Search Results: "rra"

20 February 2024

Jonathan Dowland: Propaganda A Secret Wish

How can I not have done one of these for Propaganda already?
Propaganda: A Secret Wish, and 12"s of Duel and p:Machinery
Propaganda/A Secret Wish is criminally underrated. There seem to be a zillion variants of each track, which keeps completionists busy. Of the variants of Jewel/Duel/etc., I'm fond of the 03:10, almost instrumental mix of Jewel; preferring the lyrics to be exclusive to the more radio friendly Duel (04:42); I don't need them conflating (Jewel 06:21); but there are further depths I've yet to explore (Do Well cassette mix, the 20:07 The First Cut / Duel / Jewel (Cut Rough)/ Wonder / Bejewelled mega-mix...) I recently watched The Fall of the House of Usher which I think has Poe lodged in my brain, which is how this album popped back into my conciousness this morning, with the opening lines of Dream within a Dream. But are they Goth?

19 February 2024

Matthew Garrett: Debugging an odd inability to stream video

We have a cabin out in the forest, and when I say "out in the forest" I mean "in a national forest subject to regulation by the US Forest Service" which means there's an extremely thick book describing the things we're allowed to do and (somewhat longer) not allowed to do. It's also down in the bottom of a valley surrounded by tall trees (the whole "forest" bit). There used to be AT&T copper but all that infrastructure burned down in a big fire back in 2021 and AT&T no longer supply new copper links, and Starlink isn't viable because of the whole "bottom of a valley surrounded by tall trees" thing along with regulations that prohibit us from putting up a big pole with a dish on top. Thankfully there's LTE towers nearby, so I'm simply using cellular data. Unfortunately my provider rate limits connections to video streaming services in order to push them down to roughly SD resolution. The easy workaround is just to VPN back to somewhere else, which in my case is just a Wireguard link back to San Francisco.

This worked perfectly for most things, but some streaming services simply wouldn't work at all. Attempting to load the video would just spin forever. Running tcpdump at the local end of the VPN endpoint showed a connection being established, some packets being exchanged, and then nothing. The remote service appeared to just stop sending packets. Tcpdumping the remote end of the VPN showed the same thing. It wasn't until I looked at the traffic on the VPN endpoint's external interface that things began to become clear.

This probably needs some background. Most network infrastructure has a maximum allowable packet size, which is referred to as the Maximum Transmission Unit or MTU. For ethernet this defaults to 1500 bytes, and these days most links are able to handle packets of at least this size, so it's pretty typical to just assume that you'll be able to send a 1500 byte packet. But what's important to remember is that that doesn't mean you have 1500 bytes of packet payload - that 1500 bytes includes whatever protocol level headers are on there. For TCP/IP you're typically looking at spending around 40 bytes on the headers, leaving somewhere around 1460 bytes of usable payload. And if you're using a VPN, things get annoying. In this case the original packet becomes the payload of a new packet, which means it needs another set of TCP (or UDP) and IP headers, and probably also some VPN header. This still all needs to fit inside the MTU of the link the VPN packet is being sent over, so if the MTU of that is 1500, the effective MTU of the VPN interface has to be lower. For Wireguard, this works out to an effective MTU of 1420 bytes. That means simply sending a 1500 byte packet over a Wireguard (or any other VPN) link won't work - adding the additional headers gives you a total packet size of over 1500 bytes, and that won't fit into the underlying link's MTU of 1500.

And yet, things work. But how? Faced with a packet that's too big to fit into a link, there are two choices - break the packet up into multiple smaller packets ("fragmentation") or tell whoever's sending the packet to send smaller packets. Fragmentation seems like the obvious answer, so I'd encourage you to read Valerie Aurora's article on how fragmentation is more complicated than you think. tl;dr - if you can avoid fragmentation then you're going to have a better life. You can explicitly indicate that you don't want your packets to be fragmented by setting the Don't Fragment bit in your IP header, and then when your packet hits a link where your packet exceeds the link MTU it'll send back a packet telling the remote that it's too big, what the actual MTU is, and the remote will resend a smaller packet. This avoids all the hassle of handling fragments in exchange for the cost of a retransmit the first time the MTU is exceeded. It also typically works these days, which wasn't always the case - people had a nasty habit of dropping the ICMP packets telling the remote that the packet was too big, which broke everything.

What I saw when I tcpdumped on the remote VPN endpoint's external interface was that the connection was getting established, and then a 1500 byte packet would arrive (this is kind of the behaviour you'd expect for video - the connection handshaking involves a bunch of relatively small packets, and then once you start sending the video stream itself you start sending packets that are as large as possible in order to minimise overhead). This 1500 byte packet wouldn't fit down the Wireguard link, so the endpoint sent back an ICMP packet to the remote telling it to send smaller packets. The remote should then have sent a new, smaller packet - instead, about a second after sending the first 1500 byte packet, it sent that same 1500 byte packet. This is consistent with it ignoring the ICMP notification and just behaving as if the packet had been dropped.

All the services that were failing were failing in identical ways, and all were using Fastly as their CDN. I complained about this on social media and then somehow ended up in contact with the engineering team responsible for this sort of thing - I sent them a packet dump of the failure, they were able to reproduce it, and it got fixed. Hurray!

(Between me identifying the problem and it getting fixed I was able to work around it. The TCP header includes a Maximum Segment Size (MSS) field, which indicates the maximum size of the payload for this connection. iptables allows you to rewrite this, so on the VPN endpoint I simply rewrote the MSS to be small enough that the packets would fit inside the Wireguard MTU. This isn't a complete fix since it's done at the TCP level rather than the IP level - so any large UDP packets would still end up breaking)

I've no idea what the underlying issue was, and at the client end the failure was entirely opaque: the remote simply stopped sending me packets. The only reason I was able to debug this at all was because I controlled the other end of the VPN as well, and even then I wouldn't have been able to do anything about it other than being in the fortuitous situation of someone able to do something about it seeing my post. How many people go through their lives dealing with things just being broken and having no idea why, and how do we fix that?

(Edit: thanks to this comment, it sounds like the underlying issue was a kernel bug that Fastly developed a fix for - under certain configurations, the kernel fails to associate the MTU update with the egress interface and so it continues sending overly large packets)

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1 February 2024

Russ Allbery: Review: System Collapse

Review: System Collapse, by Martha Wells
Series: Murderbot Diaries #7
Publisher: Tordotcom
Copyright: 2023
ISBN: 1-250-82698-5
Format: Kindle
Pages: 245
System Collapse is the second Murderbot novel. Including the novellas, it's the 7th in the series. Unlike Fugitive Telemetry, the previous novella that was out of chronological order, this is the direct sequel to Network Effect. A very direct sequel; it picks up just a few days after the previous novel ended. Needless to say, you should not start here. I was warned by other people and therefore re-read Network Effect immediately before reading System Collapse. That was an excellent idea, since this novel opens with a large cast, no dramatis personae, not much in the way of a plot summary, and a lot of emotional continuity from the previous novel. I would grumble about this more, like I have in other reviews, but I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading Network Effect and appreciated the excuse.
ART-drone said, I wouldn t recommend it. I lack a sense of proportional response. I don t advise engaging with me on any level.
Saying much about the plot of this book without spoiling Network Effect and the rest of the series is challenging. Murderbot is suffering from the aftereffects of the events of the previous book more than it expected or would like to admit. It and its humans are in the middle of a complicated multi-way negotiation with some locals, who the corporates are trying to exploit. One of the difficulties in that negotiation is getting people to believe that the corporations are as evil as they actually are, a plot element that has a depressing amount in common with current politics. Meanwhile, Murderbot is trying to keep everyone alive. I loved Network Effect, but that was primarily for the social dynamics. The planet that was central to the novel was less interesting, so another (short) novel about the same planet was a bit of a disappointment. This does give Wells a chance to show in more detail what Murderbot's new allies have been up to, but there is a lot of speculative exploration and detailed descriptions of underground tunnels that I found less compelling than the relationship dynamics of the previous book. (Murderbot, on the other hand, would much prefer exploring creepy abandoned tunnels to talking about its feelings.) One of the things this series continues to do incredibly well, though, is take non-human intelligence seriously in a world where the humans mostly don't. It perfectly fills a gap between Star Wars, where neither the humans nor the story take non-human intelligences seriously (hence the creepy slavery vibes as soon as you start paying attention to droids), and the Culture, where both humans and the story do. The corporates (the bad guys in this series) treat non-human intelligences the way Star Wars treats droids. The good guys treat Murderbot mostly like a strange human, which is better but still wrong, and still don't notice the numerous other machine intelligences. But Wells, as the author, takes all of the non-human characters seriously, which means there are complex and fascinating relationships happening at a level of the story that the human characters are mostly unaware of. I love that Murderbot rarely bothers to explain; if the humans are too blinkered to notice, that's their problem. About halfway into the story, System Collapse hits its stride, not coincidentally at the point where Murderbot befriends some new computers. The rest of the book is great. This was not as good as Network Effect. There is a bit less competence porn at the start, and although that's for good in-story reasons I still missed it. Murderbot's redaction of things it doesn't want to talk about got a bit annoying before it finally resolved. And I was not sufficiently interested in this planet to want to spend two novels on it, at least without another major revelation that didn't come. But it's still a Murderbot novel, which means it has the best first-person narrative voice I've ever read, some great moments, and possibly the most compelling and varied presentation of computer intelligence in science fiction at the moment.
There was no feed ID, but AdaCol2 supplied the name Lucia and when I asked it for more info, the gender signifier bb (which didn t translate) and he/him pronouns. (I asked because the humans would bug me for the information; I was as indifferent to human gender as it was possible to be without being unconscious.)
This is not a series to read out of order, but if you have read this far, you will continue to be entertained. You don't need me to tell you this nearly everyone reviewing science fiction is saying it but this series is great and you should read it. Rating: 8 out of 10

30 January 2024

Matthew Palmer: Why Certificate Lifecycle Automation Matters

If you ve perused the ActivityPub feed of certificates whose keys are known to be compromised, and clicked on the Show More button to see the name of the certificate issuer, you may have noticed that some issuers seem to come up again and again. This might make sense after all, if a CA is issuing a large volume of certificates, they ll be seen more often in a list of compromised certificates. In an attempt to see if there is anything that we can learn from this data, though, I did a bit of digging, and came up with some illuminating results.

The Procedure I started off by finding all the unexpired certificates logged in Certificate Transparency (CT) logs that have a key that is in the pwnedkeys database as having been publicly disclosed. From this list of certificates, I removed duplicates by matching up issuer/serial number tuples, and then reduced the set by counting the number of unique certificates by their issuer. This gave me a list of the issuers of these certificates, which looks a bit like this:
/C=BE/O=GlobalSign nv-sa/CN=AlphaSSL CA - SHA256 - G4
/C=GB/ST=Greater Manchester/L=Salford/O=Sectigo Limited/CN=Sectigo RSA Domain Validation Secure Server CA
/C=GB/ST=Greater Manchester/L=Salford/O=Sectigo Limited/CN=Sectigo RSA Organization Validation Secure Server CA
/C=US/ST=Arizona/L=Scottsdale/O=GoDaddy.com, Inc./OU=http://certs.godaddy.com/repository//CN=Go Daddy Secure Certificate Authority - G2
/C=US/ST=Arizona/L=Scottsdale/O=Starfield Technologies, Inc./OU=http://certs.starfieldtech.com/repository//CN=Starfield Secure Certificate Authority - G2
/C=AT/O=ZeroSSL/CN=ZeroSSL RSA Domain Secure Site CA
/C=BE/O=GlobalSign nv-sa/CN=GlobalSign GCC R3 DV TLS CA 2020
Rather than try to work with raw issuers (because, as Andrew Ayer says, The SSL Certificate Issuer Field is a Lie), I mapped these issuers to the organisations that manage them, and summed the counts for those grouped issuers together.

The Data
Lieutenant Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation Insert obligatory "not THAT data" comment here
The end result of this work is the following table, sorted by the count of certificates which have been compromised by exposing their private key:
IssuerCompromised Count
Sectigo170
ISRG (Let's Encrypt)161
GoDaddy141
DigiCert81
GlobalSign46
Entrust3
SSL.com1
If you re familiar with the CA ecosystem, you ll probably recognise that the organisations with large numbers of compromised certificates are also those who issue a lot of certificates. So far, nothing particularly surprising, then. Let s look more closely at the relationships, though, to see if we can get more useful insights.

