europe or China, writes Tanaka, you won t find one instance of planned, systematic murder in the entire history of Japan. This is because the Japanese have a different sense of values from the Chinese or the Westerners.
In History on Trial:
In 1950, Becker wrote that few things have done more to hinder true historical self-knowledge in Germany than the war crimes trials. He stuck to this belief. Becker must be taken seriously, for he is not a right-wing apologist for the Nazi past, but an eminent liberal.
There never were any Japanese war crimes trials, nor is there a Japanese Ludwigsburg. This is partly because there was no exact equivalent of the Holocaust. Even though the behavior of Japanese troops was often barbarous, and the psychological consequences of State Shinto and emperor worship were frequently as hysterical as Nazism, Japanese atrocities were part of a military campaign, not a planned genocide of a people that included the country s own citizens. And besides, those aspects of the war that were most revolting and furthest removed from actual combat, such as the medical experiments on human guinea pigs (known as logs ) carried out by Unit 731 in Manchuria, were passed over during the Tokyo trial. The knowledge compiled by the doctors of Unit 731 of freezing experiments, injection of deadly diseases, vivisections, among other things was considered so valuable by the Americans in 1945 that the doctors responsible were allowed to go free in exchange for their data.
Some Japanese have suggested that they should have conducted their own war crimes trials. The historian Hata Ikuhiko thought the Japanese leaders should have been tried according to existing Japanese laws, either in military or in civil courts. The Japanese judges, he believed, might well have been more severe than the Allied tribunal in Tokyo. And the consequences would have been healthier. If found guilty, the spirits of the defendants would not have ended up being enshrined at Yasukuni. The Tokyo trial, he said, purified the crimes of the accused and turned them into martyrs. If they had been tried in domestic courts, there is a good chance the real criminals would have been flushed out.
After it was over, the Nippon Times pointed out the flaws of the trial, but added that the Japanese people must ponder over why it is that there has been such a discrepancy between what they thought and what the rest of the world accepted almost as common knowledge. This is at the root of the tragedy which Japan brought upon herself.
Emperor Hirohito was not Hitler; Hitler was no mere Shrine. But the lethal consequences of the emperor-worshipping system of irresponsibilities did emerge during the Tokyo trial. The savagery of Japanese troops was legitimized, if not driven, by an ideology that did not include a Final Solution but was as racialist as Hider s National Socialism. The Japanese were the Asian Herrenvolk, descended from the gods.
Emperor Hirohito, the shadowy figure who changed after the war from navy uniforms to gray suits, was not personally comparable to Hitler, but his psychological role was remarkably similar.
In fact, MacArthur behaved like a traditional Japanese strongman (and was admired for doing so by many Japanese), using the imperial symbol to enhance his own power. As a result, he hurt the chances of a working Japanese democracy and seriously distorted history. For to keep the emperor in place (he could at least have been made to resign), Hirohito s past had to be freed from any blemish; the symbol had to be, so to speak, cleansed from what had been done in its name.
In Memorials, Museums, and Monuments:
If one disregards, for a moment, the differences in style between Shinto and Christianity, the Yasukuni Shrine, with its relics, its sacred ground, its bronze paeans to noble sacrifice, is not so very different from many European memorials after World War I. By and large, World War II memorials in Europe and the United States (though not the Soviet Union) no longer glorify the sacrifice of the fallen soldier. The sacrificial cult and the romantic elevation of war to a higher spiritual plane no longer seemed appropriate after Auschwitz. The Christian knight, bearing the cross of king and country, was not resurrected. But in Japan, where the war was still truly a war (not a Holocaust), and the symbolism still redolent of religious exultation, such shrines as Yasukuni still carry the torch of nineteenth-century nationalism. Hence the image of the nation owing its restoration to the sacrifice of fallen soldiers.
In A Normal Country:
The mayor received a letter from a Shinto priest in which the priest pointed out that it was un-Japanese to demand any more moral responsibility from the emperor than he had already taken. Had the emperor not demonstrated his deep sorrow every year, on the anniversary of Japan s surrender? Besides, he wrote, it was wrong to have spoken about the emperor in such a manner, even as the entire nation was deeply worried about his health. Then he came to the main point: It is a common error among Christians and people with Western inclinations, including so-called intellectuals, to fail to grasp that Western societies and Japanese society are based on fundamentally different religious concepts . . . Forgetting this premise, they attempt to place a Western structure on a Japanese foundation. I think this kind of mistake explains the demand for the emperor to bear full responsibility.
In Two Normal Towns:
The bust of the man caught my attention, but not because it was in any way unusual; such busts of prominent local figures can be seen everywhere in Japan. This one, however, was particularly grandiose. Smiling across the yard, with a look of deep satisfaction over his many achievements, was Hatazawa Kyoichi. His various functions and titles were inscribed below his bust. He had been an important provincial bureaucrat, a pillar of the sumo wrestling establishment, a member of various Olympic committees, and the recipient of some of the highest honors in Japan. The song engraved on the smooth stone was composed in praise of his rich life. There was just one small gap in Hatazawa s life story as related on his monument: the years from 1941 to 1945 were missing. Yet he had not been idle then, for he was the man in charge of labor at the Hanaoka mines.
In Clearing Up the Ruins:
But the question in American minds was understandable: could one trust a nation whose official spokesmen still refused to admit that their country had been responsible for starting a war? In these Japanese evasions there was something of the petulant child, stamping its foot, shouting that it had done nothing wrong, because everybody did it.
Japan seems at times not so much a nation of twelve-year-olds, to repeat General MacArthur s phrase, as a nation of people longing to be twelve-year-olds, or even younger, to be at that golden age when everything was secure and responsibility and conformity were not yet required.
For General MacArthur was right: in 1945, the Japanese people were political children. Until then, they had been forced into a position of complete submission to a state run by authoritarian bureaucrats and military men, and to a religious cult whose high priest was also formally chief of the armed forces and supreme monarch of the empire.
I saw Jew S ss that same year, at a screening for students of the film academy in Berlin. This showing, too, was followed by a discussion. The students, mostly from western Germany, but some from the east, were in their early twenties. They were dressed in the international uniform of jeans, anoraks, and work shirts. The professor was a man in his forties, a 68er named Karsten Witte. He began the discussion by saying that he wanted the students to concentrate on the aesthetics of the film more than the story. To describe the propaganda, he said, would simply be banal: We all know the what, so let s talk about the how. I thought of my fellow students at the film school in Tokyo more than fifteen years before. How many of them knew the what of the Japanese war in Asia.

