Search Results: "ssm"

1 July 2024

Russell Coker: Links June 2024

Modos Labs have released the design of an e-ink display connected by USB-C [1]. They have provided a lot of background information on e-ink displays which isn t available elsewhere. Excellent work! Informative article about a company giving renters insecure locks while facilitating collusion to raise rents [2]. Insightful video by JimmyTheGiant about the destruction of housing estates in the UK [3]. I wonder how much of this was deliberate by the Tories. Insightful video by Modern Vintage Gamer about the way Nintendo is destroying history by preventing people playing old games [4]. Interesting video by Louis Rossmann about the low quality of products and reviews on Amazon [5]. We all know about Enshittification, but it seems that Amazon is getting to the stage of being unusable for some products. Amusing video by Folding Ideas about Decentraland an attampt at a blockchain based second life type thing which failed as you expect blockchain things to fail [6]. The top comment is a transcription of the actions of the speaker s pet cat. ;)

14 June 2024

Matthew Palmer: Information Security: "We Can Do It, We Just Choose Not To"

Whenever a large corporation disgorges the personal information of millions of people onto the Internet, there is a standard playbook that is followed. Security is our top priority . Passwords were hashed . No credit card numbers were disclosed . record scratch Let s talk about that last one a bit.

A Case Study This post could have been written any time in the past well, decade or so, really. But the trigger for my sitting down and writing this post is the recent breach of wallet-finding and criminal-harassment-enablement platform Tile. As reported by Engadget, a statement attributed to Life360 CEO Chris Hulls says
The potentially impacted data consists of information such as names, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, and Tile device identification numbers.
But don t worry though; even though your home address is now public information
It does not include more sensitive information, such as credit card numbers
Aaaaaand here is where I get salty.

Why Credit Card Numbers Don t Matter Describing credit card numbers as more sensitive information is somewhere between disingenuous and a flat-out lie. It was probably included in the statement because it s part of the standard playbook. Why is it part of the playbook, though? Not being a disaster comms specialist, I can t say for sure, but my hunch is that the post-breach playbook includes this line because (a) credit cards are less commonly breached these days (more on that later), and (b) it s a way to insinuate that all your financial data is safe, no need to worry without having to say that (because that statement would absolutely be a lie). The thing that not nearly enough people realise about credit card numbers is:
  1. The credit card holder is not usually liable for most fraud done via credit card numbers; and
  2. In terms of actual, long-term damage to individuals, credit card fraud barely rates a mention. Identity fraud, Business Email Compromise, extortion, and all manner of other unpleasantness is far more damaging to individuals.

Why Credit Card Numbers Do Matter Losing credit card numbers in a data breach is a huge deal but not for the users of the breached platform. Instead, it s a problem for the company that got breached. See, going back some years now, there was a wave of huge credit card data breaches. If you ve been around a while, names like Target and Heartland will bring back some memories. Because these breaches cost issuing banks and card brands a lot of money, the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI-SSC) and the rest of the ecosystem went full goblin mode. Now, if you lose credit card numbers in bulk, it will cost you big. Massive fines for breaches (typically levied by the card brands via the acquiring bank), increased transaction fees, and even the Credit Card Death Penalty (being banned from charging credit cards), are all very big sticks.

Now Comes the Finding Out In news that should not be surprising, when there are actual consequences for failing to do something, companies take the problem seriously. Which is why no credit card numbers were disclosed is such an interesting statement. Consider why no credit card numbers were disclosed. It s not that credit card numbers aren t valuable to criminals because they are. Instead, it s because the company took steps to properly secure the credit card data. Next, you ll start to consider why, if the credit card numbers were secured, why wasn t the personal information that did get disclosed similarly secured? Information that is far more damaging to the individuals to whom that information relates than credit card numbers. The only logical answer is that it wasn t deemed financially beneficial to the company to secure that data. The consequences of disclosure for that information isn t felt by the company which was breached. Instead, it s felt by the individuals who have to spend weeks of their life cleaning up from identity fraud committed against them. It s felt by the victim of intimate partner violence whose new address is found in a data dump, letting their ex find them again. Until there are real, actual consequences for the companies which hemorrhage our personal data (preferably ones that have percentage of global revenue at the end), data breaches will continue to happen. Not because they re inevitable because as credit card numbers show, data can be secured but because there s no incentive for companies to prevent our personal data from being handed over to whoever comes along.

Support my Salt My salty takes are powered by refreshing beverages. If you d like to see more of the same, buy me one.

21 May 2024

Michael Ablassmeier: lvm thin send/recv

A few days ago i found this mail on the LKML that introduces support for userspace access to LVM thin provisioned metadata snapshots. I didn t know this is possible. Using the thin provisioning tools you can then export the metadata information for your LVM snapshots to track changed regions between them. The workflow is pretty straight forward, yet not really documented:
# lvcreate -ay -Ky --snapshot -n full_backup thingroup/vol1
  # dmsetup message /dev/mapper/thingroup-thinpool-tpool 0 reserve_metadata_snap
  # lvcreate -ay -Ky --snapshot -n inc_backup thingroup/vol1
  # thin_delta  -m --snap1 $(lvs --noheadings -o thin_id thingroup/full_backup) --snap2 $(lvs --noheadings -o thin_id thingroup/inc_backup) > delta_dump
  # dmsetup message /dev/mapper/thingroup-thinpool-tpool 0 release_metadata_snap
This all has already been implemented by a nice utility called thin-send-recv, which based on this functionality allows to (incrementally) send LVM snapshots to remote systems just like zfs send or zfs recv.

20 May 2024

Russell Coker: Respect and Children

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

9 May 2024

Vincent Sanders: Bee to the blossom, moth to the flame; Each to his passion; what's in a name?

I like the sentiment of Helen Hunt Jackson in that quote and it generally applies double for computer system names. However I like to think when I named the first NetSurf VM host server phoenix fourteen years ago I captured the nature of its continuous cycle of replacement.
Image of the fourth phoenix server
We have been very fortunate to receive a donated server to replace the previous every few years and the very generous folks at Collabora continue to provide hosting for it.Recently I replaced the server for the third time. We once again were given a replacement by Huw Jones in the form of a SuperServer 6017R-TDAF system with dual Intel Xeon Ivy Bridge E5-2680v2 processors. There were even rack rails!

The project bought some NVMe drives and an adaptor cards and I attempted to arrange to swap out the server in January.

The old phoenixiii server being replaced
Here we come to the slight disadvantage of an informal arrangement where access to the system depends upon a busy third party. Unfortunately it took until May to arrange access (I must thank Vivek again for coming in on a Saturday to do this)

In the intervening time, once I realised access was going to become increasingly difficult, I decided to obtain as good a system as I could manage to reduce requirements for future access.

I turned to eBay and acquired a slightly more modern SuperServer with dual Intel Xeon Haswell E5-2680v3 processors which required purchase of 64G of new memory (Haswell is a DDR4 platform).

I had wanted to use Broadwell processors but this exceeded my budget and would only be a 10% performance uplift (The chassis, motherboard and memory cost 180 and another 50 for processors was just too much, maybe next time)

graph of cpu mark improvements in the phoenix servers over time
While making the decision on the processor selection I made a quick chart of previous processing capabilities (based on a passmark comparison) of phoenix servers and was startled to discover I needed a logarithmic vertical axis. Multi core performance of processors has improved at a startling rate in the last decade.

When the original replacement was donated I checked where the performance was limited and noticed it was mainly in disc access which is what prompted the upgrade to NVMe (2 gigabytes a second peek read throughput) which moved the bottleneck to the processors where, even with the upgrades, it remains.

I do not really know if there is a conclusion here beyond noting NetSurf is very fortunate as a project to have some generous benefactors both for donating hardware and hosting for which I know all the developers are grateful.

Now I just need to go and migrate a huge bunch of virtual machines and associated sysadmin to make use of these generous donations.

30 April 2024

Russell Coker: Links April 2024

Ron Garret wrote an insightful refutation to 2nd amendment arguments [1]. Interesting article from the UK about British Gas losing a civil suit about bill collecting techniques that are harassment [2]. This should be a criminal offence investigated by the police and prosecuted by the CPS. David Brin wrote a new version of his essay about dealing with blackmail in the US political system [3]. Cory Doctorow gave an insightful lecture about Enshittification for the Transmediale festival in Berlin [4]. This link has video and a transcript, I read the transcript. The Cut has an insightful article by a journalist who gave $50k in cash to a scammer and compares the scam to techniques used to extort false confessions [5]. Truth Dig has an informative article about how Nick Bostrom is racist and how his advocacy of eugenics influences Effective Altruism and a lot of Silicon Valley [6]. Bruce Scneier and Nathan Sanders wrote an insightful article about the problems with a frontier slogan for AI development [7]. Brian Krebs wrote an informative article about the links between Chinese APT companies and the Chinese government [8].