Volume Control Using the issuance volume report from crt.sh, we can compare issuance volumes to compromise counts, to come up with a compromise rate . I m using the Unexpired Precertificates colume from the issuance volume report, as I feel that s the number that best matches the certificate population I m examining to find compromised certificates. To maintain parity with the previous table, this one is still sorted by the count of certificates that have been compromised.
IssuerIssuance VolumeCompromised CountCompromise Rate
Sectigo88,323,0681701 in 519,547
ISRG (Let's Encrypt)315,476,4021611 in 1,959,480
GoDaddy56,121,4291411 in 398,024
DigiCert144,713,475811 in 1,786,586
GlobalSign1,438,485461 in 31,271
Entrust23,16631 in 7,722
SSL.com171,81611 in 171,816
If we now sort this table by compromise rate, we can see which organisations have the most (and least) leakiness going on from their customers:
IssuerIssuance VolumeCompromised CountCompromise Rate
Entrust23,16631 in 7,722
GlobalSign1,438,485461 in 31,271
SSL.com171,81611 in 171,816
GoDaddy56,121,4291411 in 398,024
Sectigo88,323,0681701 in 519,547
DigiCert144,713,475811 in 1,786,586
ISRG (Let's Encrypt)315,476,4021611 in 1,959,480
By grouping by order-of-magnitude in the compromise rate, we can identify three bands :
  • The Super Leakers: Customers of Entrust and GlobalSign seem to love to lose control of their private keys. For Entrust, at least, though, the small volumes involved make the numbers somewhat untrustworthy. The three compromised certificates could very well belong to just one customer, for instance. I m not aware of anything that GlobalSign does that would make them such an outlier, either, so I m inclined to think they just got unlucky with one or two customers, but as CAs don t include customer IDs in the certificates they issue, it s not possible to say whether that s the actual cause or not.
  • The Regular Leakers: Customers of SSL.com, GoDaddy, and Sectigo all have compromise rates in the 1-in-hundreds-of-thousands range. Again, the low volumes of SSL.com make the numbers somewhat unreliable, but the other two organisations in this group have large enough numbers that we can rely on that data fairly well, I think.
  • The Low Leakers: Customers of DigiCert and Let s Encrypt are at least three times less likely than customers of the regular leakers to lose control of their private keys. Good for them!
Now we have some useful insights we can think about.

Why Is It So?
Professor Julius Sumner Miller If you don't know who Professor Julius Sumner Miller is, I highly recommend finding out
All of the organisations on the list, with the exception of Let s Encrypt, are what one might term traditional CAs. To a first approximation, it s reasonable to assume that the vast majority of the customers of these traditional CAs probably manage their certificates the same way they have for the past two decades or more. That is, they generate a key and CSR, upload the CSR to the CA to get a certificate, then copy the cert and key somewhere. Since humans are handling the keys, there s a higher risk of the humans using either risky practices, or making a mistake, and exposing the private key to the world. Let s Encrypt, on the other hand, issues all of its certificates using the ACME (Automatic Certificate Management Environment) protocol, and all of the Let s Encrypt documentation encourages the use of software tools to generate keys, issue certificates, and install them for use. Given that Let s Encrypt has 161 compromised certificates currently in the wild, it s clear that the automation in use is far from perfect, but the significantly lower compromise rate suggests to me that lifecycle automation at least reduces the rate of key compromise, even though it doesn t eliminate it completely.

Explaining the Outlier The difference in presumed issuance practices would seem to explain the significant difference in compromise rates between Let s Encrypt and the other organisations, if it weren t for one outlier. This is a largely traditional CA, with the manual-handling issues that implies, but with a compromise rate close to that of Let s Encrypt. We are, of course, talking about DigiCert. The thing about DigiCert, that doesn t show up in the raw numbers from crt.sh, is that DigiCert manages the issuance of certificates for several of the biggest hosted TLS providers, such as CloudFlare and AWS. When these services obtain a certificate from DigiCert on their customer s behalf, the private key is kept locked away, and no human can (we hope) get access to the private key. This is supported by the fact that no certificates identifiably issued to either CloudFlare or AWS appear in the set of certificates with compromised keys. When we ask for all certificates issued by DigiCert , we get both the certificates issued to these big providers, which are very good at keeping their keys under control, as well as the certificates issued to everyone else, whose key handling practices may not be quite so stringent. It s possible, though not trivial, to account for certificates issued to these hosted TLS providers, because the certificates they use are issued from intermediates branded to those companies. With the crt.sh psql interface we can run this query to get the total number of unexpired precertificates issued to these managed services:
SELECT SUM(sub.NUM_ISSUED[2] - sub.NUM_EXPIRED[2])
  FROM (
    SELECT ca.name, max(coalesce(coalesce(nullif(trim(cc.SUBORDINATE_CA_OWNER), ''), nullif(trim(cc.CA_OWNER), '')), cc.INCLUDED_CERTIFICATE_OWNER)) as OWNER,
           ca.NUM_ISSUED, ca.NUM_EXPIRED
      FROM ccadb_certificate cc, ca_certificate cac, ca
     WHERE cc.CERTIFICATE_ID = cac.CERTIFICATE_ID
       AND cac.CA_ID = ca.ID
  GROUP BY ca.ID
  ) sub
 WHERE sub.name ILIKE '%Amazon%' OR sub.name ILIKE '%CloudFlare%' AND sub.owner = 'DigiCert';
The number I get from running that query is 104,316,112, which should be subtracted from DigiCert s total issuance figures to get a more accurate view of what DigiCert s regular customers do with their private keys. When I do this, the compromise rates table, sorted by the compromise rate, looks like this:
IssuerIssuance VolumeCompromised CountCompromise Rate
Entrust23,16631 in 7,722
GlobalSign1,438,485461 in 31,271
SSL.com171,81611 in 171,816
GoDaddy56,121,4291411 in 398,024
"Regular" DigiCert40,397,363811 in 498,732
Sectigo88,323,0681701 in 519,547
All DigiCert144,713,475811 in 1,786,586
ISRG (Let's Encrypt)315,476,4021611 in 1,959,480
In short, it appears that DigiCert s regular customers are just as likely as GoDaddy or Sectigo customers to expose their private keys.

What Does It All Mean? The takeaway from all this is fairly straightforward, and not overly surprising, I believe.

The less humans have to do with certificate issuance, the less likely they are to compromise that certificate by exposing the private key. While it may not be surprising, it is nice to have some empirical evidence to back up the common wisdom. Fully-managed TLS providers, such as CloudFlare, AWS Certificate Manager, and whatever Azure s thing is called, is the platonic ideal of this principle: never give humans any opportunity to expose a private key. I m not saying you should use one of these providers, but the security approach they have adopted appears to be the optimal one, and should be emulated universally. The ACME protocol is the next best, in that there are a variety of standardised tools widely available that allow humans to take themselves out of the loop, but it s still possible for humans to handle (and mistakenly expose) key material if they try hard enough. Legacy issuance methods, which either cannot be automated, or require custom, per-provider automation to be developed, appear to be at least four times less helpful to the goal of avoiding compromise of the private key associated with a certificate.

Humans Are, Of Course, The Problem
Bender, the robot from Futurama, asking if we'd like to kill all humans No thanks, Bender, I'm busy tonight
This observation that if you don t let humans near keys, they don t get leaked is further supported by considering the biggest issuers by volume who have not issued any certificates whose keys have been compromised: Google Trust Services (fourth largest issuer overall, with 57,084,529 unexpired precertificates), and Microsoft Corporation (sixth largest issuer overall, with 22,852,468 unexpired precertificates). It appears that somewhere between most and basically all of the certificates these organisations issue are to customers of their public clouds, and my understanding is that the keys for these certificates are managed in same manner as CloudFlare and AWS the keys are locked away where humans can t get to them. It should, of course, go without saying that if a human can never have access to a private key, it makes it rather difficult for a human to expose it. More broadly, if you are building something that handles sensitive or secret data, the more you can do to keep humans out of the loop, the better everything will be.

Your Support is Appreciated If you d like to see more analysis of how key compromise happens, and the lessons we can learn from examining billions of certificates, please show your support by buying me a refreshing beverage. Trawling CT logs is thirsty work.

Appendix: Methodology Limitations In the interests of clarity, I feel it s important to describe ways in which my research might be flawed. Here are the things I know of that may have impacted the accuracy, that I couldn t feasibly account for.
  • Time Periods: Because time never stops, there is likely to be some slight mismatches in the numbers obtained from the various data sources, because they weren t collected at exactly the same moment.
  • Issuer-to-Organisation Mapping: It s possible that the way I mapped issuers to organisations doesn t match exactly with how crt.sh does it, meaning that counts might be skewed. I tried to minimise that by using the same data sources (the CCADB AllCertificates report) that I believe that crt.sh uses for its mapping, but I cannot be certain of a perfect match.
  • Unwarranted Grouping: I ve drawn some conclusions about the practices of the various organisations based on their general approach to certificate issuance. If a particular subordinate CA that I ve grouped into the parent organisation is managed in some unusual way, that might cause my conclusions to be erroneous. I was able to fairly easily separate out CloudFlare, AWS, and Azure, but there are almost certainly others that I didn t spot, because hoo boy there are a lot of intermediate CAs out there.