15 September 2015

Russ Allbery: Review: Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Review: Let's Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson
Publisher: Berkley
Copyright: 2012, 2013
Printing: March 2013
ISBN: 0-425-26101-8
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 366
Let's Pretend This Never Happened, subtitled (A Mostly True Memoir), is the closest that I've ever found to the book form of a stand-up comedy routine. Lawson grew up in rural Texas with a taxidermist father, frequent contact with animals in various forms of distress, an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, and a talent for creatively freaking out about things that never occur to anyone else. But, more importantly, she has a talent for putting down on paper the random thoughts that go through her head so the rest of us can read them. Not to mention excellent comic timing and absolute mastery of the strangely relevant digression. It's always tricky to review comedy. I think tastes differ more wildly in this genre than any other. Things some people find hilarious others will find offensive or just boring. That may be particularly true of Lawson, who, similar to some of the best stand-up comics, specializes in taking off filters and saying all sorts of offensive things that people might think but not say. This kind of comedy is a knife's edge, since it can easily turn into punching down. Lawson avoids this (rather well, in my opinion) by making herself the punch line of most of the jokes. A pretty typical paragraph of the book, so that you know the sort of thing that you're in for:
The following is a series of actual events pulled form my journal that led me to believe that our home was possessed by demons and/or built over an Indian burial ground. (Also, please note that the first part of this chapter actually happens just before the previous chapter, and the last part of it happens just after it. This could be viewed as "clunky and awkward," but I prefer to think of it as "intellectually challenging and chronologically surreal. Like if Memento was a book. About dead dogs and vaginas and puppets made out of squirrel corpses." You can feel free to use that quote if you're reviewing this chapter, or if you're a student and your teacher asks you, "What was the author trying to say here?" That was it. That's what I was trying to say. That and "Use condoms if you're going to have sex, for God's sake. There are a lot of skanks out there." That's not really covered in this book, but it's still good advice.)
That has a little bit of everything this book had for me: Lawson's somewhat surreal worries, the extended digression, a rhythm that's quite compelling once you start reading it, random uncomfortable topics, and the occasional miss that I don't find funny (the last few sentences). It's all mixed together in a slightly breathless rush of narrative momentum. For more samples, Lawson's writing started as a blog and she's still actively blogging, so you can get a good advance sample by reading some of The Bloggess. Her tone there matches the book closely. What makes this book more than only comedy is that Lawson is very open about her struggles with mental illness (anxiety and depression). A lot of the humor comes from "this is the ridiculous nonsense that my brain throws out on a regular basis" and inviting you to laugh along with her, but the undertone is use of humor as a coping mechanism to deal with anxiety spirals. And alongside that coping mechanism is an open-hearted message of "you are not the only person to have completely irrational reactions to the world please laugh along with mine and feel better about yours." Due to that, the best comparison I can make to another book I've read is to Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half. Brosh is more serious in places, more analytical, and a bit better at generalizing to experiences the reader can identify with. (And, of course, more graphical.) Lawson is more madcap, a bit more manic, and focused on absurd situations that don't normally happen to people. I loved this book from beginning to end, and it had me laughing out-loud in multiple places. Despite being a collection of disconnected stories, it has a rhythm and flow that kept me reading. Some books of this kind are best read in small segments with a break between, but I devoured Let's Pretend This Never Happened in large chunks (and had to be careful about reading it in public and laughing too loudly). Check first whether the sense of humor works for you, but if it does, highly recommended. Rating: 9 out of 10