26 April 2024

Russell Coker: Humane AI Pin

I wrote a blog post The Shape of Computers [1] exploring ideas of how computers might evolve and how we can use them. One of the devices I mentioned was the Humane AI Pin, which has just been the recipient of one of the biggest roast reviews I ve ever seen [2], good work Marques Brownlee! As an aside I was once given a product to review which didn t work nearly as well as I think it should have worked so I sent an email to the developers saying sorry this product failed to work well so I can t say anything good about it and didn t publish a review. One of the first things that caught my attention in the review is the note that the AI Pin doesn t connect to your phone. I think that everything should connect to everything else as a usability feature. For security we don t want so much connecting and it s quite reasonable to turn off various connections at appropriate times for security, the Librem5 is an example of how this can be done with hardware switches to disable Wifi etc. But to just not have connectivity is bad. The next noteworthy thing is the external battery which also acts as a magnetic attachment from inside your shirt. So I guess it s using wireless charging through your shirt. A magnetically attached external battery would be a great feature for a phone, you could quickly swap a discharged battery for a fresh one and keep using it. When I tried to make the PinePhonePro my daily driver [3] I gave up and charging was one of the main reasons. One thing I learned from my experiment with the PinePhonePro is that the ratio of charge time to discharge time is sometimes more important than battery life and being able to quickly swap batteries without rebooting is a way of solving that. The reviewer of the AI Pin complains later in the video about battery life which seems to be partly due to wireless charging from the detachable battery and partly due to being physically small. It seems the phablet form factor is the smallest viable personal computer at this time. The review glosses over what could be the regarded as the 2 worst issues of the device. It does everything via the cloud (where the cloud means a computer owned by someone I probably shouldn t trust ) and it records everything. Strange that it s not getting the hate the Google Glass got. The user interface based on laser projection of menus on the palm of your hand is an interesting concept. I d rather have a Bluetooth attached tablet or something for operations that can t be conveniently done with voice. The reviewer harshly criticises the laser projection interface later in the video, maybe technology isn t yet adequate to implement this properly. The first criticism of the device in the review part of the video is of the time taken to answer questions, especially when Internet connectivity is poor. His question who designed the Washington Monument took 8 seconds to start answering it in his demonstration. I asked the Alpaca LLM the same question running on 4 cores of a E5-2696 and it took 10 seconds to start answering and then printed the words at about speaking speed. So if we had a free software based AI device for this purpose it shouldn t be difficult to get local LLM computation with less delay than the Humane device by simply providing more compute power than 4 cores of a E5-2696v3. How does a 32 core 1.05GHz Mali G72 from 2017 (as used in the Galaxy Note 9) compare to 4 cores of a 2.3GHz Intel CPU from 2015? Passmark says that Intel CPU can do 48GFlop with all 18 cores so 4 cores can presumably do about 10GFlop which seems less than the claimed 20-32GFlop of the Mali G72. It seems that with the right software even older Android phones could give adequate performance for a local LLM. The Alpaca model I m testing with takes 4.2G of RAM to run which is usable in a Note 9 with 8G of RAM or a Pixel 8 Pro with 12G. A Pixel 8 Pro could have 4.2G of RAM reserved for a LLM and still have as much RAM for other purposes as my main laptop as of a few months ago. I consider the speed of Alpaca on my workstation to be acceptable but not great. If we can get FOSS phones running a LLM at that speed then I think it would be great for a first version we can always rely on newer and faster hardware becoming available. Marques notes that the cause of some of the problems is likely due to a desire to make it a separate powerful product in the future and that if they gave it phone connectivity in the start they would have to remove that later on. I think that the real problem is that the profit motive is incompatible with good design. They want to have a product that s stand-alone and justifies the purchase price plus subscription and that means not making it a phone accessory . While I think that the best thing for the user is to allow it to talk to a phone, a PC, a car, and anything else the user wants. He compares it to the Apple Vision Pro which has the same issue of trying to be a stand-alone computer but not being properly capable of it. One of the benefits that Marques cites for the AI Pin is the ability to capture voice notes. Dictaphones have been around for over 100 years and very few people have bought them, not even in the 80s when they became cheap. While almost everyone can occasionally benefit from being able to make a note of an idea when it s not convenient to write it down there are few people who need it enough to carry a separate device, not even if that device is tiny. But a phone as a general purpose computing device with microphone can easily be adapted to such things. One possibility would be to program a phone to start a voice note when the volume up and down buttons are pressed at the same time or when some other condition is met. Another possibility is to have a phone have a hotkey function that varies by what you are doing, EG if bushwalking have the hotkey be to take a photo or if on a flight have it be taking a voice note. On the Mobile Apps page on the Debian wiki I created a section for categories of apps that I think we need [4]. In that section I added the following list:
  1. Voice input for dictation
  2. Voice assistant like Google/Apple
  3. Voice output
  4. Full operation for visually impaired people
One thing I really like about the AI Pin is that it has the potential to become a really good computing and personal assistant device for visually impaired people funded by people with full vision who want to legally control a computer while driving etc. I have some concerns about the potential uses of the AI Pin while driving (as Marques stated an aim to do), but if it replaces the use of regular phones while driving it will make things less bad. Marques concludes his video by warning against buying a product based on the promise of what it can be in future. I bought the Librem5 on exactly that promise, the difference is that I have the source and the ability to help make the promise come true. My aim is to spend thousands of dollars on test hardware and thousands of hours of development time to help make FOSS phones a product that most people can use at low price with little effort. Another interesting review of the pin is by Mrwhostheboss [5], one of his examples is of asking the pin for advice about a chair but without him knowing the pin selected a different chair in the room. He compares this to using Google s apps on a phone and seeing which item the app has selected. He also said that he doesn t want to make an order based on speech he wants to review a page of information about it. I suspect that the design of the pin had too much input from people accustomed to asking a corporate travel office to find them a flight and not enough from people who look through the details of the results of flight booking services trying to save an extra $20. Some people might say if you need to save $20 on a flight then a $24/month subscription computing service isn t for you , I reject that argument. I can afford lots of computing services because I try to get the best deal on every moderately expensive thing I pay for. Another point that Mrwhostheboss makes is regarding secret SMS, you probably wouldn t want to speak a SMS you are sending to your SO while waiting for a train. He makes it clear that changing between phone and pin while sharing resources (IE not having a separate phone number and separate data store) is a desired feature. The most insightful point Mrwhostheboss made was when he suggested that if the pin had come out before the smartphone then things might have all gone differently, but now anything that s developed has to be based around the expectations of phone use. This is something we need to keep in mind when developing FOSS software, there s lots of different ways that things could be done but we need to meet the expectations of users if we want our software to be used by many people. I previously wrote a blog post titled Considering Convergence [6] about the possible ways of using a phone as a laptop. While I still believe what I wrote there I m now considering the possibility of ease of movement of work in progress as a way of addressing some of the same issues. I ve written a blog post about Convergence vs Transferrence [7].

25 February 2024

Russ Allbery: Review: The Fund

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

2 February 2024

Ian Jackson: UPS, the Useless Parcel Service; VAT and fees

I recently had the most astonishingly bad experience with UPS, the courier company. They severely damaged my parcels, and were very bad about UK import VAT, ultimately ending up harassing me on autopilot. The only thing that got their attention was my draft Particulars of Claim for intended legal action. Surprisingly, I got them to admit in writing that the disbursement fee they charge recipients alongside the actual VAT, is just something they made up with no legal basis. What happened Autumn last year I ordered some furniture from a company in Germany. This was to be shipped by them to me by courier. The supplier chose UPS. UPS misrouted one of the three parcels to Denmark. When everything arrived, it had been sat on by elephants. The supplier had to replace most of it, with considerable inconvenience and delay to me, and of course a loss to the supplier. But this post isn t mostly about that. This post is about VAT. You see, import VAT was due, because of fucking Brexit. UPS made a complete hash of collecting that VAT. Their computers can t issue coherent documents, their email helpdesk is completely useless, and their automated debt collection systems run along uninfluenced by any external input. The crazy, including legal threats and escalating late payment fees, continued even after I paid the VAT discrepancy (which I did despite them not yet having provided any coherent calculation for it). This kind of behaviour is a very small and mild version of the kind of things British Gas did to Lisa Ferguson, who eventually won substantial damages for harassment, plus 10K of costs. Having tried asking nicely, and sending stiff letters, I too threatened litigation. I would have actually started a court claim, but it would have included a claim under the Protection from Harassment Act. Those have to be filed under the Part 8 procedure , which involves sending all of the written evidence you re going to use along with the claim form. Collating all that would be a good deal of work, especially since UPS and ControlAccount didn t engage with me at all, so I had no idea which things they might actually dispute. So I decided that before issuing proceedings, I d send them a copy of my draft Particulars of Claim, along with an offer to settle if they would pay me a modest sum and stop being evil robots at me. Rather than me typing the whole tale in again, you can read the full gory details in the PDF of my draft Particulars of Claim. (I ve redacted the reference numbers). Outcome The draft Particulars finally got their attention. UPS sent me an offer: they agreed to pay me 50, in full and final settlement. That was close enough to my offer that I accepted it. I mostly wanted them to stop, and they do seem to have done so. And I ve received the 50. VAT calculation They also finally included an actual explanation of the VAT calculation. It s absurd, but it s not UPS s absurd:
The clearance was entered initially with estimated import charges of 400.03, consisting of 387.83 VAT, and 12.20 disbursement fee. This original entry regrettably did not include the freight cost for calculating the VAT, and as such when submitted for final entry the VAT value was adjusted to include this and an amended invoice was issued for an additional 39.84. HMRC calculate the amount against which VAT is raised using the value of goods, insurance and freight, however they also may apply a VAT adjustment figure. The VAT Adjustment is based on many factors (Incidental costs in regards to a shipment), which includes charge for currency conversion if the invoice does not list values in Sterling, but the main is due to the inland freight from airport of destination to the final delivery point, as this charge varies, for example, from EMA to Edinburgh would be 150, from EMA to Derby would be 1, so each year UPS must supply HMRC with all values incurred for entry build up and they give an average which UPS have to use on the entry build up as the VAT Adjustment. The correct calculation for the import charges is therefore as follows: Goods value divided by exchange rate 2,489.53 EUR / 1.1683 = 2,130.89 GBP Duty: Goods value plus freight (%) 2,130.89 GBP + 5% = 2,237.43 GBP. That total times the duty rate. X 0 % = 0 GBP VAT: Goods value plus freight (100%) 2,130.89 GBP + 0 = 2,130.89 GBP That total plus duty and VAT adjustment 2,130.89 GBP + 0 GBP + 7.49 GBP = 2,348.08 GBP. That total times 20% VAT = 427.67 GBP As detailed above we must confirm that the final VAT charges applied to the shipment were correct, and that no refund of this is therefore due.
This looks very like HMRC-originated nonsense. If only they had put it on the original bills! It s completely ridiculous that it took four months and near-litigation to obtain it. Disbursement fee One more thing. UPS billed me a 12 disbursement fee . When you import something, there s often tax to pay. The courier company pays that to the government, and the consignee pays it to the courier. Usually the courier demands it before final delivery, since otherwise they end up having to chase it as a debt. It is common for parcel companies to add a random fee of their own. As I note in my Particulars, there isn t any legal basis for this. In my own offer of settlement I proposed that UPS should:
State under what principle of English law (such as, what enactment or principle of Common Law), you levy the disbursement fee (or refund it).
To my surprise they actually responded to this in their own settlement letter. (They didn t, for example, mention the harassment at all.) They said (emphasis mine):
A disbursement fee is a fee for amounts paid or processed on behalf of a client. It is an established category of charge used by legal firms, amongst other companies, for billing of various ancillary costs which may be incurred in completion of service. Disbursement fees are not covered by a specific law, nor are they legally prohibited. Regarding UPS disbursement fee this is an administrative charge levied for the use of UPS deferment account to prepay import charges for clearance through CDS. This charge would therefore be billed to the party that is responsible for the import charges, normally the consignee or receiver of the shipment in question. The disbursement fee as applied is legitimate, and as you have stated is a commonly used and recognised charge throughout the courier industry, and I can confirm that this was charged correctly in this instance.
On UPS s analysis, they can just make up whatever fee they like. That is clearly not right (and I don t even need to refer to consumer protection law, which would also make it obviously unlawful). And, that everyone does it doesn t make it lawful. There are so many things that are ubiquitous but unlawful, especially nowadays when much of the legal system - especially consumer protection regulators - has been underfunded to beyond the point of collapse. Next time this comes up I might have a go at getting the fee back. (Obviously I ll have to pay it first, to get my parcel.) ParcelForce and Royal Mail I think this analysis doesn t apply to ParcelForce and (probably) Royal Mail. I looked into this in 2009, and I found that Parcelforce had been given the ability to write their own private laws: Schemes made under section 89 of the Postal Services Act 2000. This is obviously ridiculous but I think it was the law in 2009. I doubt the intervening governments have fixed it. Furniture Oh, yes, the actual furniture. The replacements arrived intact and are great :-).