28 January 2024

Niels Thykier: Annotating the Debian packaging directory

In my previous blog post Providing online reference documentation for debputy, I made a point about how debhelper documentation was suboptimal on account of being static rather than online. The thing is that debhelper is not alone in this problem space, even if it is a major contributor to the number of packaging files you have to to know about. If we look at the "competition" here such as Fedora and Arch Linux, they tend to only have one packaging file. While most Debian people will tell you a long list of cons about having one packaging file (such a Fedora's spec file being 3+ domain specific languages "mashed" into one file), one major advantage is that there is only "the one packaging file". You only need to remember where to find the documentation for one file, which is great when you are running on wetware with limited storage capacity. Which means as a newbie, you can dedicate less mental resources to tracking multiple files and how they interact and more effort understanding the "one file" at hand. I started by asking myself how can we in Debian make the packaging stack more accessible to newcomers? Spoiler alert, I dug myself into rabbit hole and ended up somewhere else than where I thought I was going. I started by wanting to scan the debian directory and annotate all files that I could with documentation links. The logic was that if debputy could do that for you, then you could spend more mental effort elsewhere. So I combined debputy's packager provided files detection with a static list of files and I quickly had a good starting point for debputy-based packages.
Adding (non-static) dpkg and debhelper files to the mix Now, I could have closed the topic here and said "Look, I did debputy files plus couple of super common files". But I decided to take it a bit further. I added support for handling some dpkg files like packager provided files (such as debian/substvars and debian/symbols). But even then, we all know that debhelper is the big hurdle and a major part of the omission... In another previous blog post (A new Debian package helper: debputy), I made a point about how debputy could list all auxiliary files while debhelper could not. This was exactly the kind of feature that I would need for this feature, if this feature was to cover debhelper. Now, I also remarked in that blog post that I was not willing to maintain such a list. Also, I may have ranted about static documentation being unhelpful for debhelper as it excludes third-party provided tooling. Fortunately, a recent update to dh_assistant had provided some basic plumbing for loading dh sequences. This meant that getting a list of all relevant commands for a source package was a lot easier than it used to be. Once you have a list of commands, it would be possible to check all of them for dh's NOOP PROMISE hints. In these hints, a command can assert it does nothing if a given pkgfile is not present. This lead to the new dh_assistant list-guessed-dh-config-files command that will list all declared pkgfiles and which helpers listed them. With this combined feature set in place, debputy could call dh_assistant to get a list of pkgfiles, pretend they were packager provided files and annotate those along with manpage for the relevant debhelper command. The exciting thing about letting debpputy resolve the pkgfiles is that debputy will resolve "named" files automatically (debhelper tools will only do so when --name is passed), so it is much more likely to detect named pkgfiles correctly too. Side note: I am going to ignore the elephant in the room for now, which is dh_installsystemd and its package@.service files and the wide-spread use of debian/foo.service where there is no package called foo. For the latter case, the "proper" name would be debian/pkg.foo.service. With the new dh_assistant feature done and added to debputy, debputy could now detect the ubiquitous debian/install file. Excellent. But less great was that the very common debian/docs file was not. Turns out that dh_installdocs cannot be skipped by dh, so it cannot have NOOP PROMISE hints. Meh... Well, dh_assistant could learn about a new INTROSPECTABLE marker in addition to the NOOP PROMISE and then I could sprinkle that into a few commands. Indeed that worked and meant that debian/postinst (etc.) are now also detectable. At this point, debputy would be able to identify a wide range of debhelper related configuration files in debian/ and at least associate each of them with one or more commands. Nice, surely, this would be a good place to stop, right...?
Adding more metadata to the files The debhelper detected files only had a command name and manpage URI to that command. It would be nice if we could contextualize this a bit more. Like is this file installed into the package as is like debian/pam or is it a file list to be processed like debian/install. To make this distinction, I could add the most common debhelper file types to my static list and then merge the result together. Except, I do not want to maintain a full list in debputy. Fortunately, debputy has a quite extensible plugin infrastructure, so added a new plugin feature to provide this kind of detail and now I can outsource the problem! I split my definitions into two and placed the generic ones in the debputy-documentation plugin and moved the debhelper related ones to debhelper-documentation. Additionally, third-party dh addons could provide their own debputy plugin to add context to their configuration files. So, this gave birth file categories and configuration features, which described each file on different fronts. As an example, debian/gbp.conf could be tagged as a maint-config to signal that it is not directly related to the package build but more of a tool or style preference file. On the other hand, debian/install and debian/debputy.manifest would both be tagged as a pkg-helper-config. Files like debian/pam were tagged as ppf-file for packager provided file and so on. I mentioned configuration features above and those were added because, I have had a beef with debhelper's "standard" configuration file format as read by filearray and filedoublearray. They are often considered simple to understand, but it is hard to know how a tool will actually read the file. As an example, consider the following:
  • Will the debhelper use filearray, filedoublearray or none of them to read the file? This topic has about 2 bits of entropy.
  • Will the config file be executed if it is marked executable assuming you are using the right compat level? If it is executable, does dh-exec allow renaming for this file? This topic adds 1 or 2 bit of entropy depending on the context.
  • Will the config file be subject to glob expansions? This topic sounds like a boolean but is a complicated mess. The globs can be handled either by debhelper as it parses the file for you. In this case, the globs are applied to every token. However, this is not what dh_install does. Here the last token on each line is supposed to be a directory and therefore not subject to globs. Therefore, dh_install does the globbing itself afterwards but only on part of the tokens. So that is about 2 bits of entropy more. Actually, it gets worse...
    • If the file is executed, debhelper will refuse to expand globs in the output of the command, which was a deliberate design choice by the original debhelper maintainer took when he introduced the feature in debhelper/8.9.12. Except, dh_install feature interacts with the design choice and does enable glob expansion in the tool output, because it does so manually after its filedoublearray call.
So these "simple" files have way too many combinations of how they can be interpreted. I figured it would be helpful if debputy could highlight these difference, so I added support for those as well. Accordingly, debian/install is tagged with multiple tags including dh-executable-config and dh-glob-after-execute. Then, I added a datatable of these tags, so it would be easy for people to look up what they meant. Ok, this seems like a closed deal, right...?
Context, context, context However, the dh-executable-config tag among other are only applicable in compat 9 or later. It does not seem newbie friendly if you are told that this feature exist, but then have to read in the extended description that that it actually does not apply to your package. This problem seems fixable. Thanks to dh_assistant, it is easy to figure out which compat level the package is using. Then tweak some metadata to enable per compat level rules. With that tags like dh-executable-config only appears for packages using compat 9 or later. Also, debputy should be able to tell you where packager provided files like debian/pam are installed. We already have the logic for packager provided files that debputy supports and I am already using debputy engine for detecting the files. If only the plugin provided metadata gave me the install pattern, debputy would be able tell you where this file goes in the package. Indeed, a bit of tweaking later and setting install-pattern to usr/lib/pam.d/ name , debputy presented me with the correct install-path with the package name placing the name placeholder. Now, I have been using debian/pam as an example, because debian/pam is installed into usr/lib/pam.d in compat 14. But in earlier compat levels, it was installed into etc/pam.d. Well, I already had an infrastructure for doing compat file tags. Off we go to add install-pattern to the complat level infrastructure and now changing the compat level would change the path. Great. (Bug warning: The value is off-by-one in the current version of debhelper. This is fixed in git) Also, while we are in this install-pattern business, a number of debhelper config files causes files to be installed into a fixed directory. Like debian/docs which causes file to be installed into /usr/share/docs/ package . Surely, we can expand that as well and provide that bit of context too... and done. (Bug warning: The code currently does not account for the main documentation package context) It is rather common pattern for people to do debian/foo.in files, because they want to custom generation of debian/foo. Which means if you have debian/foo you get "Oh, let me tell you about debian/foo ". Then you rename it to debian/foo.in and the result is "debian/foo.in is a total mystery to me!". That is suboptimal, so lets detect those as well as if they were the original file but add a tag saying that they are a generate template and which file we suspect it generates. Finally, if you use debputy, almost all of the standard debhelper commands are removed from the sequence, since debputy replaces them. It would be weird if these commands still contributed configuration files when they are not actually going to be invoked. This mostly happened naturally due to the way the underlying dh_assistant command works. However, any file mentioned by the debhelper-documentation plugin would still appear unfortunately. So off I went to filter the list of known configuration files against which dh_ commands that dh_assistant thought would be used for this package.
Wrapping it up I was several layers into this and had to dig myself out. I have ended up with a lot of data and metadata. But it was quite difficult for me to arrange the output in a user friendly manner. However, all this data did seem like it would be useful any tool that wants to understand more about the package. So to get out of the rabbit hole, I for now wrapped all of this into JSON and now we have a debputy tool-support annotate-debian-directory command that might be useful for other tools. To try it out, you can try the following demo: In another day, I will figure out how to structure this output so it is useful for non-machine consumers. Suggestions are welcome. :)
Limitations of the approach As a closing remark, I should probably remind people that this feature relies heavily on declarative features. These include:
  • When determining which commands are relevant, using Build-Depends: dh-sequence-foo is much more reliable than configuring it via the Turing complete configuration we call debian/rules.
  • When debhelper commands use NOOP promise hints, dh_assistant can "see" the config files listed those hints, meaning the file will at least be detected. For new introspectable hint and the debputy plugin, it is probably better to wait until the dust settles a bit before adding any of those.
You can help yourself and others to better results by using the declarative way rather than using debian/rules, which is the bane of all introspection!

22 January 2024

Paul Tagliamonte: Writing a simulator to check phased array beamforming

Interested in future updates? Follow me on mastodon at @paul@soylent.green. Posts about hz.tools will be tagged #hztools.

If you're on the Fediverse, I'd very much appreciate boosts on my toot!
While working on hz.tools, I started to move my beamforming code from 2-D (meaning, beamforming to some specific angle on the X-Y plane for waves on the X-Y plane) to 3-D. I ll have more to say about that once I get around to publishing the code as soon as I m sure it s not completely wrong, but in the meantime I decided to write a simple simulator to visually check the beamformer against the textbooks. The results were pretty rad, so I figured I d throw together a post since it s interesting all on its own outside of beamforming as a general topic. I figured I d write this in Rust, since I ve been using Rust as my primary language over at zoo, and it s a good chance to learn the language better.
This post has some large GIFs

It make take a little bit to load depending on your internet connection. Sorry about that, I'm not clever enough to do better without doing tons of complex engineering work. They may be choppy while they load or something. I tried to compress an ensmall them, so if they're loaded but fuzzy, click on them to load a slightly larger version.
This post won t cover the basics of how phased arrays work or the specifics of calculating the phase offsets for each antenna, but I ll dig into how I wrote a simple simulator and how I wound up checking my phase offsets to generate the renders below.

Assumptions I didn t want to build a general purpose RF simulator, anything particularly generic, or something that would solve for any more than the things right in front of me. To do this as simply (and quickly all this code took about a day to write, including the beamforming math) I had to reduce the amount of work in front of me. Given that I was concerend with visualizing what the antenna pattern would look like in 3-D given some antenna geometry, operating frequency and configured beam, I made the following assumptions: All anetnnas are perfectly isotropic they receive a signal that is exactly the same strength no matter what direction the signal originates from. There s a single point-source isotropic emitter in the far-field (I modeled this as being 1 million meters away 1000 kilometers) of the antenna system. There is no noise, multipath, loss or distortion in the signal as it travels through space. Antennas will never interfere with each other.

2-D Polar Plots The last time I wrote something like this, I generated 2-D GIFs which show a radiation pattern, not unlike the polar plots you d see on a microphone. These are handy because it lets you visualize what the directionality of the antenna looks like, as well as in what direction emissions are captured, and in what directions emissions are nulled out. You can see these plots on spec sheets for antennas in both 2-D and 3-D form. Now, let s port the 2-D approach to 3-D and see how well it works out.

Writing the 3-D simulator As an EM wave travels through free space, the place at which you sample the wave controls that phase you observe at each time-step. This means, assuming perfectly synchronized clocks, a transmitter and receiver exactly one RF wavelength apart will observe a signal in-phase, but a transmitter and receiver a half wavelength apart will observe a signal 180 degrees out of phase. This means that if we take the distance between our point-source and antenna element, divide it by the wavelength, we can use the fractional part of the resulting number to determine the phase observed. If we multiply that number (in the range of 0 to just under 1) by tau, we can generate a complex number by taking the cos and sin of the multiplied phase (in the range of 0 to tau), assuming the transmitter is emitting a carrier wave at a static amplitude and all clocks are in perfect sync.
 let observed_phases: Vec<Complex> = antennas
.iter()
.map( antenna   
let distance = (antenna - tx).magnitude();
let distance = distance - (distance as i64 as f64);
((distance / wavelength) * TAU)
 )
.map( phase  Complex(phase.cos(), phase.sin()))
.collect();
At this point, given some synthetic transmission point and each antenna, we know what the expected complex sample would be at each antenna. At this point, we can adjust the phase of each antenna according to the beamforming phase offset configuration, and add up every sample in order to determine what the entire system would collectively produce a sample as.
 let beamformed_phases: Vec<Complex> = ...;
let magnitude = beamformed_phases
.iter()
.zip(observed_phases.iter())
.map( (beamformed, observed)  observed * beamformed)
.reduce( acc, el  acc + el)
.unwrap()
.abs();
Armed with this information, it s straight forward to generate some number of (Azimuth, Elevation) points to sample, generate a transmission point far away in that direction, resolve what the resulting Complex sample would be, take its magnitude, and use that to create an (x, y, z) point at (azimuth, elevation, magnitude). The color attached two that point is based on its distance from (0, 0, 0). I opted to use the Life Aquatic table for this one. After this process is complete, I have a point cloud of ((x, y, z), (r, g, b)) points. I wrote a small program using kiss3d to render point cloud using tons of small spheres, and write out the frames to a set of PNGs, which get compiled into a GIF. Now for the fun part, let s take a look at some radiation patterns!

1x4 Phased Array The first configuration is a phased array where all the elements are in perfect alignment on the y and z axis, and separated by some offset in the x axis. This configuration can sweep 180 degrees (not the full 360), but can t be steared in elevation at all. Let s take a look at what this looks like for a well constructed 1x4 phased array: And now let s take a look at the renders as we play with the configuration of this array and make sure things look right. Our initial quarter-wavelength spacing is very effective and has some outstanding performance characteristics. Let s check to see that everything looks right as a first test. Nice. Looks perfect. When pointing forward at (0, 0), we d expect to see a torus, which we do. As we sweep between 0 and 360, astute observers will notice the pattern is mirrored along the axis of the antennas, when the beam is facing forward to 0 degrees, it ll also receive at 180 degrees just as strong. There s a small sidelobe that forms when it s configured along the array, but it also becomes the most directional, and the sidelobes remain fairly small.

Long compared to the wavelength (1 ) Let s try again, but rather than spacing each antenna of a wavelength apart, let s see about spacing each antenna 1 of a wavelength apart instead. The main lobe is a lot more narrow (not a bad thing!), but some significant sidelobes have formed (not ideal). This can cause a lot of confusion when doing things that require a lot of directional resolution unless they re compensated for.

Going from ( to 5 ) The last model begs the question - what do things look like when you separate the antennas from each other but without moving the beam? Let s simulate moving our antennas but not adjusting the configured beam or operating frequency. Very cool. As the spacing becomes longer in relation to the operating frequency, we can see the sidelobes start to form out of the end of the antenna system.

2x2 Phased Array The second configuration I want to try is a phased array where the elements are in perfect alignment on the z axis, and separated by a fixed offset in either the x or y axis by their neighbor, forming a square when viewed along the x/y axis. Let s take a look at what this looks like for a well constructed 2x2 phased array: Let s do the same as above and take a look at the renders as we play with the configuration of this array and see what things look like. This configuration should suppress the sidelobes and give us good performance, and even give us some amount of control in elevation while we re at it. Sweet. Heck yeah. The array is quite directional in the configured direction, and can even sweep a little bit in elevation, a definite improvement from the 1x4 above.

Long compared to the wavelength (1 ) Let s do the same thing as the 1x4 and take a look at what happens when the distance between elements is long compared to the frequency of operation say, 1 of a wavelength apart? What happens to the sidelobes given this spacing when the frequency of operation is much different than the physical geometry? Mesmerising. This is my favorate render. The sidelobes are very fun to watch come in and out of existence. It looks absolutely other-worldly.

Going from ( to 5 ) Finally, for completeness' sake, what do things look like when you separate the antennas from each other just as we did with the 1x4? Let s simulate moving our antennas but not adjusting the configured beam or operating frequency. Very very cool. The sidelobes wind up turning the very blobby cardioid into an electromagnetic dog toy. I think we ve proven to ourselves that using a phased array much outside its designed frequency of operation seems like a real bad idea.

Future Work Now that I have a system to test things out, I m a bit more confident that my beamforming code is close to right! I d love to push that code over the line and blog about it, since it s a really interesting topic on its own. Once I m sure the code involved isn t full of lies, I ll put it up on the hztools org, and post about it here and on mastodon.