24 July 2015

Elena 'valhalla' Grandi: Old and new: furoshiki and electronics.

Old and new: furoshiki and electronics.

Yesterday at the local LUG (@Gruppo Linux Como ) somebody commented on the mix of old and new in my cloth-wrapped emergency electronics kit (you know, the kind of things you carry around with a microcontroller board and a few components in case you suddenly have an idea for a project :-) ).


This is the kind of things it has right now: components tend to change in time.


And yes, I admit I can only count up to 2, for higher numbers I carry a reference card :-)


Anyway, there was a bit of conversation on how this looked like a grandmother-ish thing, especially since it was in the same bag with a knitted WIP sock, and I mentioned the Japanese #furoshiki revival and how I believe that good old things are good, and good new things are good, and why not use them both?

Somebody else, who may or not be @Davide De Prisco asked me to let him have the links I mentioned, which include:

* Wikipedia page: Furoshiki
* Guide from the Japanese Ministry of the Environment on how to use a furoshiki (and the article
* A website with many other wrapping tecniques

1 January 2015

Russ Allbery: 2014 Book Reading in Review

This year, after a series of catastrophically horrible and unethical management decisions, I walked away from my job of seventeen years and found a new job. As you might expect, reading wasn't the top priority for much of the year. I'm moderately surprised that I read as much as I did. The good side is that I'm now in a much better place both professionally and personally and no longer have to put up with draining and demoralizing nonsense happening on a regular basis. The downside for my review output is that the new job is more engrossing and is, in some ways, harder work, so I expect my reading totals going forward to stabilize somewhere below where they were in the past (although it's possible that the daily commute will change that equation somewhat). As mentioned last year, I had a feeling that something like this would happen (although not that it would be anywhere near this bad), so I had no specific reading goals for the year. Next year, I'm going to see how it goes for the first few months, and might then consider setting some goals if I want to encourage myself to take more time for reading. The below statistics are confined to the books I reviewed in 2014. I read three more books that I've not yet reviewed, partly because the end of the year isn't as packed with vacation as it was at Stanford. Those will be counted in 2014. Despite the low reading totals for the year, I read two 10 out of 10 books. My favorite book of the year was Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice, which was one of the best science fiction novels I've ever read. Highly recommended if you like the space opera genre at all. A close second was my favorite non-fiction book of the year and the other 10 out of 10: Allie Brosh's collection Hyperbole and a Half. Those of you who have read her blog already know her brilliant and insightful style of humor. Those who haven't are in for a treat. I read a lot of non-fiction this year and not as much fiction, partly for mood reasons, so I don't have honorable mentions in the fiction department. In the non-fiction department, though, there are four more books worth mentioning. Cryptography Engineering, by Niels Ferguson, Bruce Schneier, and Tadayoshi Kohno, was the best technical book that I read last year, and a must-read for anyone who works on security or crypto software. David Graeber's Debt was the best political and economic book of the year and the book from which I learned the most. It changed the way that you think about debt and loans significantly. A close second, though, was David Roodman's Due Diligence, which is a must-read for anyone who has considered investing in microfinance or is curious about the phenomenon. We need more data-driven, thoughtful, book-length analysis like this in the world. Finally, The Knowledge, by Lewis Dartnell, is an entertaining and quixotic project. The stated goal of the book is to document the information required to rebuild civilization after a catastrophe, with hopefully fewer false starts and difficult research than was required the first time. I'm dubious about its usefulness for that goal, but it's a fascinating and entertaining book in its own right, full of detail about industrial processes and the history of manufacturing and construction that are otherwise hard to come by without extensive (and boring) research. Recommended, even if you're dubious about the efficacy of the project. The full analysis includes some additional personal reading statistics, probably only of interest to me.