comment count unavailable comments

29 January 2024

Michael Ablassmeier: qmpbackup 0.28

Over the last weekend i had some spare time to improve qmpbackup a little more, the new version: and some minor code reworks. Hope its useful for someone.

25 January 2024

Joachim Breitner: GHC Steering Committee Retrospective

After seven years of service as member and secretary on the GHC Steering Committee, I have resigned from that role. So this is a good time to look back and retrace the formation of the GHC proposal process and committee. In my memory, I helped define and shape the proposal process, optimizing it for effectiveness and throughput, but memory can be misleading, and judging from the paper trail in my email archives, this was indeed mostly Ben Gamari s and Richard Eisenberg s achievement: Already in Summer of 2016, Ben Gamari set up the ghc-proposals Github repository with a sketch of a process and sent out a call for nominations on the GHC user s mailing list, which I replied to. The Simons picked the first set of members, and in the fall of 2016 we discussed the committee s by-laws and procedures. As so often, Richard was an influential shaping force here.

Three ingredients For example, it was him that suggested that for each proposal we have one committee member be the Shepherd , overseeing the discussion. I believe this was one ingredient for the process effectiveness: There is always one person in charge, and thus we avoid the delays incurred when any one of a non-singleton set of volunteers have to do the next step (and everyone hopes someone else does it). The next ingredient was that we do not usually require a vote among all members (again, not easy with volunteers with limited bandwidth and occasional phases of absence). Instead, the shepherd makes a recommendation (accept/reject), and if the other committee members do not complain, this silence is taken as consent, and we come to a decision. It seems this idea can also be traced back on Richard, who suggested that once a decision is requested, the shepherd [generates] consensus. If consensus is elusive, then we vote. At the end of the year we agreed and wrote down these rules, created the mailing list for our internal, but publicly archived committee discussions, and began accepting proposals, starting with Adam Gundry s OverloadedRecordFields. At that point, there was no secretary role yet, so how I did become one? It seems that in February 2017 I started to clean-up and refine the process documentation, fixing bugs in the process (like requiring authors to set Github labels when they don t even have permissions to do that). This in particular meant that someone from the committee had to manually handle submissions and so on, and by the aforementioned principle that at every step there ought to be exactly one person in change, the role of a secretary followed naturally. In the email in which I described that role I wrote:
Simon already shoved me towards picking up the secretary hat, to reduce load on Ben.
So when I merged the updated process documentation, I already listed myself secretary . It wasn t just Simon s shoving that put my into the role, though. I dug out my original self-nomination email to Ben, and among other things I wrote:
I also hope that there is going to be clear responsibilities and a clear workflow among the committee. E.g. someone (possibly rotating), maybe called the secretary, who is in charge of having an initial look at proposals and then assigning it to a member who shepherds the proposal.
So it is hardly a surprise that I became secretary, when it was dear to my heart to have a smooth continuous process here. I am rather content with the result: These three ingredients single secretary, per-proposal shepherds, silence-is-consent helped the committee to be effective throughout its existence, even as every once in a while individual members dropped out.

Ulterior motivation I must admit, however, there was an ulterior motivation behind me grabbing the secretary role: Yes, I did want the committee to succeed, and I did want that authors receive timely, good and decisive feedback on their proposals but I did not really want to have to do that part. I am, in fact, a lousy proposal reviewer. I am too generous when reading proposals, and more likely mentally fill gaps in a specification rather than spotting them. Always optimistically assuming that the authors surely know what they are doing, rather than critically assessing the impact, the implementation cost and the interaction with other language features. And, maybe more importantly: why should I know which changes are good and which are not so good in the long run? Clearly, the authors cared enough about a proposal to put it forward, so there is some need and I do believe that Haskell should stay an evolving and innovating language but how does this help me decide about this or that particular feature. I even, during the formation of the committee, explicitly asked that we write down some guidance on Vision and Guideline ; do we want to foster change or innovation, or be selective gatekeepers? Should we accept features that are proven to be useful, or should we accept features so that they can prove to be useful? This discussion, however, did not lead to a concrete result, and the assessment of proposals relied on the sum of each member s personal preference, expertise and gut feeling. I am not saying that this was a mistake: It is hard to come up with a general guideline here, and even harder to find one that does justice to each individual proposal. So the secret motivation for me to grab the secretary post was that I could contribute without having to judge proposals. Being secretary allowed me to assign most proposals to others to shepherd, and only once in a while myself took care of a proposal, when it seemed to be very straight-forward. Sneaky, ain t it?

7 Years later For years to come I happily played secretary: When an author finished their proposal and public discussion ebbed down they would ping me on GitHub, I would pick a suitable shepherd among the committee and ask them to judge the proposal. Eventually, the committee would come to a conclusion, usually by implicit consent, sometimes by voting, and I d merge the pull request and update the metadata thereon. Every few months I d summarize the current state of affairs to the committee (what happened since the last update, which proposals are currently on our plate), and once per year gathered the data for Simon Peyton Jones annually GHC Status Report. Sometimes some members needed a nudge or two to act. Some would eventually step down, and I d sent around a call for nominations and when the nominations came in, distributed them off-list among the committee and tallied the votes. Initially, that was exciting. For a long while it was a pleasant and rewarding routine. Eventually, it became a mere chore. I noticed that I didn t quite care so much anymore about some of the discussion, and there was a decent amount of naval-gazing, meta-discussions and some wrangling about claims of authority that was probably useful and necessary, but wasn t particularly fun. I also began to notice weaknesses in the processes that I helped shape: We could really use some more automation for showing proposal statuses, notifying people when they have to act, and nudging them when they don t. The whole silence-is-assent approach is good for throughput, but not necessary great for quality, and maybe the committee members need to be pushed more firmly to engage with each proposal. Like GHC itself, the committee processes deserve continuous refinement and refactoring, and since I could not muster the motivation to change my now well-trod secretarial ways, it was time for me to step down. Luckily, Adam Gundry volunteered to take over, and that makes me feel much less bad for quitting. Thanks for that! And although I am for my day job now enjoying a language that has many of the things out of the box that for Haskell are still only language extensions or even just future proposals (dependent types, BlockArguments, do notation with ( foo) expressions and Unicode), I m still around, hosting the Haskell Interlude Podcast, writing on this blog and hanging out at ZuriHac etc.