Russell Coker: Storage Trends 2024

It has been less than a year since my last post about storage trends [1] and enough has changed to make it worth writing again. My previous analysis was that for <2TB only SSD made sense, for 4TB SSD made sense for business use while hard drives were still a good option for home use, and for 8TB+ hard drives were clearly the best choice for most uses. I will start by looking at MSY prices, they aren't the cheapest (you can get cheaper online) but they are competitive and they make it easy to compare the different options. I'll also compare the cheapest options in each size, there are more expensive options but usually if you want to pay more then the performance benefits of SSD (both SATA and NVMe) are even more appealing. All prices are in Australian dollars and of parts that are readily available in Australia, but the relative prices of the parts are probably similar in most countries. The main issue here is when to use SSD and when to use hard disks, and then if SSD is chosen which variety to use. Small Storage For my last post the cheapest storage devices from MSY were $19 for a 128G SSD, now it s $24 for a 128G SSD or NVMe device. I don t think the Australian dollar has dropped much against foreign currencies, so I guess this is partly companies wanting more profits and partly due to the demand for more storage. Items that can t sell in quantity need higher profit margins if they are to have them in stock. 500G SSDs are around $33 and 500G NVMe devices for $36 so for most use cases it wouldn t make sense to buy anything smaller than 500G. The cheapest hard drive is $45 for a 1TB disk. A 1TB SATA SSD costs $61 and a 1TB NVMe costs $79. So 1TB disks aren t a good option for any use case. A 2TB hard drive is $89. A 2TB SATA SSD is $118 and a 2TB NVMe is $145. I don t think the small savings you can get from using hard drives makes them worth using for 2TB. For most people if you have a system that s important to you then $145 on storage isn t a lot to spend. It seems hardly worth buying less than 2TB of storage, even for a laptop. Even if you don t use all the space larger storage devices tend to support more writes before wearing out so you still gain from it. A 2TB NVMe device you buy for a laptop now could be used in every replacement laptop for the next 10 years. I only have 512G of storage in my laptop because I have a collection of SSD/NVMe devices that have been replaced in larger systems, so the 512G is essentially free for my laptop as I bought a larger device for a server. For small business use it doesn t make sense to buy anything smaller than 2TB for any system other than a router. If you buy smaller devices then you will sometimes have to pay people to install bigger ones and when the price is $145 it s best to just pay that up front and be done with it. Medium Storage A 4TB hard drive is $135. A 4TB SATA SSD is $319 and a 4TB NVMe is $299. The prices haven t changed a lot since last year, but a small increase in hard drive prices and a small decrease in SSD prices makes SSD more appealing for this market segment. A common size range for home servers and small business servers is 4TB or 8TB of storage. To do that on SSD means about $600 for 4TB of RAID-1 or $900 for 8TB of RAID-5/RAID-Z. That s quite affordable for that use. For 8TB of less important storage a 8TB hard drive costs $239 and a 8TB SATA SSD costs $899 so a hard drive clearly wins for the specific case of non-RAID single device storage. Note that the U.2 devices are more competitive for 8TB than SATA but I included them in the next section because they are more difficult to install. Serious Storage With 8TB being an uncommon and expensive option for consumer SSDs the cheapest price is for multiple 4TB devices. To have multiple NVMe devices in one PCIe slot you need PCIe bifurcation (treating the PCIe slot as multiple slots). Most of the machines I use don t support bifurcation and most affordable systems with ECC RAM don t have it. For cheap NVMe type storage there are U.2 devices (the enterprise form of NVMe). Until recently they were too expensive to use for desktop systems but now there are PCIe cards for internal U.2 devices, $14 for a card that takes a single U.2 is a common price on AliExpress and prices below $600 for a 7.68TB U.2 device are common that s cheaper on a per-TB basis than SATA SSD and NVMe! There are PCIe cards that take up to 4*U.2 devices (which probably require bifurcation) which means you could have 8+ U.2 devices in one not particularly high end PC for 56TB of RAID-Z NVMe storage. Admittedly $4200 for 56TB is moderately expensive, but it s in the price range for a small business server or a high end home server. A more common configuration might be 2*7.68TB U.2 on a single PCIe card (or 2 cards if you don t have bifurcation) for 7.68TB of RAID-1 storage. For SATA SSD AliExpress has a 6*2.5 hot-swap device that fits in a 5.25 bay for $63, so if you have 2*5.25 bays you could have 12*4TB SSDs for 44TB of RAID-Z storage. That wouldn t be much cheaper than 8*7.68TB U.2 devices and would be slower and have less space. But it would be a good option if PCIe bifurcation isn t possible. 16TB SATA hard drives cost $559 which is almost exactly half the price per TB of U.2 storage. That doesn t seem like a good deal. If you want 16TB of RAID storage then 3*7.68TB U.2 devices only costs about 50% more than 2*16TB SATA disks. In most cases paying 50% more to get NVMe instead of hard disks is a good option. As sizes go above 16TB prices go up in a more than linear manner, I guess they don t sell much volume of larger drives. 15.36TB U.2 devices are on sale for about $1300, slightly more than twice the price of a 16TB disk. It s within the price range of small businesses and serious home users. Also it should be noted that the U.2 devices are designed for enterprise levels of reliability and the hard disk prices I m comparing to are the cheapest available. If NAS hard disks were compared then the price benefit of hard disks would be smaller. Probably the biggest problem with U.2 for most people is that it s an uncommon technology that few people have much experience with or spare parts for testing. Also you can t buy U.2 gear at your local computer store which might mean that you want to have spare parts on hand which is an extra expense. For enterprise use I ve recently been involved in discussions with a vendor that sells multiple petabyte arrays of NVMe. Apparently NVMe is cheap enough that there s no need to use anything else if you want a well performing file server. Do Hard Disks Make Sense? There are specific cases like comparing a 8TB hard disk to a 8TB SATA SSD or a 16TB hard disk to a 15.36TB U.2 device where hard disks have an apparent advantage. But when comparing RAID storage and counting the performance benefits of SSD the savings of using hard disks don t seem to be that great. Is now the time that hard disks are going to die in the market? If they can t get volume sales then prices will go up due to lack of economy of scale in manufacture and increased stock time for retailers. 8TB hard drives are now more expensive than they were 9 months ago when I wrote my previous post, has a hard drive price death spiral already started? SSDs are cheaper than hard disks at the smallest sizes, faster (apart from some corner cases with contiguous IO), take less space in a computer, and make less noise. At worst they are a bit over twice the cost per TB. But the most common requirements for storage are small enough and cheap enough that being twice as expensive as hard drives isn t a problem for most people. I predict that hard disks will become less popular in future and offer less of a price advantage. The vendors are talking about 50TB hard disks being available in future but right now you can fit more than 50TB of NVMe or U.2 devices in a volume less than that of a 3.5 hard disk so for storage density SSD can clearly win. Maybe in future hard disks will be used in arrays of 100TB devices for large scale enterprise storage. But for home users and small businesses the current sizes of SSD cover most uses. At the moment it seems that the one case where hard disks can really compare well is for backup devices. For backups you want large storage, good contiguous write speeds, and low prices so you can buy plenty of them. Further Issues The prices I ve compared for SATA SSD and NVMe devices are all based on the cheapest devices available. I think it s a bit of a market for lemons [2] as devices often don t perform as well as expected and the incidence of fake products purporting to be from reputable companies is high on the cheaper sites. So you might as well buy the cheaper devices. An advantage of the U.2 devices is that you know that they will be reliable and perform well. One thing that concerns me about SSDs is the lack of knowledge of their failure cases. Filesystems like ZFS were specifically designed to cope with common failure cases of hard disks and I don t think we have that much knowledge about how SSDs fail. But with 3 copies of metadata BTFS or ZFS should survive unexpected SSD failure modes. I still have some hard drives in my home server, they keep working well enough and the prices on SSDs keep dropping. But if I was buying new storage for such a server now I d get U.2. I wonder if tape will make a comeback for backup. Does anyone know of other good storage options that I missed?

20 January 2024

Gunnar Wolf: Ruffle helps bring back my family history

Probably a trait of my family s origins as migrants from East Europe, probably part of the collective trauma of jews throughout the world or probably because that s just who I turned out to be, I hold in high regard the preservation of memory of my family s photos, movies and such items. And it s a trait shared by many people in my familiar group. Shortly after my grandmother died 24 years ago, my mother did a large, loving work of digitalization and restoration of my grandparent s photos. Sadly, the higher resolution copies of said photos is lost but she took the work of not just scanning the photos, but assembling them in presentations, telling a story, introducing my older relatives, many of them missing 40 or more years before my birth. But said presentations were built using Flash. Right, not my choice of tool, and I told her back in the day but given I wasn t around to do the work in what I d chosen (a standards-abiding format, naturally), and given my graphic design skills are nonexistant Several years ago, when Adobe pulled the plug on the Flash format, we realized they would no longer be accessible. I managed to get the photos out of the preentations, but lost the narration, that is a great part of the work. Three days ago, however, I read a post on https://www.osnews.com that made me jump to action: https://www.osnews.com/story/138350/ruffle-an-open-source-flash-player-emulator/. Ruffle is an open source Flash Player emulator, written in Rust and compiled to WASM. Even though several OSnews readers report it to be buggy to play some Flash games they long for, it worked just fine for a simple slideshow presentator. So I managed to bring it back to life! Yes, I d like to make a better index page, but that will come later I am now happy and proud to share with you:

Acariciando la ausencia: Familia Iszaevich Fajerstein, 1900 2000 (which would be roughly translated as Caressing the absence: Iszaevich Fajerstein family, 1900-2000).

16 January 2024

Jonathan Dowland: Two reissued Coil LPs

Happy 2024! DAIS have continued their programme of posthumous Coil remasters and re-issues. Constant Shallowness Leads To Evil was remastered by Josh Bonati in 2021 and re-released in 2022 in a dizzying array of different packaging variants. The original releases in 2000 had barely any artwork, and given that void I think Nathaniel Young has done a great job of creating something compelling.
Constant Shallowness leads to Evil and Queens of te Circulating Library
A limited number of the original re-issue have special lenticular covers, although these were not sold by any distributors outside the US. I tried to find a copy on my trip to Portland in 2022, to no avail. Last year DAIS followed Constant with Queens Of The Circulating Library, same deal: limited lenticular covers, US only. Both are also available digital-only, e.g. on Bandcamp: Constant , Queens . The original, pre-remastered releases have been freely available on archive.org for a long time: Constant , Queens Both of these releases feel to me that they were made available by the group somewhat as an afterthought, having been produced primarily as part of their live efforts. (I'm speculating freely here, it might not be true). Live takes of some of this material exist in the form of Coil Presents Time Machines, which has not (yet) been reissued. In my opinion this is a really compelling recording. I vividly remember listening to this whilst trying to get an hour's rest in a hotel somewhere on a work trip. It took me to some strange places! I'll leave you from one of my favourite moments from "Colour Sound Oblivion", Coil's video collection of live backdrops. When this was performed live it was also called "Constant Shallowness Leads To Evil", although it's distinct from the material on the LP: also available on archive.org. A version of this Constant made it onto a Russian live bootleg, which is available on Spotify and Bandcamp complete with some John Balance banter: we only do this on religious holidays Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil by Coil