18 December 2014

Mario Lang: deluXbreed #2 is out!

The third installment of my crossbreed digital mix podcast is out! This time, I am featuring Harder & Louder and tracks from Behind the Machine and the recently released Remixes.
  1. Apolloud - Nagazaki
  2. Apolloud - Hiroshima
  3. SA+AN - Darksiders
  4. Im Colapsed - Cleaning 8
  5. Micromakine & Switch Technique - Ascension
  6. Micromakine - Cyberman (Dither Remix)
  7. Micromakine - So Good! (Synapse Remix)
How was DarkCast born and how is it done? I always loved 175BPM music. It is an old thing that is not going away soon :-). I recently found that there is a quite active culture going on, at least on BandCamp. But single tracks are just that, not really fun to listen to in my opinion. This sort of music needs to be mixed to be fun. In the past, I used to have most tracks I like/love as vinyl, so I did some real-world vinyl mixing myself. But these days, most fun music is only available digitally, at least easily. Some people still do vinyl releases, but they are actually rare. So for my personal enjoyment, I started to digitally mix tracks I really love, such that I can listen to them without "interruption". And since I am an iOS user since three years now, using the podcast format to get stuff onto my devices was quite a natural choice. I use SoX and a very small shell script to create these mixes. Here is a pseudo-template:
sox --combine mix-power \
" sox \" sox 1.flac -p\" \" sox 3.flac -p speed 0.987 delay 2:28.31 2:28.31\" -p" \
" sox \" sox 2.flac -p delay 2:34.1 2:34.1\" -p" \
As you can imagine, it is quite a bit of fiddling to get these scripts to do what you want. But it is a non-graphical method to get things done. If you know of a better tool, possibly with a bit of real-time controls, to get the same job done, wihtout having to resort to a damn GUI, let me know.

21 April 2014

Russ Allbery: Review: Hyperbole and a Half

Review: Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh
Publisher: Touchstone
Copyright: November 2013
ISBN: 1-4767-6459-X
Format: Graphic novel
Pages: 373
It's fundamentally pointless to write this review. Some number of you have already heard of Hyperbole and a Half. Most of that group already own this book and are only reading this review so that you can remember how much fun you had reading it. But, even better, you could just stop reading this review and go read the book again. Some of you who have heard of Hyperbole and a Half didn't know that Allie Brosh had published a book. If that's you, you're probably not reading this review any more, since you're now at your favorite book seller buying a copy of the book, rendering the review somewhat pointless. For those of you who have not heard of Hyperbole and a Half, there's no need to read a review, because it's a blog. So, rather than reading this review, you can just follow that link and read it for yourself. If you find yourself laughing uncontrollably (and occasionally crying) and going "where can I get more of this?", well, there's a book. Which you could have also found out from the blog itself. Like I said, not much point. If you read the blog and don't particularly care for it, well, I greatly respect your position. The diversity of taste in the human race is what leads to our wonderful variety of culture, philosophy, and art, and I appreciate your substantial contribution to that diversity. However, you should now make a mental note to never trust my humor recommendations, and you shouldn't let this review change your mind. But, since I'm here, I may as well write a review anyway. Hyperbole and a Half is, as mentioned, a blog by Allie Brosh. Most of the posts are quite long and substantial and in the form of cartoons mixed with text, usually (but not always) telling some sort of story. The cartoon style is what is often called "MS Paint," meaning that it looks like something drawn in Microsoft Paint with its most basic tools. (Other examples of this style are the Oatmeal and Homestuck, although Brosh stays consistently with a rawer art style than either of those.) It looks extremely simple, like child drawings (and early childhood inspires much of Brosh's material), but once one gets used to it, one realizes that Brosh gets amazing expressiveness and character out of the art style. As an aside, yes, I am wholeheartedly recommending a book that is full of material about young children. Brosh is that good. The subtitle of this book is "unfortunate situations, flawed coping mechanisms, mayhem, and other things that happened," and it's mostly based on (exaggerated) incidents that occurred in Brosh's life. Most of them are hilarious. Some of them are both hilarious and stunning psychological insights. She has an amazing knack for storytelling and for exaggerating just the right moments of the story, or summing up emotions in a wonderful turn of phrase or a picture. She's also amazingly good at telling embarrassing stories about herself in a way that makes you empathize rather than just cringe, and then come away feeling like you understand both her and yourself better. If you've wandered around the Internet much, you have probably run across the phrase "clean ALL the things!" and the corresponding picture. That's from Hyperbole and a Half (specifically, "This is Why I'll Never Be an Adult") and is included in this book (improved; see below). It's even better in context. But, beyond storytelling, the other thing Brosh is amazingly good at is capturing internal mental states and emotions in a way that the reader understands and those who have experienced the emotion immediately go "yes, THAT." The apex of this is her two-part post on depression, which is hands-down the best description of depression that I've ever read. That judgment has been echoed by multiple friends of mine with depression. And yes, both of those posts are included in the book as well, although you can also read them on the web. As you've probably noticed, this book is partly a collection of material that's freely available on the web. Unlike some web comics collections, it's not entirely a reprint collection; there are entirely new stories here (which for me was enough by itself to buy the book). Brosh's post on the book says that it's about 50% new material. But the ones that aren't original have been edited and improved, sometimes substantially. For example, I did a quick comparison of the book version with the web version of "This is Why I'll Never be an Adult" and found Brosh redrew all of the cartoons for the story. The book is also gorgeous, if you care about such things like I do: high quality paper, thick pages, vibrant colors, and a comfortable heft to the hardcover version. It's the sort of book that feels like it will survive for decades, which is good since I intend to re-read it for decades. Brosh has a lot of material on-line, so obviously only a small fraction made it into the book and there's more to discover on the blog. I can particularly recommend "The Alot is Better Than You at Everything" and "Boyfriend Doesn't Have Ebola. Probably.". The latter, which is mostly about creating a better pain scale, is my favorite from the blog that didn't make it into the book. And there are two more examples of the sort of thing that you'll getting here. So ends the probably pointless review. I absolutely adore Hyperbole and a Half. It is my favorite web comic, even surpassing XKCD, which is saying something. Even if there were no material, I would have bought this book in hardcover to support Brosh and to have a high-quality printing of the blog posts. The reworkings and improvements of the republished material and the brand new additions are just bonuses. But there's no need to take my word for it; the best possible advertisement for Brosh's work is on-line, from which you can easily determine if you'll enjoy this book as much as I did. Even the back cover and the inside flaps are awesome. Rating: 10 out of 10