7 January 2024

Valhalla's Things: A Corset or Two

Posted on January 7, 2024
Tags: madeof:atoms, craft:sewing, period:victorian, FreeSoftWear
a black coutil midbust corset, from a 3/4 front view, showing the busk closure, a waist tape and external boning channels made of the same twill tape and placed about 1-2 cm from each other at waist level. CW for body size change mentions I needed a corset, badly. Years ago I had a chance to have my measurements taken by a former professional corset maker and then a lesson in how to draft an underbust corset, and that lead to me learning how nice wearing a well-fitted corset feels. Later I tried to extend that pattern up for a midbust corset, with success. And then my body changed suddenly, and I was no longer able to wear either of those, and after a while I started missing them. Since my body was still changing (if no longer drastically so), and I didn t want to use expensive materials for something that had a risk of not fitting after too little time, I decided to start by making myself a summer lightweight corset in aida cloth and plastic boning (for which I had already bought materials). It fitted, but not as well as the first two ones, and I ve worn it quite a bit. I still wanted back the feeling of wearing a comfy, heavy contraption of coutil and steel, however. After a lot of procrastination I redrafted a new pattern, scrapped everything, tried again, had my measurements taken by a dressmaker [#dressmaker], put them in the draft, cut a first mock-up in cheap cotton, fixed the position of a seam, did a second mock-up in denim [#jeans] from an old pair of jeans, and then cut into the cheap herringbone coutil I was planning to use. And that s when I went to see which one of the busks in my stash would work, and realized that I had used a wrong vertical measurement and the front of the corset was way too long for a midbust corset. a corset busk basted to a mock-up with scraps of fabric between each stud / loop. Luckily I also had a few longer busks, I basted one to the denim mock up and tried to wear it for a few hours, to see if it was too long to be comfortable. It was just a bit, on the bottom, which could be easily fixed with the Power Tools1. Except, the more I looked at it the more doing this felt wrong: what I needed most was a midbust corset, not an overbust one, which is what this was starting to be. I could have trimmed it down, but I knew that I also wanted this corset to be a wearable mockup for the pattern, to refine it and have it available for more corsets. And I still had more than half of the cheap coutil I was using, so I decided to redo the pattern and cut new panels. And this is where the or two comes in: I m not going to waste the overbust panels: I had been wanting to learn some techniques to make corsets with a fashion fabric layer, rather than just a single layer of coutil, and this looks like an excellent opportunity for that, together with a piece of purple silk that I know I have in the stash. This will happen later, however, first I m giving priority to the underbust. Anyway, a second set of panels was cut, all the seam lines marked with tailor tacks, and I started sewing by inserting the busk. And then realized that the pre-made boning channel tape I had was too narrow for the 10 mm spiral steel I had plenty of. And that the 25 mm twill tape was also too narrow for a double boning channel. On the other hand, the 18 mm twill tape I had used for the waist tape was good for a single channel, so I decided to put a single bone on each seam, and then add another piece of boning in the middle of each panel. Since I m making external channels, making them in self fabric would have probably looked better, but I no longer had enough fabric, because of the cutting mishap, and anyway this is going to be a strictly underwear only corset, so it s not a big deal. Once the boning channel situation was taken care of, everything else proceeded quite smoothly and I was able to finish the corset during the Christmas break, enlisting again my SO to take care of the flat steel boning while I cut the spiral steels myself with wire cutters. The same corset straight from the front: the left side is a few mm longer than the right side I could have been a bit more precise with the binding, as it doesn t align precisely at the front edge, but then again, it s underwear, nobody other than me and everybody who reads this post is going to see it and I was in a hurry to see it finished. I will be more careful with the next one. The same corset from the back, showing cross lacing with bunny ears at the waist and a lacing gap of about 8 cm. I also think that I haven t been careful enough when pressing the seams and applying the tape, and I ve lost about a cm of width per part, so I m using a lacing gap that is a bit wider than I planned for, but that may change as the corset gets worn, and is still within tolerance. Also, on the morning after I had finished the corset I woke up and realized that I had forgotten to add garter tabs at the bottom edge. I don t know whether I will ever use them, but I wanted the option, so maybe I ll try to add them later on, especially if I can do it without undoing the binding. The next step would have been flossing, which I proceeded to postpone until I ve worn the corset for a while: not because there is any reason for it, but because I still don t know how I want to do it :) What was left was finishing and uploading the pattern and instructions, that are now on my sewing pattern website as #FreeSoftWear, and finally I could post this on the blog.

  1. i.e. by asking my SO to cut and sand it, because I m lazy and I hate doing that part :D

4 January 2024

Michael Ablassmeier: Migrating a system to Hetzner cloud using REAR and kexec

I needed to migrate an existing system to an Hetzner cloud VPS. While it is possible to attach KVM consoles and custom ISO images to dedicated servers, i didn t find any way to do so with regular cloud instances. For system migrations i usually use REAR, which has never failed me. (and also has saved my ass during recovery multiple times). It s an awesome utility! It s possible to do this using the Hetzner recovery console too, but using REAR is very convenient here, because it handles things like re-creating the partition layout and network settings automatically! The steps are:

Example To create a rescue image on the source system:
apt install rear
echo OUTPUT=ISO > /etc/rear/local.conf
rear mkrescue -v
[..]
Wrote ISO image: /var/lib/rear/output/rear-debian12.iso (185M)
My source system had a 128 GB disk, so i registered an instance on Hetzner cloud with greater disk size to make things easier: image Now copy the ISO image to the newly created instance and extract its data:
 apt install kexec-tools
 scp rear-debian12.iso root@49.13.193.226:/tmp/
 modprobe loop
 mount -o loop rear-debian12.iso /mnt/
 cp /mnt/isolinux/kernel /tmp/
 cp /mnt/isolinux/initrd.cgz /tmp/
Install kexec if not installed already:
 apt install kexec-tools
Note down the current gateway configuration, this is required later on to make the REAR recovery console reachable via SSH:
root@testme:~# ip route
default via 172.31.1.1 dev eth0
172.31.1.1 dev eth0 scope link
Reboot the running VPS instance into the REAR recovery image using somewhat the same kernel cmdline:
root@testme:~# cat /proc/cmdline
BOOT_IMAGE=/boot/vmlinuz-6.1.0-13-amd64 root=UUID=5174a81e-5897-47ca-8fe4-9cd19dc678c4 ro consoleblank=0 systemd.show_status=true console=tty1 console=ttyS0
kexec --initrd /tmp/initrd.cgz --command-line="consoleblank=0 systemd.show_status=true console=tty1 console=ttyS0" /tmp/kernel
Connection to 49.13.193.226 closed by remote host.
Connection to 49.13.193.226 closed
Now watch the system on the Console booting into the REAR system: image Login the recovery console (root without password) and fix its default route to make it reachable:
ip addr
[..]
2: enp1s0
..
$ ip route add 172.31.1.1 dev enp1s0
$ ip route add default via 172.31.1.1
ping 49.13.193.226
64 bytes from 49.13.193.226: icmp_seq=83 ttl=52 time=27.7 ms
The network configuration might differ, the source system in this example used DHCP, as the target does. If REAR detects changed static network configuration it guides you through the setup pretty nicely. Login via SSH (REAR will store your ssh public keys in the image) and start the recovery process, follow the steps as suggested by REAR:
ssh -l root 49.13.193.226
Welcome to Relax-and-Recover. Run "rear recover" to restore your system !
RESCUE debian12:~ # rear recover
Relax-and-Recover 2.7 / Git
Running rear recover (PID 673 date 2024-01-04 19:20:22)
Using log file: /var/log/rear/rear-debian12.log
Running workflow recover within the ReaR rescue/recovery system
Will do driver migration (recreating initramfs/initrd)
Comparing disks
Device vda does not exist (manual configuration needed)
Switching to manual disk layout configuration (GiB sizes rounded down to integer)
/dev/vda had size 137438953472 (128 GiB) but it does no longer exist
/dev/sda was not used on the original system and has now 163842097152 (152 GiB)
Original disk /dev/vda does not exist (with same size) in the target system
Using /dev/sda (the only available of the disks) for recreating /dev/vda
Current disk mapping table (source => target):
  /dev/vda => /dev/sda
Confirm or edit the disk mapping
1) Confirm disk mapping and continue 'rear recover'
[..]
User confirmed recreated disk layout
[..]
This step re-recreates your original disk layout and mounts it to /mnt/local/ (this example uses a pretty lame layout, but usually REAR will handle things like lvm/btrfs just nicely):
mount
/dev/sda3 on /mnt/local type ext4 (rw,relatime,errors=remount-ro)
/dev/sda1 on /mnt/local/boot type ext4 (rw,relatime)
Now clone your source systems data to /mnt/local/ with whatever utility you like to use and exit the recovery step. After confirming everything went well, REAR will setup the bootloader (and all other config details like fstab entries and adjusted network configuration) for you as required:
rear> exit
Did you restore the backup to /mnt/local ? Are you ready to continue recovery ? yes
User confirmed restored files
Updated initramfs with new drivers for this system.
Skip installing GRUB Legacy boot loader because GRUB 2 is installed (grub-probe or grub2-probe exist).
Installing GRUB2 boot loader...
Determining where to install GRUB2 (no GRUB2_INSTALL_DEVICES specified)
Found possible boot disk /dev/sda - installing GRUB2 there
Finished 'recover'. The target system is mounted at '/mnt/local'.
Exiting rear recover (PID 7103) and its descendant processes ...
Running exit tasks
Now reboot the recovery console and watch it boot into your target systems configuration: image Being able to use this procedure for complete disaster recovery within Hetzner cloud VPS (using off-site backups) gives me a better feeling, too.