15 January 2024

Russ Allbery: Review: The Library of Broken Worlds

Review: The Library of Broken Worlds, by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Copyright: June 2023
ISBN: 1-338-29064-9
Format: Kindle
Pages: 446
The Library of Broken Worlds is a young-adult far-future science fantasy. So far as I can tell, it's stand-alone, although more on that later in the review. Freida is the adopted daughter of Nadi, the Head Librarian, and her greatest wish is to become a librarian herself. When the book opens, she's a teenager in highly competitive training. Freida is low-wetware, without the advanced and expensive enhancements of many of the other students competing for rare and prized librarian positions, which she makes up for by being the most audacious. She doesn't need wetware to commune with the library material gods. If one ventures deep into their tunnels and consumes their crystals, direct physical communion is possible. The library tunnels are Freida's second home, in part because that's where she was born. She was created by the Library, and specifically by Iemaja, the youngest of the material gods. Precisely why is a mystery. To Nadi, Freida is her daughter. To Quinn, Nadi's main political rival within the library, Freida is a thing, a piece of the library, a secondary and possibly rogue AI. A disruptive annoyance. The Library of Broken Worlds is the sort of science fiction where figuring out what is going on is an integral part of the reading experience. It opens with a frame story of an unnamed girl (clearly Freida) waking the god Nameren and identifying herself as designed for deicide. She provokes Nameren's curiosity and offers an Arabian Nights bargain: if he wants to hear her story, he has to refrain from killing her for long enough for her to tell it. As one might expect, the main narrative doesn't catch up to the frame story until the very end of the book. The Library is indeed some type of library that librarians can search for knowledge that isn't available from more mundane sources, but Freida's personal experience of it is almost wholly religious and oracular. The library's material gods are identified as AIs, but good luck making sense of the story through a science fiction frame, even with a healthy allowance for sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic. The symbolism and tone is entirely fantasy, and late in the book it becomes clear that whatever the material gods are, they're not simple technological AIs in the vein of, say, Banks's Ship Minds. Also, the Library is not solely a repository of knowledge. It is the keeper of an interstellar peace. The Library was founded after the Great War, to prevent a recurrence. It functions as a sort of legal system and grand tribunal in ways that are never fully explained. As you might expect, that peace is based more on stability than fairness. Five of the players in this far future of humanity are the Awilu, the most advanced society and the first to leave Earth (or Tierra as it's called here); the Mah m, who possess the material war god Nameren of the frame story; the Lunars and Martians, who dominate the Sol system; and the surviving Tierrans, residents of a polluted and struggling planet that is ruthlessly exploited by the Lunars. The problem facing Freida and her friends at the start of the book is a petition brought by a young Tierran against Lunar exploitation of his homeland. His name is Joshua, and Freida is more than half in love with him. Joshua's legal argument involves interpretation of the freedom node of the treaty that ended the Great War, a node that precedent says gives the Lunars the freedom to exploit Tierra, but which Joshua claims has a still-valid originalist meaning granting Tierrans freedom from exploitation. There is, in short, a lot going on in this book, and "never fully explained" is something of a theme. Freida is telling a story to Nameren and only explains things Nameren may not already know. The reader has to puzzle out the rest from the occasional hint. This is made more difficult by the tendency of the material gods to communicate only in visions or guided hallucinations, full of symbolism that the characters only partly explain to the reader. Nonetheless, this did mostly work, at least for me. I started this book very confused, but by about the midpoint it felt like the background was coming together. I'm still not sure I understand the aurochs, baobab, and cicada symbolism that's so central to the framing story, but it's the pleasant sort of stretchy confusion that gives my brain a good workout. I wish Johnson had explained a few more things plainly, particularly near the end of the book, but my remaining level of confusion was within my tolerances. Unfortunately, the ending did not work for me. The first time I read it, I had no idea what it meant. Lots of baffling, symbolic things happened and then the book just stopped. After re-reading the last 10%, I think all the pieces of an ending and a bit of an explanation are there, but it's absurdly abbreviated. This is another book where the author appears to have been finished with the story before I was. This keeps happening to me, so this probably says something more about me than it says about books, but I want books to have an ending. If the characters have fought and suffered through the plot, I want them to have some space to be happy and to see how their sacrifices play out, with more detail than just a few vague promises. If much of the book has been puzzling out the nature of the world, I would like some concrete confirmation of at least some of my guesswork. And if you're going to end the book on radical transformation, I want to see the results of that transformation. Johnson does an excellent job showing how brutal the peace of the powerful can be, and is willing to light more things on fire over the course of this book than most authors would, but then doesn't offer the reader much in the way of payoff. For once, I wish this stand-alone turned out to be a series. I think an additional book could be written in the aftermath of this ending, and I would definitely read that novel. Johnson has me caring deeply about these characters and fascinated by the world background, and I'd happily spend another 450 pages finding out what happens next. But, frustratingly, I think this ending was indeed intended to wrap up the story. I think this book may fall between a few stools. Science fiction readers who want mysterious future worlds to be explained by the end of the book are going to be frustrated by the amount of symbolism, allusion, and poetic description. Literary fantasy readers, who have a higher tolerance for that style, are going to wish for more focused and polished writing. A lot of the story is firmly YA: trying and failing to fit in, developing one's identity, coming into power, relationship drama, great betrayals and regrets, overcoming trauma and abuse, and unraveling lies that adults tell you. But this is definitely not a straight-forward YA plot or world background. It demands a lot from the reader, and while I am confident many teenage readers would rise to that challenge, it seems like an awkward fit for the YA marketing category. About 75% of the way in, I would have told you this book was great and you should read it. The ending was a let-down and I'm still grumpy about it. I still think it's worth your attention if you're in the mood for a sink-or-swim type of reading experience. Just be warned that when the ride ends, I felt unceremoniously dumped on the pavement. Content warnings: Rape, torture, genocide. Rating: 7 out of 10

12 January 2024

Freexian Collaborators: Monthly report about Debian Long Term Support, December 2023 (by Roberto C. S nchez)

Like each month, have a look at the work funded by Freexian s Debian LTS offering.

Debian LTS contributors In December, 18 contributors have been paid to work on Debian LTS, their reports are available:
  • Abhijith PA did 7.0h (out of 7.0h assigned and 7.0h from previous period), thus carrying over 7.0h to the next month.
  • Adrian Bunk did 16.0h (out of 26.25h assigned and 8.75h from previous period), thus carrying over 19.0h to the next month.
  • Bastien Roucari s did 16.0h (out of 16.0h assigned and 4.0h from previous period), thus carrying over 4.0h to the next month.
  • Ben Hutchings did 8.0h (out of 7.25h assigned and 16.75h from previous period), thus carrying over 16.0h to the next month.
  • Chris Lamb did 18.0h (out of 18.0h assigned).
  • Emilio Pozuelo Monfort did 8.0h (out of 26.75h assigned and 8.25h from previous period), thus carrying over 27.0h to the next month.
  • Guilhem Moulin did 25.0h (out of 18.0h assigned and 7.0h from previous period).
  • Holger Levsen did 5.5h (out of 5.5h assigned).
  • Jochen Sprickerhof did 0.0h (out of 0h assigned and 10.0h from previous period), thus carrying over 10.0h to the next month.
  • Lee Garrett did 0.0h (out of 25.75h assigned and 9.25h from previous period), thus carrying over 35.0h to the next month.
  • Markus Koschany did 35.0h (out of 35.0h assigned).
  • Roberto C. S nchez did 9.5h (out of 5.5h assigned and 6.5h from previous period), thus carrying over 2.5h to the next month.
  • Santiago Ruano Rinc n did 8.255h (out of 3.26h assigned and 12.745h from previous period), thus carrying over 7.75h to the next month.
  • Sean Whitton did 4.25h (out of 3.25h assigned and 6.75h from previous period), thus carrying over 5.75h to the next month.
  • Sylvain Beucler did 16.5h (out of 21.25h assigned and 13.75h from previous period), thus carrying over 18.5h to the next month.
  • Thorsten Alteholz did 14.0h (out of 14.0h assigned).
  • Tobias Frost did 10.25h (out of 12.0h assigned), thus carrying over 1.75h to the next month.
  • Utkarsh Gupta did 18.75h (out of 11.25h assigned and 13.5h from previous period), thus carrying over 6.0h to the next month.

Evolution of the situation In December, we have released 29 DLAs. A particularly notable update in December was prepared by LTS contributor Santiago Ruano Rinc n for the openssh package. The updated produced DLA-3694-1 and included a fix for the Terrapin Attack (CVE-2023-48795), which was a rather serious flaw in the SSH protocol itself. The package bluez was the subject of another notable update by LTS contributor Chris Lamb, which resulted in DLA-3689-1 to address an insecure default configuration which allowed attackers to inject keyboard commands over Bluetooth without first authenticating. The LTS team continues its efforts to have a positive impact beyond the boundaries of LTS. Several contributors worked on packages, preparing LTS updates, but also preparing patches or full updates which were uploaded to the unstable, stable, and oldstable distributions, including: Guilhem Moulin s update of tinyxml (uploads to LTS and unstable and patches submitted to the security team for stable and oldstable); Guilhem Moulin s update of xerces-c (uploads to LTS and unstable and patches submitted to the security team for oldstable); Thorsten Alteholz s update of libde265 (uploads to LTS and stable and additional patches submitted to the maintainer for stable and oldstable); Thorsten Alteholz s update of cjson (upload to LTS and patches submitted to the maintainer for stable and oldstable); and Tobias Frost s update of opendkim (sponsor maintainer-prepared upload to LTS and additionally prepared updates for stable and oldstable). Going beyond Debian and looking to the broader community, LTS contributor Bastien Roucari s was contacted by SUSE concerning an update he had prepared for zbar. He was able to assist by coordinating with the former organization of the original zbar author to secure for SUSE access to information concerning the exploits. This has enabled another distribution to benefit from the work done in support of LTS and from the assistance of Bastien in coordinating the access to information. Finally, LTS contributor Santiago Ruano Rinc n continued work relating to how updates for packages in statically-linked language ecosystems (e.g., Go, Rust, and others) are handled. The work is presently focused on more accurately and reliably identifying which packages are impacted in a given update scenario to enable notifications to be published so that users will be made aware of these situations as they occur. As the work continues, it will eventually result in improvements to Debian infrustructure so that the LTS team and Security team are able to manage updates of this nature in a more consistent way.

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10 January 2024

Russell Coker: SAS vs SATA and Recovery

SAS and SATA are electrically compatible to a degree that allows connecting a SATA storage device to a SAS controller. The SAS controller understands the SATA protocol so this works. A SAS device can t be physically connected to a SATA controller and if you did manage to connect it then it wouldn t work. Some SAS RAID controllers don t permit mixing SAS and SATA devices in the same array, this is a software issue and could be changed. I know that the PERC controllers used by Dell (at least the older versions) do this and it might affect many/most MegaRAID controllers (which is what PERC is). If you have a hardware RAID array of SAS disks and one fails then you need a spare SAS disk and as the local computer store won t have any you need some on hand. The Linux kernel has support for the MegaRAID/PERC superblocks so for at least some of the RAID types supported by MegaRAID/PERC you can just connect the disks to a Linux system and have it work (I ve only tested on JBOD AKA a single-disk RAID-0). So if you have a server from Dell or IBM or any other company that uses MegaRAID which fails you can probably just put the disks into a non-RAID SAS controller and have them work. As Linux doesn t care about the difference between SAS and SATA at the RAID level you could then add a SATA disk to an array of SAS disks. If you want to move an array from a dead Dell to a working IBM server or the other way around then you need it to be all SATA or all SAS. You can use a Linux system to mount an array used by Windows or any other OS and then migrate the data to a different array. If you have an old array of SAS disks and one fails then it might be a reasonable option to just migrate the data to a new array of SATA SSDs. EG if you had 6*600G SAS disks you could move to 2*4TB SATA SSDs and get more storage, much higher performance, less power use, and less noise for a cost of $800 or so (you can spend more to get better performance) and some migration time. Having a spare SAS controller for data recovery is convenient. Having a spare SAS disk for any RAID-5/RAID-6 is a good thing. Having lots of spare SAS disks probably isn t useful as migrating to SATA is a better choice. SATA SSDs are bigger and faster than most SAS disks that are in production. I m sure that someone uses SAS SSDs but I haven t yet seen them in production, if you have a SAS system and need the performance that SSDs can give then a new server with U.2 (the SAS equivalent of NVMe) is the way to go). SATA hard drives are also the solution for seriously large storage, 16TB SATA hard drives are cheap and work in all the 3.5 SAS systems. It s hard to sell old SAS disks as there isn t much use for them.

5 January 2024

Valhalla's Things: Random Sashiko + Crazy Quilt Pocket

Posted on January 5, 2024
Tags: madeof:atoms
A 18th century pocket in black jeans with a random pattern of pink running stitches forming squares and other shapes. The unfinished edges of the pieces of jeans can be seen, running more or less diagonally. Lately I ve seen people on the internet talking about victorian crazy quilting. Years ago I had watched a Numberphile video about Hitomezashi Stitch Patterns based on numbers, words or randomness. Few weeks ago I had cut some fabric piece out of an old pair of jeans and I had a lot of scraps that were too small to do anything useful on their own. It easy to see where this can go, right? The wrong side of a pocket piece, showing a light coloured fabric with a grid drawn in pencil, a line of small stitches all around the edges and a mess of thread ends left hanging. I cut a pocket shape out of old garment mockups (this required some piecing), drew a square grid, arranged scraps of jeans to cover the other side, kept everything together with a lot of pins, carefully avoided basting anything, and started covering everything in sashiko / hitomezashi stitches, starting each line with a stitch on the front or the back of the work based on the result of:
import random
random.choice(["front", "back"])
The wrong side of the other pocket piece, with just three lines of stitching and a piece of paper to mark the pattern. There are bits of jeans peeking out of the sides. For the second piece I tried to use a piece of paper with the square grid instead of drawing it on the fabric: it worked, mostly, I would not do it again as removing the paper was more of a hassle than drawing the lines in the first place. I suspected it, but had to try it anyway. The front of the pocket seen from the wrong side, with a machine seam around the lit, whose end has been cut in a triangle so that it can be turned. Then I added a lining from some plain black cotton from the stash; for the slit I put the lining on the front right sides together, sewn at 2 mm from the marked slit, cut it, turned the lining to the back side, pressed and then topstitched as close as possible to the slit from the front. The finished pocket attached to a belt made from the waistband of a pair of jeans (with button, buttonhole and belt loops still attached) whose raw edges (left when unpicking away the jeans) have been sewn shut by hand. I bound everything with bias tape, adding herringbone tape loops at the top to hang it from a belt (such as one made from the waistband of one of the donor pair of jeans) and that was it. The back of the pocket, showing another random pattern in two different shades of pink for the vertical and horizontal lines of stitching. I like the way the result feels; maybe it s a bit too stiff for a pocket, but I can see it work very well for a bigger bag, and maybe even a jacket or some other outer garment.