21 November 2013

Russ Allbery: Small but lovely haul

A few things for which I'd been waiting for quite some time were released, so there was another book order. Allie Brosh Hyperbole and a Half (graphic novel)
Jacqueline Carey Dark Currents (sff)
Debra Dunbar A Demon Bound (sff)
Nicola Griffith Hild (historical)
Ursula K. Le Guin The Unreal and the Real, Volume 1 (sff)
Ursula K. Le Guin The Unreal and the Real, Volume 2 (sff)
Ken Stern With Charity for All (non-fiction) I'm trying to buy fewer books given how many I have and haven't read, and also because I've been on a gaming tear recently and there are only so many hours in the day. Unfortunately, playing a lot of video games means reading fewer books. So I'm trying for quality rather than quantity, and this particular order has one of the best densities of hopefully good books as anything I've ordered in a while. For those who aren't familiar with Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half is one of the most brilliant blogs that I've ever read, and this is a collection plus new stories and new illustrations. I specifically got the hardcover, which is beautiful and very high-quality. I've been waiting for Hild for years since Griffith started talking about writing it on her blog, and now I have the lovely hardcover in my hands. That's probably going to be Christmas reading. The Le Guin is a two-volume hardcover collection of Le Guin's personal favorites from her large lifetime oeuvre of short fiction.