27 December 2023

Bits from Debian: Statement about the EU Cyber Resilience Act

Debian Public Statement about the EU Cyber Resilience Act and the Product Liability Directive The European Union is currently preparing a regulation "on horizontal cybersecurity requirements for products with digital elements" known as the Cyber Resilience Act (CRA). It is currently in the final "trilogue" phase of the legislative process. The act includes a set of essential cybersecurity and vulnerability handling requirements for manufacturers. It will require products to be accompanied by information and instructions to the user. Manufacturers will need to perform risk assessments and produce technical documentation and, for critical components, have third-party audits conducted. Discovered security issues will have to be reported to European authorities within 25 hours (1). The CRA will be followed up by the Product Liability Directive (PLD) which will introduce compulsory liability for software. While a lot of these regulations seem reasonable, the Debian project believes that there are grave problems for Free Software projects attached to them. Therefore, the Debian project issues the following statement:
  1. Free Software has always been a gift, freely given to society, to take and to use as seen fit, for whatever purpose. Free Software has proven to be an asset in our digital age and the proposed EU Cyber Resilience Act is going to be detrimental to it. a. As the Debian Social Contract states, our goal is "make the best system we can, so that free works will be widely distributed and used." Imposing requirements such as those proposed in the act makes it legally perilous for others to redistribute our work and endangers our commitment to "provide an integrated system of high-quality materials with no legal restrictions that would prevent such uses of the system". (2) b. Knowing whether software is commercial or not isn't feasible, neither in Debian nor in most free software projects - we don't track people's employment status or history, nor do we check who finances upstream projects (the original projects that we integrate in our operating system). c. If upstream projects stop making available their code for fear of being in the scope of CRA and its financial consequences, system security will actually get worse rather than better. d. Having to get legal advice before giving a gift to society will discourage many developers, especially those without a company or other organisation supporting them.
  2. Debian is well known for its security track record through practices of responsible disclosure and coordination with upstream developers and other Free Software projects. We aim to live up to the commitment made in the Debian Social Contract: "We will not hide problems." (3) a.The Free Software community has developed a fine-tuned, tried-and-tested system of responsible disclosure in case of security issues which will be overturned by the mandatory reporting to European authorities within 24 hours (Art. 11 CRA). b. Debian spends a lot of volunteering time on security issues, provides quick security updates and works closely together with upstream projects and in coordination with other vendors. To protect its users, Debian regularly participates in limited embargos to coordinate fixes to security issues so that all other major Linux distributions can also have a complete fix when the vulnerability is disclosed. c. Security issue tracking and remediation is intentionally decentralized and distributed. The reporting of security issues to ENISA and the intended propagation to other authorities and national administrations would collect all software vulnerabilities in one place. This greatly increases the risk of leaking information about vulnerabilities to threat actors, representing a threat for all the users around the world, including European citizens. d. Activists use Debian (e.g. through derivatives such as Tails), among other reasons, to protect themselves from authoritarian governments; handing threat actors exploits they can use for oppression is against what Debian stands for. e. Developers and companies will downplay security issues because a "security" issue now comes with legal implications. Less clarity on what is truly a security issue will hurt users by leaving them vulnerable.
  3. While proprietary software is developed behind closed doors, Free Software development is done in the open, transparent for everyone. To retain parity with proprietary software the open development process needs to be entirely exempt from CRA requirements, just as the development of software in private is. A "making available on the market" can only be considered after development is finished and the software is released.
  4. Even if only "commercial activities" are in the scope of CRA, the Free Software community - and as a consequence, everybody - will lose a lot of small projects. CRA will force many small enterprises and most probably all self employed developers out of business because they simply cannot fulfill the requirements imposed by CRA. Debian and other Linux distributions depend on their work. If accepted as it is, CRA will undermine not only an established community but also a thriving market. CRA needs an exemption for small businesses and, at the very least, solo-entrepreneurs.

Information about the voting process: Debian uses the Condorcet method for voting. Simplistically, plain Condorcets method can be stated like so : "Consider all possible two-way races between candidates. The Condorcet winner, if there is one, is the one candidate who can beat each other candidate in a two-way race with that candidate." The problem is that in complex elections, there may well be a circular relationship in which A beats B, B beats C, and C beats A. Most of the variations on Condorcet use various means of resolving the tie. Debian's variation is spelled out in the constitution, specifically, A.5(3) Sources: (1) CRA proposals and links & PLD proposals and links (2) Debian Social Contract No. 2, 3, and 4 (3) Debian Constitution

25 December 2023

Russ Allbery: Review: The Blackwing War

Review: The Blackwing War, by K.B. Spangler
Series: Deep Witches #1
Publisher: A Girl and Her Fed Books
Copyright: March 2021
ISBN: blackwing-war
Format: Kindle
Pages: 284
The Blackwing War is the first book of a projected space opera series. I previously reviewed Stoneskin, which was intended as a prelude to this series. In theory you can start here, but I would read Stoneskin first. Tembi is a Witch, which means she can ask the Deep to do things for her. At the start of the book, those things mostly involve disarming bombs. The galaxy is in the middle of a genocidal war between the well-equipped and all-but-officially supported Sagittarius Armed Forces, also known as the Blackwings, and the Sabenta resistance movement. To settle the galaxy, humans fiddled with their genes to adapt themselves to otherwise-hostile planets. The Blackwings take exception, in the tradition of racist humans throughout history, and think it's time to purify human bloodlines again. Both sides are using bombs. The Deep is the brilliant idea of this series. It seems to exist everywhere simultaneously, it's alive, it adores teleporting things, and it's basically a giant cosmic puppy. Humans are nearly incomprehensible to the Deep, and it's nearly incomprehensible to humans, but it somehow picks out specific humans who can (sort of) understand it and whom it gets attached to and somehow makes immortal. These are the Witches, and they have turned the Deep into the logistical backbone of human civilization. Essentially all commerce and travel is now done through Deep teleportation, requested by a Witch and coordinated by Lancaster, the Witches' governing council. The exception is war. Lancaster is strictly neutral; it does not take sides, even in the face of an ongoing genocide, and it refuses to transport military ships, any type of weapons, or even war refugees. Domino, Lancaster's cynically manipulative leader, is determined to protect its special privileges and position at all costs. Tembi is one of the quasi-leaders of a resistance against that position, but even they are reluctant to ask the Deep to take sides in a war. To them, the Deep is a living magical creature that they are exploiting, and which also tends to be a bundle of nerves. Using it as a weapon feels like a step too far. That's how the situation lies at the start of this book when, after a successful bomb defusing, the Deep whisks Tembi away to watch an unknown weapon blow up a moon. A lot of this book consists of Tembi unraveling a couple of mysteries, starting with the apparent experimental bomb and then expanding to include the apparent drugging and disappearance of her former classmate. The low-grade war gets worse throughout, leaving Tembi torn between the justifications for Lancaster's neutrality and her strong sense of basic morality. The moments when Tembi gets angry enough or impatient enough to take action are the best parts, but a lot of this book is quite grim. Do not expect all to be resolved in a happy ending. There is some catharsis, but The Blackwing War is also clearly setup for a longer series. Tembi is a great character and the Deep is even better. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about both of them, and Tembi's relationship with the Deep is a delight. Usually I get frustrated by baffling incomprehensibility as a plot devices, but Spangler pulls it off as well as I've seen it done. But unfortunately, this book is firmly in the "gets worse before it will get better" part of the overall story arc, and the sequels have not yet appeared. The Blackwing War ends on a cliffhanger that portends huge changes for the characters and the setting, and if I had the next book to rush into, I wouldn't mind the grimness as much. As is, it was a somewhat depressing reading experience despite its charms, and despite a somewhat optimistic ending (that I doubt will truly resolve anything). I think the world-building elements were a touch predictable, and I wish Spangler wouldn't have her characters keep trying to justify Domino's creepy, abusive, and manipulative actions. But the characters are so much fun, and the idea of the Deep as a character is such a delight, that I am hooked on this series regardless. Recommended, although I will (hopefully) be able to recommend it more heartily once at least one sequel has been published. Content warnings: genocide, racism, violent death. Rating: 7 out of 10

6 December 2023

Reproducible Builds: Reproducible Builds in November 2023

Welcome to the November 2023 report from the Reproducible Builds project! In these reports we outline the most important things that we have been up to over the past month. As a rather rapid recap, whilst anyone may inspect the source code of free software for malicious flaws, almost all software is distributed to end users as pre-compiled binaries (more).

Reproducible Builds Summit 2023 Between October 31st and November 2nd, we held our seventh Reproducible Builds Summit in Hamburg, Germany! Amazingly, the agenda and all notes from all sessions are all online many thanks to everyone who wrote notes from the sessions. As a followup on one idea, started at the summit, Alexander Couzens and Holger Levsen started work on a cache (or tailored front-end) for the snapshot.debian.org service. The general idea is that, when rebuilding Debian, you do not actually need the whole ~140TB of data from snapshot.debian.org; rather, only a very small subset of the packages are ever used for for building. It turns out, for amd64, arm64, armhf, i386, ppc64el, riscv64 and s390 for Debian trixie, unstable and experimental, this is only around 500GB ie. less than 1%. Although the new service not yet ready for usage, it has already provided a promising outlook in this regard. More information is available on https://rebuilder-snapshot.debian.net and we hope that this service becomes usable in the coming weeks. The adjacent picture shows a sticky note authored by Jan-Benedict Glaw at the summit in Hamburg, confirming Holger Levsen s theory that rebuilding all Debian packages needs a very small subset of packages, the text states that 69,200 packages (in Debian sid) list 24,850 packages in their .buildinfo files, in 8,0200 variations. This little piece of paper was the beginning of rebuilder-snapshot and is a direct outcome of the summit! The Reproducible Builds team would like to thank our event sponsors who include Mullvad VPN, openSUSE, Debian, Software Freedom Conservancy, Allotropia and Aspiration Tech.

Beyond Trusting FOSS presentation at SeaGL On November 4th, Vagrant Cascadian presented Beyond Trusting FOSS at SeaGL in Seattle, WA in the United States. Founded in 2013, SeaGL is a free, grassroots technical summit dedicated to spreading awareness and knowledge about free source software, hardware and culture. The summary of Vagrant s talk mentions that it will:
[ ] introduce the concepts of Reproducible Builds, including best practices for developing and releasing software, the tools available to help diagnose issues, and touch on progress towards solving decades-old deeply pervasive fundamental security issues Learn how to verify and demonstrate trust, rather than simply hoping everything is OK!
Germane to the contents of the talk, the slides for Vagrant s talk can be built reproducibly, resulting in a PDF with a SHA1 of cfde2f8a0b7e6ec9b85377eeac0661d728b70f34 when built on Debian bookworm and c21fab273232c550ce822c4b0d9988e6c49aa2c3 on Debian sid at the time of writing.