3 January 2024

John Goerzen: Live Migrating from Raspberry Pi OS bullseye to Debian bookworm

I ve been getting annoyed with Raspberry Pi OS (Raspbian) for years now. It s a fork of Debian, but manages to omit some of the most useful things. So I ve decided to migrate all of my Pis to run pure Debian. These are my reasons:
  1. Raspberry Pi OS has, for years now, specified that there is no upgrade path. That is, to get to a newer major release, it s a reinstall. While I have sometimes worked around this, for a device that is frequently installed in hard-to-reach locations, this is even more important than usual. It s common for me to upgrade machines for a decade or more across Debian releases and there s no reason that it should be so much more difficult with Raspbian.
  2. As I noted in Consider Security First, the security situation for Raspberry Pi OS isn t as good as it is with Debian.
  3. Raspbian lags behind Debian often times by 6 months or more for major releases, and days or weeks for bug fixes and security patches.
  4. Raspbian has no direct backports support, though Raspberry Pi 3 and above can use Debian s backports (per my instructions as Installing Debian Backports on Raspberry Pi)
  5. Raspbian uses a custom kernel without initramfs support
It turns out it is actually possible to do an in-place migration from Raspberry Pi OS bullseye to Debian bookworm. Here I will describe how. Even if you don t have a Raspberry Pi, this might still be instructive on how Raspbian and Debian packages work.

WARNINGS Before continuing, back up your system. This process isn t for the neophyte and it is entirely possible to mess up your boot device to the point that you have to do a fresh install to get your Pi to boot. This isn t a supported process at all.

Architecture Confusion Debian has three ARM-based architectures:
  • armel, for the lowest-end 32-bit ARM devices without hardware floating point support
  • armhf, for the higher-end 32-bit ARM devices with hardware float (hence hf )
  • arm64, for 64-bit ARM devices (which all have hardware float)
Although the Raspberry Pi 0 and 1 do support hardware float, they lack support for other CPU features that Debian s armhf architecture assumes. Therefore, the Raspberry Pi 0 and 1 could only run Debian s armel architecture. Raspberry Pi 3 and above are capable of running 64-bit, and can run both armhf and arm64. Prior to the release of the Raspberry Pi 5 / Raspbian bookworm, Raspbian only shipped the armhf architecture. Well, it was an architecture they called armhf, but it was different from Debian s armhf in that everything was recompiled to work with the more limited set of features on the earlier Raspberry Pi boards. It was really somewhere between Debian s armel and armhf archs. You could run Debian armel on those, but it would run more slowly, due to doing floating point calculations without hardware support. Debian s raspi FAQ goes into this a bit. What I am going to describe here is going from Raspbian armhf to Debian armhf with a 64-bit kernel. Therefore, it will only work with Raspberry Pi 3 and above. It may theoretically be possible to take a Raspberry Pi 2 to Debian armhf with a 32-bit kernel, but I haven t tried this and it may be more difficult. I have seen conflicting information on whether armhf really works on a Pi 2. (If you do try it on a Pi 2, ignore everything about arm64 and 64-bit kernels below, and just go with the linux-image-armmp-lpae kernel per the ARMMP page) There is another wrinkle: Debian doesn t support running 32-bit ARM kernels on 64-bit ARM CPUs, though it does support running a 32-bit userland on them. So we will wind up with a system with kernel packages from arm64 and everything else from armhf. This is a perfectly valid configuration as the arm64 like x86_64 is multiarch (that is, the CPU can natively execute both the 32-bit and 64-bit instructions). (It is theoretically possible to crossgrade a system from 32-bit to 64-bit userland, but that felt like a rather heavy lift for dubious benefit on a Pi; nevertheless, if you want to make this process even more complicated, refer to the CrossGrading page.)

Prerequisites and Limitations In addition to the need for a Raspberry Pi 3 or above in order for this to work, there are a few other things to mention. If you are using the GPIO features of the Pi, I don t know if those work with Debian. I think Raspberry Pi OS modified the desktop environment more than other components. All of my Pis are headless, so I don t know if this process will work if you use a desktop environment. I am assuming you are booting from a MicroSD card as is typical in the Raspberry Pi world. The Pi s firmware looks for a FAT partition (MBR type 0x0c) and looks within it for boot information. Depending on how long ago you first installed an OS on your Pi, your /boot may be too small for Debian. Use df -h /boot to see how big it is. I recommend 200MB at minimum. If your /boot is smaller than that, stop now (or use some other system to shrink your root filesystem and rearrange your partitions; I ve done this, but it s outside the scope of this article.) You need to have stable power. Once you begin this process, your pi will mostly be left in a non-bootable state until you finish. (You did make a backup, right?)

Basic idea The basic idea here is that since bookworm has almost entirely newer packages then bullseye, we can just switch over to it and let the Debian packages replace the Raspbian ones as they are upgraded. Well, it s not quite that easy, but that s the main idea.

Preparation First, make a backup. Even an image of your MicroSD card might be nice. OK, I think I ve said that enough now. It would be a good idea to have a HDMI cable (with the appropriate size of connector for your particular Pi board) and a HDMI display handy so you can troubleshoot any bootup issues with a console.

Preparation: access The Raspberry Pi OS by default sets up a user named pi that can use sudo to gain root without a password. I think this is an insecure practice, but assuming you haven t changed it, you will need to ensure it still works once you move to Debian. Raspberry Pi OS had a patch in their sudo package to enable it, and that will be removed when Debian s sudo package is installed. So, put this in /etc/sudoers.d/010_picompat:
pi ALL=(ALL) NOPASSWD: ALL
Also, there may be no password set for the root account. It would be a good idea to set one; it makes it easier to log in at the console. Use the passwd command as root to do so.

Preparation: bluetooth Debian doesn t correctly identify the Bluetooth hardware address. You can save it off to a file by running hcitool dev > /root/bluetooth-from-raspbian.txt. I don t use Bluetooth, but this should let you develop a script to bring it up properly.

Preparation: Debian archive keyring You will next need to install Debian s archive keyring so that apt can authenticate packages from Debian. Go to the bookworm download page for debian-archive-keyring and copy the URL for one of the files, then download it on the pi. For instance:
wget http://http.us.debian.org/debian/pool/main/d/debian-archive-keyring/debian-archive-keyring_2023.3+deb12u1_all.deb
Use sha256sum to verify the checksum of the downloaded file, comparing it to the package page on the Debian site. Now, you ll install it with:
dpkg -i debian-archive-keyring_2023.3+deb12u1_all.deb

Package first steps From here on, we are making modifications to the system that can leave it in a non-bootable state. Examine /etc/apt/sources.list and all the files in /etc/apt/sources.list.d. Most likely you will want to delete or comment out all lines in all files there. Replace them with something like:
deb http://deb.debian.org/debian/ bookworm main non-free-firmware contrib non-free
deb http://security.debian.org/debian-security bookworm-security main non-free-firmware contrib non-free
deb https://deb.debian.org/debian bookworm-backports main non-free-firmware contrib non-free
(you might leave off contrib and non-free depending on your needs) Now, we re going to tell it that we ll support arm64 packages:
dpkg --add-architecture arm64
And finally, download the bookworm package lists:
apt-get update
If there are any errors from that command, fix them and don t proceed until you have a clean run of apt-get update.

Moving /boot to /boot/firmware The boot FAT partition I mentioned above is mounted at /boot by Raspberry Pi OS, but Debian s scripts assume it will be at /boot/firmware. We need to fix this. First:
umount /boot
mkdir /boot/firmware
Now, edit fstab and change the reference to /boot to be to /boot/firmware. Now:
mount -v /boot/firmware
cd /boot/firmware
mv -vi * ..
This mounts the filesystem at the new location, and moves all its contents back to where apt believes it should be. Debian s packages will populate /boot/firmware later.

Installing the first packages Now we start by installing the first of the needed packages. Eventually we will wind up with roughly the same set Debian uses.
apt-get install linux-image-arm64
apt-get install firmware-brcm80211=20230210-5
apt-get install raspi-firmware
If you get errors relating to firmware-brcm80211 from any commands, run that install firmware-brcm80211 command and then proceed. There are a few packages that Raspbian marked as newer than the version in bookworm (whether or not they really are), and that s one of them.

Configuring the bootloader We need to configure a few things in /etc/default/raspi-firmware before proceeding. Edit that file. First, uncomment (or add) a line like this:
KERNEL_ARCH="arm64"
Next, in /boot/cmdline.txt you can find your old Raspbian boot command line. It will say something like:
root=PARTUUID=...
Save off the bit starting with PARTUUID. Back in /etc/default/raspi-firmware, set a line like this:
ROOTPART=PARTUUID=abcdef00
(substituting your real value for abcdef00). This is necessary because the microSD card device name often changes from /dev/mmcblk0 to /dev/mmcblk1 when switching to Debian s kernel. raspi-firmware will encode the current device name in /boot/firmware/cmdline.txt by default, which will be wrong once you boot into Debian s kernel. The PARTUUID approach lets it work regardless of the device name.

Purging the Raspbian kernel Run:
dpkg --purge raspberrypi-kernel

Upgrading the system At this point, we are going to run the procedure beginning at section 4.4.3 of the Debian release notes. Generally, you will do:
apt-get -u upgrade
apt full-upgrade
Fix any errors at each step before proceeding to the next. Now, to remove some cruft, run:
apt-get --purge autoremove
Inspect the list to make sure nothing important isn t going to be removed.

Removing Raspbian cruft You can list some of the cruft with:
apt list '~o'
And remove it with:
apt purge '~o'
I also don t run Bluetooth, and it seemed to sometimes hang on boot becuase I didn t bother to fix it, so I did:
apt-get --purge remove bluez

Installing some packages This makes sure some basic Debian infrastructure is available:
apt-get install wpasupplicant parted dosfstools wireless-tools iw alsa-tools
apt-get --purge autoremove

Installing firmware Now run:
apt-get install firmware-linux

Resolving firmware package version issues If it gives an error about the installed version of a package, you may need to force it to the bookworm version. For me, this often happened with firmware-atheros, firmware-libertas, and firmware-realtek. Here s how to resolve it, with firmware-realtek as an example:
  1. Go to https://packages.debian.org/PACKAGENAME for instance, https://packages.debian.org/firmware-realtek. Note the version number in bookworm in this case, 20230210-5.
  2. Now, you will force the installation of that package at that version:
    apt-get install firmware-realtek=20230210-5
    
  3. Repeat with every conflicting package until done.
  4. Rerun apt-get install firmware-linux and make sure it runs cleanly.
Also, in the end you should be able to:
apt-get install firmware-atheros firmware-libertas firmware-realtek firmware-linux

Dealing with other Raspbian packages The Debian release notes discuss removing non-Debian packages. There will still be a few of those. Run:
apt list '?narrow(?installed, ?not(?origin(Debian)))'
Deal with them; mostly you will need to force the installation of a bookworm version using the procedure in the section Resolving firmware package version issues above (even if it s not for a firmware package). For non-firmware packages, you might possibly want to add --mark-auto to your apt-get install command line to allow the package to be autoremoved later if the things depending on it go away. If you aren t going to use Bluetooth, I recommend apt-get --purge remove bluez as well. Sometimes it can hang at boot if you don t fix it up as described above.

Set up networking We ll be switching to the Debian method of networking, so we ll create some files in /etc/network/interfaces.d. First, eth0 should look like this:
allow-hotplug eth0
iface eth0 inet dhcp
iface eth0 inet6 auto
And wlan0 should look like this:
allow-hotplug wlan0
iface wlan0 inet dhcp
    wpa-conf /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf
Raspbian is inconsistent about using eth0/wlan0 or renamed interface. Run ifconfig or ip addr. If you see a long-named interface such as enx<something> or wlp<something>, copy the eth0 file to the one named after the enx interface, or the wlan0 file to the one named after the wlp interface, and edit the internal references to eth0/wlan0 in this new file to name the long interface name. If using wifi, verify that your SSIDs and passwords are in /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf. It should have lines like:
network= 
   ssid="NetworkName"
   psk="passwordHere"
 
(This is where Raspberry Pi OS put them).

Deal with DHCP Raspberry Pi OS used dhcpcd, whereas bookworm normally uses isc-dhcp-client. Verify the system is in the correct state:
apt-get install isc-dhcp-client
apt-get --purge remove dhcpcd dhcpcd-base dhcpcd5 dhcpcd-dbus

Set up LEDs To set up the LEDs to trigger on MicroSD activity as they did with Raspbian, follow the Debian instructions. Run apt-get install sysfsutils. Then put this in a file at /etc/sysfs.d/local-raspi-leds.conf:
class/leds/ACT/brightness = 1
class/leds/ACT/trigger = mmc1

Prepare for boot To make sure all the /boot/firmware files are updated, run update-initramfs -u. Verify that root in /boot/firmware/cmdline.txt references the PARTUUID as appropriate. Verify that /boot/firmware/config.txt contains the lines arm_64bit=1 and upstream_kernel=1. If not, go back to the section on modifying /etc/default/raspi-firmware and fix it up.

The moment arrives Cross your fingers and try rebooting into your Debian system:
reboot
For some reason, I found that the first boot into Debian seems to hang for 30-60 seconds during bootstrap. I m not sure why; don t panic if that happens. It may be necessary to power cycle the Pi for this boot.