9 November 2013

Russ Allbery: Review: Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2011

Review: Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2011
Editor: Gordon van Gelder
Issue: Volume 121, No. 1 & 2
ISSN: 1095-8258
Pages: 258
Nothing of particular interest in the book reviews in this issue, although I was entertained to see Charles de Lint review a collection of the Prince Valiant strip. I have memories of that strip being one of the most boring works of art created by mankind. De Lint, of course, quite likes it. Our tastes seem to be very disjoint, although I have to admit that I've not read it collected and it may be more coherent and more interesting in that format. The science column in this issue, by Paul Doherty and Pat Murphy, deserves special mention. It's on roshambo (rock-paper-scissors), human difficulties with randomness, and strategy in roshambo competitions. It's also the first essay I've read that clearly explains how there can be strategy to roshambo, and why that strategy is worth studying. Even though the primary topic of the column is randomness, it's worth reading from the perspective of strategy in competitive human vs. human games. "Bronsky's Dates with Death" by Peter David: Anyone familiar with PAD's body of work will immediately expect a humorous story with some deeper thoughtful bits, and that's exactly what this is. Bronsky, the title character, is a man almost incapable of saying exactly what's on his mind, and what's on his mind is his eventual death. Not that it bothers him that much; he's just thinking a lot about it. But his incessant discussion of it certainly bothers the people around him. This leads to a few entertaining exchanges with his family, and then to more entertaining exchanges with Death. Or Deaths, as there appear to be several different kinds. I found the exact metaphysics a bit confused, but the ending was still touching and a bit funny. (7) "The Way It Works Out and All" by Peter S. Beagle: This is a reprint of a special fund-raising story about Avram Davidson, so a lot of it was lost on me given that I know almost nothing about Davidson and have yet to get to any of his novels I own. But even without that background, it's a diverting story of hidden and parallel worlds and unexpected explorations. There isn't all that much in the way of a plot, but it's a nice bit of characterization set against a fun SF twist. (6) "Less Stately Mansions" by Rob Chilson: This is a story about conservatism in life, about a farmer staying on his farm and resisting change, and about nostalgia, but I liked it much better than I normally like stories with those themes. It's set against a future world in which climate change is making life increasingly untenable. Humans are migrating into space colonies of various types, but Jacob refuses. This frustrates some parts of the family who want a piece of the substantial cash-out he's being offered for his farm, which of course makes Jacob even more stubborn. It's more of an elegy than a story, but I think it captures a particular stubborn mood, and a conscious decision to go with what one knows even if it doesn't have a long future, quite well. (7) "The Ants of Flanders" by Robert Reed: This is the novella of the issue, and, as you might expect from the author, it's thoughtful, meaty, and satisfying. At the start of the book, the planet is visited by an extraterrestrial ship (or ships it's not entirely clear at first). One of the people near one landing is Bloch, a huge teenager who has an odd lack of natural fear. He stays near the center of the story as Reed slowly develops a cosmology and a galactic political background that makes it clear humans may be incidental to everything that's happening. I liked this. It's a touch depressing in spots, and Bloch is a strange protagonist, but the cosmology is not the normal SF background and sparks some thoughts about how a status quo would be maintained by powers that don't care much about individual lives. The interlude with the leopard is nicely done, even if its significance is inobvious at first. (7) "Hair" by Joan Aiken: This is one of those weird Gothic horror stories about creepy families and half-explained supernatural events that some people love and that do nothing for me. (3) "The Witch of Corinth" by Steven Saylor: This is straight historical fantasy, featuring a Roman and his Greek tutor (heroes, apparently, of a series of historical mysteries) visiting the ruins of Corinth and encountering some bloody and dangerous local conflicts. It's slow and atmospheric, carried along by good characterization and description of ruins. It's not that much of a mystery the characters don't figure things out as much as stick around until the answer becomes obvious but it kept me entertained throughout a sizable story. Numerous elements of the story appear to be fantasy and then get other explanations, but there is a fantasy twist to the ending. (6) "Sir Morgravain Speaks of Night Dragons and Other Things" by Richard Bowes: This odd story is set among the knights of King Arthur on Avalon, where they sleep (mostly), awaiting their call to aid Britain again. Most of the story is told as one-sided dialogue from Morgravain, interspersed with some italic narration. Again, not much of a plot; the story, as such, is figuring out what Morgravain is doing and the point of his interactions with the other knights. I thought it was slight and oddly pointless, but I may have just missed the point. (4) "Someone Like You" by Michael Alexander: A time travel story, but one that's less about time travel per se than about examining and speculating about the alternate paths childhood could take and whether those changes produce different people. It takes some time to figure out what's going on, during which Alexander fills in the protagonist's past and the murder mystery that drives the tale. The time travel mechanism is blatantly hand-waved, making this more of a fantasy than an SF story, which matches the emphasis on emotion and psychology. It's not a bad story, and I think I see where the author was going with the slowly-constructed central conflict, but I still found it hard to take the conflict that seriously. One of the problems with time travel is that undermining of causality also undermines finality of decisions and consequences in ways that can rob stories of their punch. (6) "The Ramshead Algorithm" by KJ Kabza: The first-person protagonist is a well-respected and experienced fixer in a world of chaos and dimensional connection, a world with physics and inhabitants very much unlike ours. But the story doesn't spend much time there; his connection to his home earth is threatened, and he returns to try to stabilize it, which leads to the reader discovering that his family considers him a worthless appendage on a wealthy business family whose sole purpose in life is to stay out of their way. And his portal is rooted in a hedge maze that his father intends to demolish. This is one of those stories that gets more interestingly complex the deeper one gets into it. Ramshead's family is badly screwed up along multiple axes, but not without some hope of redemption. He's desperate and ineffective in his home universe, but more confident and capable when it comes to dealing with dimensional portal problems (although he still seems very young and relies on tools given to him by others). And there's always more going on than it first appears, and not as few obvious villains as it first appears. Good stuff, although I would have liked to understand more about Ramshead's world. (7) Rating: 7 out of 10