Human Factors in Software Supply Chain Security Marcel Fourn , Dominik Wermke, Sascha Fahl and Yasemin Acar have published an article in a Special Issue of the IEEE s Security & Privacy magazine. Entitled A Viewpoint on Human Factors in Software Supply Chain Security: A Research Agenda, the paper justifies the need for reproducible builds to reach developers and end-users specifically, and furthermore points out some under-researched topics that we have seen mentioned in interviews. An author pre-print of the article is available in PDF form.

Community updates On our mailing list this month:

openSUSE updates Bernhard M. Wiedemann has created a wiki page outlining an proposal to create a general-purpose Linux distribution which consists of 100% bit-reproducible packages albeit minus the embedded signature within RPM files. It would be based on openSUSE Tumbleweed or, if available, its Slowroll-variant. In addition, Bernhard posted another monthly update for his work elsewhere in openSUSE.

Ubuntu Launchpad now supports .buildinfo files Back in 2017, Steve Langasek filed a bug against Ubuntu s Launchpad code hosting platform to report that .changes files (artifacts of building Ubuntu and Debian packages) reference .buildinfo files that aren t actually exposed by Launchpad itself. This was causing issues when attempting to process .changes files with tools such as Lintian. However, it was noticed last month that, in early August of this year, Simon Quigley had resolved this issue, and .buildinfo files are now available from the Launchpad system.

PHP reproducibility updates There have been two updates from the PHP programming language this month. Firstly, the widely-deployed PHPUnit framework for the PHP programming language have recently released version 10.5.0, which introduces the inclusion of a composer.lock file, ensuring total reproducibility of the shipped binary file. Further details and the discussion that went into their particular implementation can be found on the associated GitHub pull request. In addition, the presentation Leveraging Nix in the PHP ecosystem has been given in late October at the PHP International Conference in Munich by Pol Dellaiera. While the video replay is not yet available, the (reproducible) presentation slides and speaker notes are available.

diffoscope changes diffoscope is our in-depth and content-aware diff utility that can locate and diagnose reproducibility issues. This month, Chris Lamb made a number of changes, including:
  • Improving DOS/MBR extraction by adding support for 7z. [ ]
  • Adding a missing RequiredToolNotFound import. [ ]
  • As a UI/UX improvement, try and avoid printing an extended traceback if diffoscope runs out of memory. [ ]
  • Mark diffoscope as stable on PyPI.org. [ ]
  • Uploading version 252 to Debian unstable. [ ]

Website updates A huge number of notes were added to our website that were taken at our recent Reproducible Builds Summit held between October 31st and November 2nd in Hamburg, Germany. In particular, a big thanks to Arnout Engelen, Bernhard M. Wiedemann, Daan De Meyer, Evangelos Ribeiro Tzaras, Holger Levsen and Orhun Parmaks z. In addition to this, a number of other changes were made, including:

Upstream patches The Reproducible Builds project detects, dissects and attempts to fix as many currently-unreproducible packages as possible. We endeavour to send all of our patches upstream where appropriate. This month, we wrote a large number of such patches, including:

Reproducibility testing framework The Reproducible Builds project operates a comprehensive testing framework (available at tests.reproducible-builds.org) in order to check packages and other artifacts for reproducibility. In October, a number of changes were made by Holger Levsen:
  • Debian-related changes:
    • Track packages marked as Priority: important in a new package set. [ ][ ]
    • Stop scheduling packages that fail to build from source in bookworm [ ] and bullseye. [ ].
    • Add old releases dashboard link in web navigation. [ ]
    • Permit re-run of the pool_buildinfos script to be re-run for a specific year. [ ]
    • Grant jbglaw access to the osuosl4 node [ ][ ] along with lynxis [ ].
    • Increase RAM on the amd64 Ionos builders from 48 GiB to 64 GiB; thanks IONOS! [ ]
    • Move buster to archived suites. [ ][ ]
    • Reduce the number of arm64 architecture workers from 24 to 16 in order to improve stability [ ], reduce the workers for amd64 from 32 to 28 and, for i386, reduce from 12 down to 8 [ ].
    • Show the entire build history of each Debian package. [ ]
    • Stop scheduling already tested package/version combinations in Debian bookworm. [ ]
  • Snapshot service for rebuilders
    • Add an HTTP-based API endpoint. [ ][ ]
    • Add a Gunicorn instance to serve the HTTP API. [ ]
    • Add an NGINX config [ ][ ][ ][ ]
  • System-health:
    • Detect failures due to HTTP 503 Service Unavailable errors. [ ]
    • Detect failures to update package sets. [ ]
    • Detect unmet dependencies. (This usually occurs with builds of Debian live-build.) [ ]
  • Misc-related changes:
    • do install systemd-ommd on jenkins. [ ]
    • fix harmless typo in squid.conf for codethink04. [ ]
    • fixup: reproducible Debian: add gunicorn service to serve /api for rebuilder-snapshot.d.o. [ ]
    • Increase codethink04 s Squid cache_dir size setting to 16 GiB. [ ]
    • Don t install systemd-oomd as it unfortunately kills sshd [ ]
    • Use debootstrap from backports when commisioning nodes. [ ]
    • Add the live_build_debian_stretch_gnome, debsums-tests_buster and debsums-tests_buster jobs to the zombie list. [ ][ ]
    • Run jekyll build with the --watch argument when building the Reproducible Builds website. [ ]
    • Misc node maintenance. [ ][ ][ ]
Other changes were made as well, however, including Mattia Rizzolo fixing rc.local s Bash syntax so it can actually run [ ], commenting away some file cleanup code that is (potentially) deleting too much [ ] and fixing the html_brekages page for Debian package builds [ ]. Finally, diagnosed and submitted a patch to add a AddEncoding gzip .gz line to the tests.reproducible-builds.org Apache configuration so that Gzip files aren t re-compressed as Gzip which some clients can t deal with (as well as being a waste of time). [ ]

If you are interested in contributing to the Reproducible Builds project, please visit our Contribute page on our website. However, you can get in touch with us via:

15 October 2023

Michael Ablassmeier: Testing system updates using libvirts checkpoint feature

If you want to test upgrades on virtual machines (running on libvit/qemu/kvm) these are usually the most common steps: As with recent versions, both libvirt and qemu have full support for dirty bitmaps (so called checkpoints). These checkpoints, once existent, will track changes to the block level layer and can be exported via NBD protocol. Usually one can create these checkpoints using virsh checkpoint-create[-as], with a proper xml description. Using the pull based model, the following is possible: The overlay image will only use the disk space for the blocks changed during upgrade: no need to create a full clone which may waste a lot of disk space. In order to simplify the first step, its possible to use virtnbdbackup for creating the required consistent checkpoint and export its data using a unix domain socket. Update: As alternative, ive just created a small utility called vircpt to create and export checkpoints. In my example im using a debian11 virtual machine with qemu guest agent configured:
# virsh list --all
 Id Name State 
 ------------------------------------------ 
 1 debian11_default running
Now let virtnbdbackup create an checkpoint, freeze the filesystems during creation and tell libvirt to provide us with a usable NBD server listening on an unix socket:
# virtnbdbackup -d debian11_default -o /tmp/foo -s
INFO lib common - printVersion [MainThread]: Version: 1.9.45 Arguments: ./virtnbdbackup -d debian11_default -o /tmp/foo -s
[..] 
INFO root virtnbdbackup - main [MainThread]: Local NBD Endpoint socket: [/var/tmp/virtnbdbackup.5727] 
INFO root virtnbdbackup - startBackupJob [MainThread]: Starting backup job.
INFO fs fs - freeze [MainThread]: Freezed [2] filesystems. 
INFO fs fs - thaw [MainThread]: Thawed [2] filesystems. 
INFO root virtnbdbackup - main [MainThread]: Started backup job for debugging, exiting.
We can now use nbdinfo to display some information about the NBD export:
# nbdinfo "nbd+unix:///vda?socket=/var/tmp/virtnbdbackup.5727" 
    protocol: newstyle-fixed without TLS, using structured packets 
    export="vda": 
    export-size: 137438953472 (128G) 
    content: 
        DOS/MBR boot sector uri: nbd+unix:///vda?socket=/var/tmp/virtnbdbackup.5727
And create a backing image that we can use to test an in-place upgrade:
# qemu-img create -F raw -b nbd+unix:///vda?socket=/var/tmp/virtnbdbackup.5727 -f qcow2 upgrade.qcow2
Now we have various ways for booting the image:
# qemu-system-x86_64 -hda upgrade.qcow2 -m 2500 --enable-kvm
image After performing the required tests within the virtual machine we can simply kill the active NBD backup job :
# virtnbdbackup -d debian11_default -o /tmp/foo -k
INFO lib common - printVersion [MainThread]: Version: 1.9.45 Arguments: ./virtnbdbackup -d debian11_default -o /tmp/foo -k 
[..]
INFO root virtnbdbackup - main [MainThread]: Stopping backup job
And remove the created qcow image:
# rm -f upgrade.qcow2