Troubleshooting If things don t work out, hook up the Pi to a HDMI display and see what s up. If I anticipated a particular problem, I would have documented it here (a lot of the things I documented here are because I ran into them!) So I can t give specific advice other than to watch boot messages on the console. If you don t even get kernel messages going, then there is some problem with your partition table or /boot/firmware FAT partition. Otherwise, you ve at least got the kernel going and can troubleshoot like usual from there.

30 December 2023

Russ Allbery: Review: The Hound of Justice

Review: The Hound of Justice, by Claire O'Dell
Series: Janet Watson Chronicles #2
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Copyright: July 2019
ISBN: 0-06-269938-5
Format: Kindle
Pages: 325
The Hound of Justice is a near-future thriller novel with Sherlock Holmes references. It is a direct sequel to A Study in Honor. This series is best read in order. Janet Watson is in a much better place than she was in the first book. She has proper physical therapy, a new arm, and a surgeon's job waiting for her as soon as she can master its features. A chance meeting due to an Inauguration Day terrorist attack may even develop into something more. She just needs to get back into the operating room and then she'll feel like her life is back on track. Sara Holmes, on the other hand, is restless, bored, and manic, rudely intruding on Watson's date. Then she disappears, upending Watson's living arrangements. She's on the trail of something. When mysterious destructible notes start appearing in Watson's books, it's clear that she wants help. The structure of this book didn't really work for me. The first third or so is a slice-of-life account of Watson's attempt to resume her career as a surgeon against a backdrop of ongoing depressing politics. This part sounds like the least interesting, but I was thoroughly engrossed. Watson is easy to care about, hospital politics are strangely interesting, and while the romance never quite clicked for me, it had potential. I was hoping for another book like A Study in Honor, where Watson's life and Holmes's investigations entwine and run in parallel. That was not to be. The middle third of the book pulls Watson away to Georgia and a complicated mix of family obligations and spy-novel machinations. If this had involved Sara's fae strangeness, verbal sparring, and odd tokens of appreciation, maybe it would have worked, but Sara Holmes is entirely off-camera. Watson is instead dealing with a minor supporting character from the first book, who drags her through disguises, vehicle changes, and border stops in a way that felt excessive and weirdly out of place. (Other reviews say that this character is the Mycroft Holmes equivalent; the first initial of Micha's name fits, but nothing else does so far as I can tell.) Then the last third of the novel turns into a heist. I like a heist novel as much as the next person, but a good heist story needs a team with chemistry and interplay, and I didn't know any of these people. There was way too little Sara Holmes, too much of Watson being out of her element in a rather generic way, and too many steps that Watson is led through without giving the reader a chance to enjoy the competence of the team. It felt jarring and disconnected, like Watson got pulled out of one story and dropped into an entirely different story without a proper groundwork. The Hound of Justice still has its moments. Watson is a great character and I'm still fully invested in her life. She was pulled into this mission because she's the person Holmes knows with the appropriate skills, and when she finally gets a chance to put those skills to use, it's quite satisfying. But, alas, the magic of A Study in Honor simply isn't here, in part because Sara Holmes is missing for most of the book and her replacements and stand-ins are nowhere near as intriguing. The villain's plan seems wildly impractical and highly likely to be detected, and although I can come up with some explanations to salvage it, those don't appear in the book. And, as in the first book, the villain seems very one-dimensional and simplistic. This is certainly not a villain worthy of Holmes. Fittingly, given the political movements O'Dell is commenting on, a lot of this book is about racial politics. O'Dell contrasts the microaggressions and more subtle dangers for Watson as a black woman in Washington, D.C., with the more explicit and active racism of the other places to which she travels over the course of the story. She's trying very hard to give the reader a feeling for what it's like to be black in the United States. I don't have any specific complaints about this, and I'm glad she's attempting it, but I came away from this book with a nagging feeling that Watson's reactions were a tiny bit off. It felt like a white person writing about racism rather than a black person writing about racism: nothing is entirely incorrect, but the emotional beats aren't quite where black authors would put them. I could be completely wrong about this, and am certainly much less qualified to comment than O'Dell is, but there were enough places that landed slightly wrong that I wanted to note it. I would still recommend A Study in Honor, but I'm not sure I can recommend this book. This is one of those series where the things that I enjoyed the most about the first book weren't what the author wanted to focus on in subsequent books. I would read more about the day-to-day of Watson's life, and I would certainly read more of Holmes and Watson sparring and circling and trying to understand each other. I'm less interested in somewhat generic thrillers with implausible plots and Sherlock Holmes references. At the moment, this is academic, since The Hound of Justice is the last book of the series so far. Rating: 6 out of 10

28 December 2023

Russ Allbery: Review: Nettle & Bone

Review: Nettle & Bone, by T. Kingfisher
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: 2022
ISBN: 1-250-24403-X
Format: Kindle
Pages: 242
Nettle & Bone is a standalone fantasy novel with fairy tale vibes. T. Kingfisher is a pen name for Ursula Vernon. As the book opens, Marra is giving herself a blood infection by wiring together dog bones out of a charnel pit. This is the second of three impossible tasks that she was given by the dust-wife. Completing all three will give her the tools to kill a prince. I am a little cautious of which T. Kingfisher books I read since she sometimes writes fantasy and sometimes writes horror and I don't get along with horror. This one seemed a bit horrific in the marketing, so I held off on reading it despite the Hugo nomination. It turns out to be just on the safe side of my horror tolerance, with only a couple of parts that I read a bit quickly. One of those is the opening, which I am happy to report does not set the tone for the rest of the book. Marra starts the story in a wasteland full of disease, madmen, and cannibals (who, in typical Ursula Vernon fashion, turn out to be nicer than the judgmental assholes outside of the blistered land). She doesn't stay there long. By chapter two, the story moves on to flashbacks explaining how Marra ended up there, alternating with further (and less horrific) steps in her quest to kill the prince of the Northern Kingdom. Marra is a princess of a small, relatively poor coastal kingdom with a good harbor and acquisitive neighbors. Her mother, the queen, has protected the kingdom through arranged marriage of her daughters to the prince of the Northern Kingdom, who rules it in all but name given the mental deterioration of his father the king. Marra's eldest sister Damia was first, but she died suddenly and mysteriously in a fall. (If you're thinking about the way women are injured by "accident," you have the right idea.) Kania, the middle sister, is next to marry; she lives, but not without cost. Meanwhile, Marra is sent off to a convent to ensure that there are no complicating potential heirs, and to keep her on hand as a spare. I won't spoil the entire backstory, but you do learn it all. Marra is a typical Kingfisher protagonist: a woman who is way out of her depth who persists with stubbornness, curiosity, and innate decency because what else is there to do? She accumulates the typical group of misfits and oddballs common in Kingfisher's quest fantasies, characters that in the Chosen One male fantasy would be supporting characters at best. The bone-wife is a delight; her chicken is even better. There are fairy godmothers and a goblin market and a tooth extraction that was one of the creepiest things I've read without actually being horror. It is, in short, a Kingfisher fantasy novel, with a touch more horror than average but not enough to push it out of the fantasy genre. I think my favorite part of this book was not the main quest. It was the flashback scenes set in the convent, where Marra has the space (and the mentorship) to develop her sense of self.
"We're a mystery religion," said the abbess, when she'd had a bit more wine than usual, "for people who have too much work to do to bother with mysteries. So we simply get along as best we can. Occasionally someone has a vision, but [the goddess] doesn't seem to want anything much, and so we try to return the favor."
If you have read any other Kingfisher novels, much of this will be familiar: the speculative asides, the dogged determination, the slightly askew nature of the world, the vibes-based world-building that feels more like a fairy tale than a carefully constructed magic system, and the sense that the main characters (and nearly all of the supporting characters) are average people trying to play the hands they were dealt as ethically as they can. You will know that the tentative and woman-initiated romance is coming as soon as the party meets the paladin type who is almost always the romantic interest in one of these books. The emotional tone of the book is a bit predictable for regular readers, but Ursula Vernon's brain is such a delightful place to spend some time that I don't mind.
Marra had not managed to be pale and willowy and consumptive at any point in eighteen years of life and did not think she could achieve it before she died.
Nettle & Bone won the Hugo for Best Novel in 2023. I'm not sure why this specific T. Kingfisher novel won and not any of the half-dozen earlier novels she's written in a similar style, but sure, I have no objections. I'm glad one of them won; they're all worth reading and hopefully that will help more people discover this delightful style of fantasy that doesn't feel like what anyone else is doing. Recommended, although be prepared for a few more horror touches than normal and a rather grim first chapter. Content warnings: domestic abuse. The dog... lives? Is equally as alive at the end of the book as it was at the end of the first chapter? The dog does not die; I'll just leave it at that. (Neither does the chicken.) Rating: 8 out of 10

27 December 2023

Russ Allbery: Review: A Study in Scarlet

Review: A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle
Series: Sherlock Holmes #1
Publisher: AmazonClassics
Copyright: 1887
Printing: February 2018
ISBN: 1-5039-5525-7
Format: Kindle
Pages: 159
A Study in Scarlet is the short mystery novel (probably a novella, although I didn't count words) that introduced the world to Sherlock Holmes. I'm going to invoke the 100-year-rule and discuss the plot of this book rather freely on the grounds that even someone who (like me prior to a few days ago) has not yet read it is probably not that invested in avoiding all spoilers. If you do want to remain entirely unspoiled, exercise caution before reading on. I had somehow managed to avoid ever reading anything by Arthur Conan Doyle, not even a short story. I therefore couldn't be sure that some of the assertions I was making in my review of A Study in Honor were correct. Since A Study in Scarlet would be quick to read, I decided on a whim to do a bit of research and grab a free copy of the first Holmes novel. Holmes is such a part of English-speaking culture that I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. This was largely true, but cultural osmosis had somehow not prepared me for the surprise Mormons. A Study in Scarlet establishes the basic parameters of a Holmes story: Dr. James Watson as narrator, the apartment he shares with Holmes at 221B Baker Street, the Baker Street Irregulars, Holmes's competition with police detectives, and his penchant for making leaps of logical deduction from subtle clues. The story opens with Watson meeting Holmes, agreeing to split the rent of a flat, and being baffled by the apparent randomness of Holmes's fields of study before Holmes reveals he's a consulting detective. The first case is a murder: a man is found dead in an abandoned house, without a mark on him although there are blood splatters on the walls and the word "RACHE" written in blood. Since my only prior exposure to Holmes was from cultural references and a few TV adaptations, there were a few things that surprised me. One is that Holmes is voluble and animated rather than aloof. Doyle is clearly going for passionate eccentric rather than calculating mastermind. Another is that he is intentionally and unabashedly ignorant on any topic not related to solving mysteries.
My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it. "You appear to be astonished," he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. "Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it." "To forget it!" "You see," he explained, "I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you chose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."
This is directly contrary to my expectation that the best way to make leaps of deduction is to know something about a huge range of topics so that one can draw unexpected connections, particularly given the puzzle-box construction and odd details so beloved in classic mysteries. I'm now curious if Doyle stuck with this conception, and if there were any later mysteries that involved astronomy. Speaking of classic mysteries, A Study in Scarlet isn't quite one, although one can see the shape of the genre to come. Doyle does not "play fair" by the rules that have not yet been invented. Holmes at most points knows considerably more than the reader, including bits of evidence that are not described until Holmes describes them and research that Holmes does off-camera and only reveals when he wants to be dramatic. This is not the sort of story where the reader is encouraged to try to figure out the mystery before the detective. Rather, what Doyle seems to be aiming for, and what Watson attempts (unsuccessfully) as the reader surrogate, is slightly different: once Holmes makes one of his grand assertions, the reader is encouraged to guess what Holmes might have done to arrive at that conclusion. Doyle seems to want the reader to guess technique rather than outcome, while providing only vague clues in general descriptions of Holmes's behavior at a crime scene. The structure of this story is quite odd. The first part is roughly what you would expect: first-person narration from Watson, supposedly taken from his journals but not at all in the style of a journal and explicitly written for an audience. Part one concludes with Holmes capturing and dramatically announcing the name of the killer, who the reader has never heard of before. Part two then opens with... a western?
In the central portion of the great North American Continent there lies an arid and repulsive desert, which for many a long year served as a barrier against the advance of civilization. From the Sierra Nevada to Nebraska, and from the Yellowstone River in the north to the Colorado upon the south, is a region of desolation and silence. Nor is Nature always in one mood throughout the grim district. It comprises snow-capped and lofty mountains, and dark and gloomy valleys. There are swift-flowing rivers which dash through jagged ca ons; and there are enormous plains, which in winter are white with snow, and in summer are grey with the saline alkali dust. They all preserve, however, the common characteristics of barrenness, inhospitality, and misery.
First, I have issues with the geography. That region contains some of the most beautiful areas on earth, and while a lot of that region is arid, describing it primarily as a repulsive desert is a bit much. Doyle's boundaries and distances are also confusing: the Yellowstone is a northeast-flowing river with its source in Wyoming, so the area between it and the Colorado does not extend to the Sierra Nevadas (or even to Utah), and it's not entirely clear to me that he realizes Nevada exists. This is probably what it's like for people who live anywhere else in the world when US authors write about their country. But second, there's no Holmes, no Watson, and not even the pretense of a transition from the detective novel that we were just reading. Doyle just launches into a random western with an omniscient narrator. It features a lean, grizzled man and an adorable child that he adopts and raises into a beautiful free spirit, who then falls in love with a wild gold-rush adventurer. This was written about 15 years before the first critically recognized western novel, so I can't blame Doyle for all the cliches here, but to a modern reader all of these characters are straight from central casting. Well, except for the villains, who are the Mormons. By that, I don't mean that the villains are Mormon. I mean Brigham Young is the on-page villain, plotting against the hero to force his adopted daughter into a Mormon harem (to use the word that Doyle uses repeatedly) and ruling Salt Lake City with an iron hand, border guards with passwords (?!), and secret police. This part of the book was wild. I was laughing out-loud at the sheer malevolent absurdity of the thirty-day countdown to marriage, which I doubt was the intended effect. We do eventually learn that this is the backstory of the murder, but we don't return to Watson and Holmes for multiple chapters. Which leads me to the other thing that surprised me: Doyle lays out this backstory, but then never has his characters comment directly on the morality of it, only the spectacle. Holmes cares only for the intellectual challenge (and for who gets credit), and Doyle sets things up so that the reader need not concern themselves with aftermath, punishment, or anything of that sort. I probably shouldn't have been surprised this does fit with the Holmes stereotype but I'm used to modern fiction where there is usually at least some effort to pass judgment on the events of the story. Doyle draws very clear villains, but is utterly silent on whether the murder is justified. Given its status in the history of literature, I'm not sorry to have read this book, but I didn't particularly enjoy it. It is very much of its time: everyone's moral character is linked directly to their physical appearance, and Doyle uses the occasional racial stereotype without a second thought. Prevailing writing styles have changed, so the prose feels long-winded and breathless. The rivalry between Holmes and the police detectives is tedious and annoying. I also find it hard to read novels from before the general absorption of techniques of emotional realism and interiority into all genres. The characters in A Study in Scarlet felt more like cartoon characters than fully-realized human beings. I have no strong opinion about the objective merits of this book in the context of its time other than to note that the sudden inserted western felt very weird. My understanding is that this is not considered one of the better Holmes stories, and Holmes gets some deeper characterization later on. Maybe I'll try another of Doyle's works someday, but for now my curiosity has been sated. Followed by The Sign of the Four. Rating: 4 out of 10