9 March 2012

Petter Reinholdtsen: Debian Edu interview: Nigel Barker

Inspired by the interview series conducted by Raphael, I started a Norwegian interview series with people involved in the Debian Edu / Skolelinux community. This was so popular that I believe it is time to move to a more international audience. While Debian Edu and Skolelinux originated in France and Norway, and have most users in Europe, there are users all around the globe. One of those far away from me is Nigel Barker, a long time Debian Edu system administrator and contributor. It is thanks to him that Debian Edu is adjusted to work out of the box in Japan. I got him to answer a few questions, and am happy to share the response with you. :) Who are you, and how do you spend your days? My name is Nigel Barker, and I am British. I am married to Yumiko, and we have three lovely children, aged 15, 14 and 4(!) I am the IT Coordinator at Hiroshima International School, Japan. I am also a teacher, and in fact I spend most of my day teaching Mathematics, Science, IT, and Chemistry. I was originally a Chemistry teacher, but I have always had an interest in computers. Another teacher teaches primary school IT, but apart from that I am the only computer person, so that means I am the network manager, technician and webmaster, also, and I help people with their computer problems. I teach python to beginners in an after-school club. I am way too busy, so I really appreciate the simplicity of Skolelinux. How did you get in contact with the Skolelinux/Debian Edu project? In around 2004 or 5 I discovered the ltsp project, and set up a server in the IT lab. I wanted some way to connect it to our central samba server, which I was also quite poor at configuring. I discovered Edubuntu when it came out, but it didn't really improve my setup. I did various desperate searches for things like "school Linux server" and ended up in a document called "Drift" something or other. Reading there it became clear that Skolelinux was going to solve all my problems in one go. I was very excited, but apprehensive, because my previous attempts to install Debian had ended in failure (I used Mandrake for everything - ltsp, samba, apache, mail, ns...). I downloaded a beta version, had some problems, so subscribed to the Debian Edu list for help. I have remained subscribed ever since, and my school has run a Skolelinux network since Sarge. What do you see as the advantages of Skolelinux/Debian Edu? For me the integrated setup. This is not just the server, or the workstation, or the ltsp. Its all of them, and its all configured ready to go. I read somewhere in the early documentation that it is designed to be setup and managed by the Maths or Science teacher, who doesn't necessarily know much about computers, in a small Norwegian school. That describes me perfectly if you replace Norway with Japan. What do you see as the disadvantages of Skolelinux/Debian Edu? The desktop is fairly plain. If you compare it with Edubuntu, who have fun themes for children, or with distributions such as Mint, who make the desktop beautiful. They create a good impression on people who don't need to understand how to use any of it, but who might be important to the school. School administrators or directors, for instance, or parents. Even kids. Debian itself usually has ugly default theme settings. It was my dream a few years back that some kind of integration would allow Edubuntu to do the desktop stuff and Debian Edu the servers, but now I realise how impossible that is. A second disadvantage is that if something goes wrong, or you need to customise something, then suddenly the level of expertise required multiplies. For example, backup wasn't working properly in Lenny. It took me ages to learn how to set up my own server to do rsync backups. I am afraid of anything to do with ldap, but perhaps Gosa will help. Which free software do you use daily? Nowadays I only use Debian on my personal computers. I have one for studio work (I play guitar and write songs), running AV Linux (customised Debian) a netbook running Squeeze, and a bigger laptop still running Skolelinux Lenny workstation. I have a Tjener in my house, that's very useful for the family photos and music. At school the students only use Skolelinux. (Some teachers and the office still have windows). So that means we only use free software all day every day. Open office, The GIMP, Firefox/Iceweasel, VLC and Audacity are installed on every computer in school, irrespective of OS. We also have Koha on Debian for the library, and Apache, Moodle, b2evolution and Etomite on Debian for the www. The firewall is Untangle. Which strategy do you believe is the right one to use to get schools to use free software? Current trends are in our favour. Open source is big in industry, and ordinary people have heard of it. The spread of Android and the popularity of Apple have helped to weaken the impression that you have to have Microsoft on everything. People complain to me much less about file formats and Word than they did 5 years ago. The Edu aspect is also a selling point. This is all customised for schools. Where is the Windows-edu, or the Mac-edu? But of course the main attraction is budget.The trick is to convince people that the quality is not compromised when you stop paying and use free software instead. That is one reason why I say the desktop experience is a weakness. People are not impressed when their USB drive doesn't work, or their browser doesn't play flash, for example.