10 October 2023

Russ Allbery: Review: Chilling Effect

Review: Chilling Effect, by Valerie Valdes
Series: Chilling Effect #1
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Copyright: September 2019
Printing: 2020
ISBN: 0-06-287724-0
Format: Kindle
Pages: 420
Chilling Effect is a space opera, kind of; more on the genre classification in a moment. It is the first volume of a series, although it reaches a reasonable conclusion on its own. It was Valerie Valdes's first novel. Captain Eva Innocente's line of work used to be less than lawful, following in the footsteps of her father. She got out of that life and got her own crew and ship. Now, the La Sirena Negra and its crew do small transport jobs for just enough money to stay afloat. Or, maybe, a bit less than that, when the recipient of a crate full of psychic escape-artist cats goes bankrupt before she can deliver it and get paid. It's a marginal and tenuous life, but at least she isn't doing anything shady. Then the Fridge kidnaps her sister. The Fridge is a shadowy organization of extortionists whose modus operandi is to kidnap a family member of their target, stuff them in cryogenic suspension, and demand obedience lest the family member be sold off as indentured labor after a few decades as a popsicle. Eva will be given missions that she and her crew have to perform. If she performs them well, she will pay off the price of her sister's release. Eventually. Oh, and she's not allowed to tell anyone. I found it hard to place the subgenre of this novel more specifically than comedy-adventure. The technology fits space opera: there are psychic cats, pilots who treat ships as extensions of their own body, brain parasites, a random intergalactic warlord, and very few attempts to explain anything with scientific principles. However, the stakes aren't on the scale that space opera usually goes for. Eva and her crew aren't going to topple governments or form rebellions. They're just trying to survive in a galaxy full of abusive corporations, dodgy clients, and the occasional alien who requires you to carry extensive documentation to prove that you can't be hunted for meat. It is also, as you might guess from that description, occasionally funny. That part of the book didn't mesh for me. Eva is truly afraid for her sister, and some of the events in the book are quite sinister, but the antagonist is an organization called The Fridge that puts people in fridges. Sexual harassment in a bar turns into obsessive stalking by a crazed intergalactic warlord who frequently interrupts the plot by randomly blasting things with his fleet, which felt like something from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The stakes for Eva, and her frustrations at being dragged back into a life she escaped, felt too high for the wacky, comic descriptions of the problems she gets into. My biggest complaint, though, is that the plot is driven by people not telling other people critical information they should know. Eva is keeping major secrets from her crew for nearly the entire book. Other people are also keeping information from Eva. There is a romance subplot driven almost entirely by both parties refusing to talk to each other about the existence of a romance subplot. For some people, this is catnip, but it's one of my least favorite fictional tropes and I found much of the book both frustrating and stressful. Fictional characters keeping important secrets from each other apparently raises my blood pressure. One of the things I did like about this book is that Eva is Hispanic and speaks like it. She resorts to Spanish frequently for curses, untranslatable phrases, aphorisms, derogatory comments, and similar types of emotional communication that don't feel right in a second language. Most of the time one can figure out the meaning from context, but Valdes doesn't feel obligated to hold the reader's hand and explain everything. I liked that. I think this approach is more viable in these days of ebook readers that can attempt translations on demand, and I think it does a lot to make Eva feel like a real person. I think the characters are the best part of this book, once one gets past the frustration of their refusal to talk to each other. Eva and the alien ship engineer get the most screen time, but Pink, Eva's honest-to-a-fault friend, was probably my favorite character. I also really enjoyed Min, the ship pilot whose primary goal is to be able to jack into the ship and treat it as her body, and otherwise doesn't particularly care about the rest of the plot as long as she gets paid. A lot of books about ship crews like this one lean hard into found family. This one felt more like a group of coworkers, with varying degrees of friendship and level of interest in their shared endeavors, but without the too-common shorthand of making the less-engaged crew members either some type of villain or someone who needs to be drawn out and turned into a best friend or love interest. It's okay for a job to just be a job, even if it's one where you're around the same people all the time. People who work on actual ships do it all the time. This is a half-serious, half-comic action romp that turned out to not be my thing, but I can see why others will enjoy it. Be prepared for a whole lot of communication failures and an uneven emotional tone, but if you're looking for a space-ships-and-aliens story that doesn't take itself very seriously and has some vague YA vibes, this may work for you. Followed by Prime Deceptions, although I didn't like this well enough to read on. Rating: 6 out of 10

27 August 2023

Shirish Agarwal: FSCKing /home

There is a bit of context that needs to be shared before I get to this and would be a long one. For reasons known and unknown, I have a lot of sudden electricity outages. Not just me, all those who are on my line. A discussion with a lineman revealed that around 200+ families and businesses are on the same line and when for whatever reason the electricity goes for all. Even some of the traffic lights don t work. This affects software more than hardware or in some cases, both. And more specifically HDD s are vulnerable. I had bought an APC unit several years for precisely this, but over period of time it just couldn t function and trips also when the electricity goes out. It s been 6-7 years so can t even ask customer service to fix the issue and from whatever discussions I have had with APC personnel, the only meaningful difference is to buy a new unit but even then not sure this is an issue that can be resolved, even with that. That comes to the issue that happens once in a while where the system fsck is unable to repair /home and you need to use an external pen drive for the same. This is my how my hdd stacks up
/ is on dev/sda7 /boot is on /dev/sda6, /boot/efi is on /dev/sda2 and /home is on /dev/sda8 so theoretically, if /home for some reason doesn t work I should be able drop down on /dev/sda7, unmount /dev/sda8, run fsck and carry on with my work. I tried it number of times but it didn t work. I was dropping down on tty1 and attempting the same, no dice as root/superuser getting the barest x-term. So first I tried asking couple of friends who live nearby me. Unfortunately, both are MS-Windows users and both use what are called as company-owned laptops . Surfing on those systems were a nightmare. Especially the number of pop-ups of ads that the web has become. And to think about how much harassment ublock origin has saved me over the years. One of the more interesting bits from both their devices were showing all and any downloads from fosshub was showing up as malware. I dunno how much of that is true or not as haven t had to use it as most software we get through debian archives or if needed, download from github or wherever and run/install it and you are in business. Some of them even get compiled into a good .deb package but that s outside the conversation atm. My only experience with fosshub was few years before the pandemic and that was good. I dunno if fosshub really has malware or malwarebytes was giving false positives. It also isn t easy to upload a 600 MB+ ISO file somewhere to see whether it really has malware or not. I used to know of a site or two where you could upload a suspicious file and almost 20-30 famous and known antivirus and anti-malware engines would check it and tell you the result. Unfortunately, I have forgotten the URL and seeing things from MS-Windows perspective, things have gotten way worse than before. So left with no choice, I turned to the local LUG for help. Fortunately, my mobile does have e-mail and I could use gmail to solicit help. While there could have been any number of live CD s that could have helped but one of my first experiences with GNU/Linux was that of Knoppix that I had got from Linux For You (now known as OSFY) sometime in 2003. IIRC, had read an interview of Mr. Klaus Knopper as well and was impressed by it. In those days, Debian wasn t accessible to non-technical users then and Knoppix was a good tool to see it. In fact, think he was the first to come up with the idea of a Live CD and run with it while Canonical/Ubuntu took another 2 years to do it. I think both the CD and the interview by distrowatch was shared by LFY in those early days. Of course, later the story changes after he got married, but I think that is more about Adriane rather than Knoppix. So Vishal Rao helped me out. I got an HP USB 3.2 32GB Type C OTG Flash Drive x5600c (Grey & Black) from a local hardware dealer around similar price point. The dealer is a big one and has almost 200+ people scattered around the city doing channel sales who in turn sell to end users. Asking one of the representatives about their opinion on stopping electronic imports (apparently more things were added later to the list including all sorts of sundry items from digital cameras to shavers and whatnot.) The gentleman replied that he hopes that it would not happen otherwise more than 90% would have to leave their jobs. They already have started into lighting fixtures (LED bulbs, tubelights etc.) but even those would come in the same ban  The main argument as have shared before is that Indian Govt. thinks we need our home grown CPU and while I have no issues with that, as shared before except for RISC-V there is no other space where India could look into doing that. Especially after the Chip Act, Biden has made that any new fabs or any new thing in chip fabrication will only be shared with Five Eyes only. Also, while India is looking to generate about 2000 GW by 2030 by solar, China has an ambitious 20,000 GW generation capacity by the end of this year and the Chinese are the ones who are actually driving down the module prices. The Chinese are also automating their factories as if there s no tomorrow. The end result of both is that China will continue to be the world s factory floor for the foreseeable future and whoever may try whatever policies, it probably is gonna be difficult to compete with them on prices of electronic products. That s the reason the U.S. has been trying so that China doesn t get the latest technology but that perhaps is a story for another day.

HP USB 3.2 Type C OTG Flash Drive x5600c For people who have had read this blog they know that most of the flash drives today are MLC Drives and do not have the longevity of the SLC Drives. For those who maybe are new, this short brochure/explainer from Kingston should enhance your understanding. SLC Drives are rare and expensive. There are also a huge number of counterfeit flash drives available in the market and almost all the companies efforts whether it s Kingston, HP or any other manufacturer, they have been like a drop in the bucket. Coming back to the topic at hand. While there are some tools that can help you to figure out whether a pen drive is genuine or not. While there are products that can tell you whether they are genuine or not (basically by probing the memory controller and the info. you get from that.) that probably is a discussion left for another day. It took me couple of days and finally I was able to find time to go Vishal s place. The journey of back and forth lasted almost 6 hours, with crazy traffic jams. Tells you why Pune or specifically the Swargate, Hadapsar patch really needs a Metro. While an in-principle nod has been given, it probably is more than 5-7 years or more before we actually have a functioning metro. Even the current route the Metro has was supposed to be done almost 5 years to the date and even the modified plan was of 3 years ago. And even now, most of the Stations still need a lot of work to be done. PMC, Deccan as examples etc. still have loads to be done. Even PMT (Pune Muncipal Transport) that that is supposed to do the last mile connections via its buses has been putting half-hearted attempts