26 December 2023

Russ Allbery: Review: A Study in Honor

Review: A Study in Honor, by Claire O'Dell
Series: Janet Watson Chronicles #1
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Copyright: July 2018
ISBN: 0-06-269932-6
Format: Kindle
Pages: 295
A Study in Honor is a near-future science fiction novel by Claire O'Dell, a pen name for Beth Bernobich. You will see some assertions, including by the Lambda Literary Award judges, that it is a mystery novel. There is a mystery, but... well, more on that in a moment. Janet Watson was an Army surgeon in the Second US Civil War when New Confederacy troops overran the lines in Alton, Illinois. Watson lost her left arm to enemy fire. As this book opens, she is returning to Washington, D.C. with a medical discharge, PTSD, and a field replacement artificial arm scavenged from a dead soldier. It works, sort of, mostly, despite being mismatched to her arm and old in both technology and previous wear. It does not work well enough for her to resume her career as a surgeon. Watson's plan is to request a better artificial arm from the VA (the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, which among other things is responsible for the medical care of wounded veterans). That plan meets a wall of unyielding and uninterested bureaucracy. She has a pension, but it's barely enough for cheap lodging. A lifeline comes in the form of a chance encounter with a former assistant in the Army, who has a difficult friend looking to split the cost of an apartment. The name of that friend is Sara Holmes. At this point, you know what to expect. This is clearly one of the many respinnings of Arthur Conan Doyle. This time, the setting is in the future and Watson and Holmes are both black women, but the other elements of the setup are familiar: the immediate deduction that Watson came from the front, the shared rooms (2809 Q Street this time, sacrificing homage for the accuracy of a real address), Holmes's tendency to play an instrument (this time the piano), and even the title of this book, which is an obvious echo of the title of the first Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet. Except that's not what you'll get. There are a lot of parallels and references here, but this is not a Holmes-style detective novel. First, it's only arguably a detective novel at all. There is a mystery, which starts with a patient Watson sees in her fallback job as a medical tech in the VA hospital and escalates to a physical attack, but that doesn't start until a third of the way into the book. It certainly is not solved through minute clues and leaps of deduction; instead, that part of the plot has the shape of a thriller rather than a classic mystery. There is a good argument that the thriller is the modern mystery novel, so I don't want to overstate my case, but I think someone who came to this book wanting a Doyle-style mystery would be disappointed. Second, the mystery is not the heart of this book. Watson is. She, like Doyle's Watson, is the first-person narrator, but she is far more present in the book. I have no idea how accurate O'Dell's portrayal of Watson's PTSD is, but it was certainly compelling and engrossing reading. Her fight for basic dignity and her rage at the surface respect and underlying disinterested hostility of the bureaucratic war machinery is what kept me turning the pages. The mystery plot is an outgrowth of that and felt more like a case study than the motivating thread of the plot. And third, Sara Holmes... well, I hesitate to say definitively that she's not Sherlock Holmes. There have been so many versions of Holmes over the years, even apart from the degree to which a black woman would necessarily not be like Doyle's character. But she did not remind me of Sherlock Holmes. She reminded me of a cross between James Bond and a high fae. This sounds like a criticism. It very much is not. I found this high elf spy character far more interesting than I have ever found Sherlock Holmes. But here again, if you came into this book hoping for a Holmes-style master detective, I fear you may be wrong-footed. The James Bond parts will be obvious when you get there and aren't the most interesting (and thankfully the misogyny is entirely absent). The part I found more fascinating is the way O'Dell sets Holmes apart by making her fae rather than insufferable. She projects effortless elegance, appears and disappears on a mysterious schedule of her own, thinks nothing of reading her roommate's diary, leaves meticulously arranged gifts, and even bargains with Watson for answers to precisely three questions. The reader does learn some mundane explanations for some of this behavior, but to be honest I found them somewhat of a letdown. Sara Holmes is at her best as a character when she tacks her own mysterious path through a rather grim world of exhausted war, penny-pinching bureaucracy, and despair, pursuing an unexplained agenda of her own while showing odd but unmistakable signs of friendship and care. This is not a romance, at least in this book. It is instead a slowly-developing friendship between two extremely different people, one that I thoroughly enjoyed. I do have a couple of caveats about this book. The first is that the future US in which it is set is almost pure Twitter doomcasting. Trump's election sparked a long slide into fascism, and when that was arrested by the election of a progressive candidate backed by a fragile coalition, Midwestern red states seceded to form the New Confederacy and start a second civil war that has dragged on for nearly eight years. It's a very specific mainstream liberal dystopian scenario that I've seen so many times it felt like a cliche even though I don't remember seeing it in a book before. This type of future projection of current fears is of course not new for science fiction; Cold War nuclear war novels are probably innumerable. But I had questions, such as how a sparsely-populated, largely non-industrial, and entirely landlocked set of breakaway states could maintain a war footing for eight years. Despite some hand-waving about covert support, those questions are not really answered here. The second problem is that the ending of this book kind of falls apart. The climax of the mystery investigation is unsatisfyingly straightforward, and the resulting revelation is a hoary cliche. Maybe I'm just complaining about the banality of evil, but if I'd been engrossed in this book for the thriller plot, I think I would have been annoyed. I wasn't, though; I was here for the characters, for Watson's PTSD and dogged determination, for Sara's strangeness, and particularly for the growing improbable friendship between two women with extremely different life experiences, emotions, and outlooks. That part was great, regardless of the ending. Do not pick this book up because you want a satisfying deductive mystery with bumbling police and a blizzard of apparently inconsequential clues. That is not at all what's happening here. But this was great on its own terms, and I will be reading the sequel shortly. Recommended, although if you are very online expect to do a bit of eye-rolling at the setting. Followed by The Hound of Justice, but the sequel is not required. This book reaches a satisfying conclusion of its own. Rating: 8 out of 10

24 December 2023

Russ Allbery: Review: Liberty's Daughter

Review: Liberty's Daughter, by Naomi Kritzer
Publisher: Fairwood Press
Copyright: November 2023
ISBN: 1-958880-16-7
Format: Kindle
Pages: 257
Liberty's Daughter is a stand-alone near-future science fiction fix-up novel. The original stories were published in Fantasy and Science Fiction between 2012 and 2015. Beck Garrison lives on New Minerva (Min), one of a cluster of libertarian seasteads 220 nautical miles off the coast of Los Angeles. Her father brought her to Min when she was four, so it's the only life she knows. As this story opens, she's picked up a job for pocket change: finding very specific items that people want to buy. Since any new goods have to be shipped in and the seasteads have an ambiguous legal status, they don't get Amazon deliveries, but there are enough people (and enough tourists who bring high-value goods for trade) that someone probably has whatever someone else is looking for. Even sparkly high-heeled sandals size eight. Beck's father is high in the informal power structure of the seasteads for reasons that don't become apparent until very late in this book. Beck therefore has a comfortable, albeit cramped, life. The social protections, self-confidence, and feelings of invincibility that come with that wealth serve her well as a finder. After the current owner of the sandals bargains with her to find a person rather than an object, that privilege also lets her learn quite a lot before she starts getting into trouble. The political background of this novel is going to require some suspension of disbelief. The premise is that one of those harebrained libertarian schemes to form a freedom utopia has been successful enough to last for 49 years and attract 80,000 permanent residents. (It's a libertarian seastead so a lot of those residents are indentured slaves, as one does in libertarian philosophy. The number of people with shares, like Beck's father, is considerably smaller.) By the end of the book, Kritzer has offered some explanations for why the US would allow such a place to continue to exist, but the chances of the famously fractious con artists and incompetents involved in these types of endeavors creating something that survived internal power struggles for that long seem low. One has to roll with it for story reasons: Kritzer needs the population to be large enough for a plot, and the history to be long enough for Beck to exist as a character. The strength of this book is Beck, and specifically the fact that Beck is a second-generation teenager who grew up on the seastead. Unlike a lot of her age peers with their Cayman Islands vacations, she's never left and has no experience with life on land. She considers many things to be perfectly normal that are not at all normal to the reader and the various reader surrogates who show up over the course of the book. She also has the instinctive feel for seastead politics of the child of a prominent figure in a small town. And, most importantly, she has formed her own sense of morality and social structure that matches neither that of the reader nor that of her father. Liberty's Daughter is told in first-person by Beck. Judging the authenticity of Gen-Z thought processes is not one of my strengths, but Beck felt right to me. Her narration is dryly matter-of-fact, with only brief descriptions of her emotional reactions, but her personality shines in the occasional sarcasm and obstinacy. Kritzer has the teenage bafflement at the stupidity of adults down pat, as well as the tendency to jump head-first into ideas and make some decisions through sheer stubbornness. This is not one of those fix-up novels where the author has reworked the stories sufficiently that the original seams don't show. It is very episodic; compared to a typical novel of this length, there's more plot but less character growth. It's a good book when you want to be pulled into a stream of events that moves right along. This is not the book for deep philosophical examinations of the basis of a moral society, but it does have, around the edges, is the humans build human societies and develop elaborate social conventions and senses of belonging no matter how stupid the original philosophical foundations were. Even societies built on nasty exploitation can engender a sort of loyalty. Beck doesn't support the worst parts of her weird society, but she wants to fix it, not burn it to the ground. I thought there was a profound observation there. That brings me to my complaint: I hated the ending. Liberty's Daughter is in part Beck's fight for her own autonomy, both moral and financial, and the beginnings of an effort to turn her home into the sort of home she wants. By the end of the book, she's testing the limits of what she can accomplish, solidifying her own moral compass, and deciding how she wants to use the social position she inherited. It felt like the ending undermined all of that and treated her like a child. I know adolescence comes with those sorts of reversals, but I was still so mad. This is particularly annoying since I otherwise want to recommend this book. It's not ground-breaking, it's not that deep, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable day's worth of entertainment with a likable protagonist. Just don't read the last chapter, I guess? Or have more tolerance than I have for people treating sixteen-year-olds as if they're not old enough to make decisions. Content warnings: pandemic. Rating: 7 out of 10

22 December 2023

Gunnar Wolf: Pushing some reviews this way

Over roughly the last year and a half I have been participating as a reviewer in ACM s Computing Reviews, and have even been honored as a Featured Reviewer. Given I have long enjoyed reading friends reviews of their reading material (particularly, hats off to the very active Russ Allbery, who both beats all of my frequency expectations (I could never sustain the rythm he reads to!) and holds documented records for his >20 years as a book reader, with far more clarity and readability than I can aim for!), I decided to explicitly share my reviews via this blog, as the audience is somewhat congruent; I will also link here some reviews that were not approved for publication, clearly marking them so. I will probably work on wrangling my Jekyll site to display an (auto-)updated page and RSS feed for the reviews. In the meantime, the reviews I have published are:

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