7 July 2010

James Morrison: A speech that didn't happen

I have a lot of papers lying around. I now try to keep them organized, but I haven't got through the back log of when I didn't organize them. Sometimes I come across stuff that I'm happy I had in the pile. The following was my attempt at a valedictorian speech for the 2005 Math class at the University of Waterloo. I was not the valedictorian, but I tried, and thus have a speech.

Ladies, Gentlemen, Doctors and children of all ages. Thank you for spending our last day at Waterloo, here with us. I am one of those people who won't be staying here after day, but somehow I was still chosen to be the valedictorian. So, when I was asked to be the valedictorian by some friends of mine, I was thrilled. I also though I could do a good job, heck, I got my degree in CS, therefore, I can do anything. So, I accepted the nomination. I looked at the nomination form and didn't find any hints on what to talk about. At this point I realized that this speech may be a little underspecified. In fact, there was no specification at all.

I gathered what I could from the form, i.e. a speech had to be written by, and performed on the 18th of June 2005. Skip forward a few weeks, I'd accomplished nothing more than vague thoughts on what to talk about, then I got an email. All potential speeches had to be presented on the 6th of April 2005 (the deadline had moved up, and still no specification). However, a performance objective was given in that email -- each speech must be completed in 5 minutes. Given that I don't have a spec, I can only hope no one else has one.

What follows is my implementation of this unknown specification.

Another cycle in our lives is over. We are finished our latest round of education. This time from the University of Waterloo, in some Math program. Many of us have changed significantly while we've been here, but we are still the same people. We know we are older, we can guess that we are wiser, and we are certainly more educated. So, here is a quick tour of my cycle through Waterloo.

When I got here back in September 2000, I was amazed at how many smart people could be put together in one small place. I am actually still amazed by all the smart people here. I simply happen to know a bit more about some of these people and the amazing things they have done. With all these smart people here, I even had to do homework to keep up.

Skip forward to second year. Second year is when the university decided there is no more room for me in residence. In fact, they do that to almost all second year students. So, I found a sleezy place to live off-campus and started discovering what life is like outside the university bubble. For example, there are stores not in the plaza. There are a couple malls, a bus station, and a train station.

By third year Waterloo had become home despite working in two other cities and growing up on the other side of Toronto. I no longer had to fear being kicked out of CS since I had enough courses with good marks racked up that my cumulative average wouldn't drop too low unless I started failing, which would have been a bad thing to do.

In fourth year, I could see the end in sight. Grad school applications needed to be done pronto and some interesting job prospects lured me away from yet more years of school. Co-op didn't help keep me in school, I enjoyed the working world. I know there are others that used co-op to find that the working world wasn't for them. I expect those people to be in some school for a good long time.

Now we are at the end, and the cycle is complete. I've been across the country, lived over in sunny California, and biked through Scotland, but no where has compared to Waterloo, or the great people that make it such a wonderful place to be. I'm sad to go, as I'm sure many of you are, but I hope you are excited about the next step at the same time.

That was my 5 years, in a non-chronologically accurate order. But it's been even better to help and see people do amazing things. Small things, like getting a group of friends together to go get pints of Bubbletea. To large things like running frosh week for thousands of first year students.

Now that we have looked at the past, what about the future? One of the things I didn't wan to say during this speech is that "We are the future". What does that even mean? Are we useless now? I don't know what it means, it could even be partially true, but we are not useless. In fact our time is now! Among this graduating class are those who are doing cutting edge research. There are those we are already running their own companies. There are those who are already half-way through there plan to rule the world. There are even those of us who are simply going to help others do those things. So, we are not "the future", we are "the now".

Being "the now", (don't I sound like Dubya?) is one thing, but we should always be "the now". We can always make now be our time. We should do this because if we aren't the ones living happily and making the world a better place, in our own ways, then who is going to do it?

If nothing else, I really hope everyone lives happily. For me, I found if I can keep my hat then I can be happy. Well, I can be happy promoting "No Pants Day"!


At the end, I finally figured out the specification for this speech. It's simple: Remind people of the awesome things they have done here, the amazing people they shouldn't forget. Lastly, to convince people to keep doing the awesome things despite what might happen or what obstacles appear.

Thank you, I enjoyed being your VD today.