Vishal Rao While Vishal had apparently seen me and perhaps we had also interacted, this was my first memory of him although we have been on a few boards now and then including stackexchange. He was genuine and warm and shared 4-5 distros with me, including Knoppix and System Rescue as shared by Arun Khan. While this is and was the first time I had heard about Ventoy apparently Vishal has been using it for couple of years now. It s a simple shell script that you need to download and run on your pen drive and then just dump all the .iso images. The easiest way to explain ventoy is that it looks and feels like Grub. Which also reminds me an interaction I had with Vishal on mobile. While troubleshooting the issue, I was unsure whether it was filesystem that was the issue or also systemd was corrupted. Vishal reminded me of putting fastboot to the kernel parameters to see if I m able to boot without fscking and get into userspace i.e. /home. Although journalctl and systemctl were responding even on tty1 still was a bit apprehensive. Using fastboot was able to mount the whole thing and get into userspace and that told me that it s only some of the inodes that need clearing and there probably are some orphaned inodes. While Vishal had got a mini-pc he uses that a server, downloads stuff to it and then downloads stuff from it. From both privacy, backup etc. it is a better way to do things but then you need to laptop to access it. I am sure he probably uses it for virtualization and other ways as well but we just didn t have time for that discussion. Also a mini-pc can set you back anywhere from 25 to 40k depending on the mini-pc and the RAM and the SSD. And you need either a lappy or an Raspberry Pi with some kinda visual display to interact with the mini-pc. While he did share some of the things, there probably could have been a far longer interaction just on that but probably best left for another day. Now at my end, the system I had bought is about 5-6 years old. At that time it only had 6 USB 2.0 drives and 2 USB 3.0 (A) drives.
The above image does tell of the various form factors. One of the other things is that I found the pendrive and its connectors to be extremely fiddly. It took me number of times fiddling around with it when I was finally able to put in and able to access the pen drive partitions. Unfortunately, was unable to see/use systemrescue but Knoppix booted up fine. I mounted the partitions briefly to see where is what and sure enough /dev/sda8 showed my /home files and folders. Unmounted it, then used $fsck -y /dev/sda8 and back in business. This concludes what happened. Updates Quite a bit was left out on the original post, part of which I didn t know and partly stuff which is interesting and perhaps need a blog post of their own. It s sad I won t be part of debconf otherwise who knows what else I would have come to know.
  1. One of the interesting bits that I came to know about last week is the Alibaba T-Head T-Head TH1520 RISC-V CPU and saw it first being demoed on a laptop and then a standalone tablet. The laptop is an interesting proposition considering Alibaba opened up it s chip thing only couple of years ago. To have an SOC within 18 months and then under production for lappies and tablets is practically unheard of especially of a newbie/startup. Even AMD took 3-4 years for its first chip.It seems they (Alibaba) would be parceling them out by quarter end 2023 and another 1000 pieces/Units first quarter next year, while the scale is nothing compared to the behemoths, I think this would be more as a matter of getting feedback on both the hardware and software. The value proposition is much better than what most of us get, at least in India. For example, they are doing a warranty for 5 years and also giving spare parts. RISC-V has been having a lot of resurgence in China in part as its an open standard and partly development will be far cheaper and faster than trying x86 or x86-64. If you look into both the manufacturers, due to monopoly, both of them now give 5-8% increment per year, and if you look back in history, you would find that when more chips were in competition, they used to give 15-20% performance increment per year.
2. While Vishal did share with me what he used and the various ways he uses the mini-pc, I did have a fun speculating on what he could use it. As shared by Romane as his case has shared, the first thing to my mind was backups. Filesystems are notorious in the sense they can be corrupted or can be prone to be corrupted very easily as can be seen above  . Backups certainly make a lot of sense, especially rsync. The other thing that came to my mind was having some sort of A.I. and chat server. IIRC, somebody has put quite a bit of open source public domain data in debian servers that could be used to run either a chatbot or an A.I. or both and use that similar to how chatGPT but with much limited scope than what chatgpt uses. I was also thinking a media server which Vishal did share he does. I may probably visit him sometime to see what choices he did and what he learned in the process, if anything. Another thing that could be done is just take a dump of any of commodity markets or any markets and have some sort of predictive A.I. or whatever. A whole bunch of people have scammed thousands of Indian users on this, but if you do it on your own and for your own purposes to aid you buy and sell stocks or whatever commodity you may fancy. After all, nowadays markets themselves are virtual. While Vishal s mini-pc doesn t have any graphics, if it was an AMD APU mini-pc, something like this he could have hosted games in the way of thick server, thin client where all graphics processing happens on the server rather than the client. With virtual reality I think the case for the same case could be made or much more. The only problem with VR/AR is that we don t really have mass-market googles, eye pieces or headset. The only notable project that Google has/had in that place is the Google VR Cardboard headset and the experience is not that great or at least was not that great few years back when I could hear and experience the same. Most of the VR headsets say for example the Meta Quest 2 is for around INR 44k/- while Quest 3 is INR 50k+ and officially not available. As have shared before, the holy grail of VR would be when it falls below INR 10k/- so it becomes just another accessory, not something you really have to save for. There also isn t much content on that but then that is also the whole chicken or egg situation. This again is a non-stop discussion as so much has been happening in that space it needs its own blog post/article whatever. Till later.

4 August 2023

Shirish Agarwal: License Raj 2.0, 2023

About a week back Jio launched a laptop called JioBook that will be manufactured in China
The most interesting thing is that the whole thing will be produced in Hunan, China. Then 3 days later India mandates a licensing requirement for Apple, Dell and other laptop/tablet manufacturers. And all of these in the guise of Make in India . It is similar how India has exempted Adani and the Tatas from buying as much solar cells as are needed and then sell the same in India. Reliance will be basically monopolizing the laptop business. And if people think that projects like Raspberry Pi, Arduino etc. will be exempted they have another think coming.

History of License Raj After India became free, in the 1980s the Congress wanted to open its markets to the world just like China did. But at that time, the BJP, though small via Jan Sangh made the argument that we are not ready for the world. The indian businessman needs a bit more time. And hence a compromise was made. The compromise was simple. Indian Industry and people who wanted to get anything from the west, needed a license. This was very much in line how the Russian economy was evolving. All the three nations, India, China and Russia were on similar paths. China broke away where it opened up limited markets for competition and gave state support to its firms. Russia and Japan on the other hand, kept their markets relatively closed. The same thing happened in India, what happened in Russia and elsewhere. The businessman got what he wanted, he just corrupted the system. Reliance, the conglomerate today abused the same system as much as it could. Its defence was to be seen as the small guy. I wouldn t go into that as that itself would be a big story in itself. Whatever was sold in India was sold with huge commissions and just like Russia scarcity became the order of the day. Monopolies flourished and competition was nowhere. These remained till 1991 when Prime Minister Mr. Manmohan Singh was forced to liberalize and open up the markets. Even at that time, the RSS through its Swadeshi Jagran Manch was sharing the end of the world prophecies for the Indian businessman.

2014 Current Regime In 2010, in U.K. the Conservative party came in power under the leadership of David Cameron who was influenced by the policies of Margaret Thatcher who arguably ditched manufacturing in the UK. David Cameron and his party did the same 2010 onwards but for public services under the name austerity. India has been doing the same. The inequality has gone up while people s purchasing power has gone drastically down. CMIE figures are much more drastic and education is a joke.
Add to that since 2016 funding for scientists have gone to the dogs and now they are even playing with doctor s careers. I do not have to remind people that a woman scientist took almost a quarter century to find a drug delivery system that others said was impossible. And she did it using public finance. Science is hard. I have already shared in a previous blog post how it took the Chinese 20 years to reach where they are and somehow we think we will be able to both China and Japan. Of the 160 odd countries that are on planet earth, only a handful of countries have both the means and the knowledge to use and expand on that. While I was not part of Taiwan Debconf, later I came to know that even Taiwan in many ways is similar to Japan in the sense that a majority of its population is stuck in low-paid jobs (apart from those employed in TSMC) which is similar to Keiretsu or Chabeol from either Japan or South Korea. In all these cases, only a small percentage of the economy is going forward while the rest is stagnating or even going backwards. Similar is the case in India as well  Unlike the Americans who chose the path to have more competition, we have chosen the path to have more monopolies. So even though, I very much liked Louis es project sooner or later finding the devices itself would be hard. While the recent notification is for laptops, what stops them from doing the same with mobiles or even desktop systems. As it is, both smartphones as well as desktop systems has been contracting since last year as food inflation has gone up. Add to that availability of products has been made scarce (whether by design or not, unknown.) The end result, the latest processor launched overseas becomes the new thing here 3-4 years later. And that was before this notification. This will only decrease competition and make Ambanis rich at cost of everyone else. So much for east of doing business . Also the backlash has been pretty much been tepid. So what I shared will probably happen again sooner or later. The only interesting thing is that it s based on Android, probably in part due to the issues people seeing in both Windows 10, 11 and whatnot. Till later. Update :- The print tried a decluttering but instead cluttered the topic. While what he shared all was true, and certainly it is a step backwards but he didn t need to show how most Indians had to go to RBI for the same. I remember my Mamaji doing the same and sharing afterwards that all he had was $100 for a day which while being a big sum was paltry if you were staying in a hotel and were there for company business. He survived on bananas and whatver cheap veg. he could find then. This is almost 35-40 odd years ago. As shared the Govt. has been doing missteps for quite sometime now. The print does try to take a balanced take so it doesn t run counter of the Government but even it knows that this is a bad take. The whole thing about security is just laughable, did they wake up after 9 years. And now in its own wisdom it apparently has shifted the ban instead from now to 3 months afterwards. Of course, most people on the right just applauding without understanding the complexities and implications of the same. Vendors like Samsung and Apple who have made assembly operations would do a double-think and shift to Taiwan, Vietnam, Mexico anywhere. Global money follows global trends. And such missteps do not help

Implications in A.I. products One of the things that has not been thought about how companies that are making A.I. products in India or even MNC s will suffer. Most of them right now are in stealth mode but are made for Intel or AMD or ARM depending upon how it works for them. There is nothing to tell if the companies made their plea and was it heard or unheard. If the Government doesn t revert it then sooner or later they would either have to go abroad or cash out/sell to somebody else. Some people on the right also know this but for whatever reason have chosen to remain silent. Till later

Next.