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Joachim Breitner: ICFP 2014

7 September, 2014 - 06:15

Another on-my-the-journey-back blog post; this time from the Frankfurt Airport Train Station – my flight was delayed (if I knew that I could have watched the remaining Lightning Talks), and so was my train, but despite 5min of running through the Airport just not enough. And now that the free 30 Minutes of Railway Station Internet are used up, I have nothing else to do but blog...

Last week I was attending ICFP 2014 in Gothenburg, followed by the Haskell Symposium and the Haskell Implementors Workshop. The justification to attend was the paper on Safe Coercions (joint work with Richard Eisenberg, Simon Peyton Jones and Stephanie Weirich), although Richard got to hold the talk, and did so quite well. So I got to leisurely attend the talks, while fighting the jet-lag that I brought from Portland.

There were – as expected – quite a few interesting talks. Among them the first keynote, Kathleen Fisher on the need for formal methods in cars and toy-quadcopters and unmanned battle helicopters, which made me conclude that my Isabelle skills might eventually become relevant in practical applications. And did you know that if someone gains access to your car’s electronics, they can make the seat belt pull you back hard?

Stefanie Weirich’s keynote (and the subsequent related talks by Jan Stolarek and Richard Eisenberg) on what a dependently typed Haskell would look like and what we could use it for was mouth-watering. I am a bit worried that Haskell will be become a bit obscure for newcomers and people that simply don’t want to think about types too much, on the other hand it seems that Haskell as we know it will always stay there, just as a subset of the language.

Similarly interesting were refinement types for Haskell (talks by Niki Vazou and by Eric Seidel), in the form of LiquidTypes, something that I have not paid attention to yet. It seems to be a good way for more high assurance in Haskell code.

Finally, the Haskell Implementors Workshop had a truckload of exciting developments in and around Haskell: More on GHCJS, Partial type signatures, interactive type-driven development like we know it from Agda, the new Haskell module system and amazing user-defined error messages – the latter unfortunately only in Helium, at least for now.

But it’s not the case that I only sat and listened. During the Haskell Implementors Workshop I held a talk “Contributing to GHC” with a live demo of me fixing a (tiny) bug in GHC, with the aim of getting more people to hack on GHC. The main message here is that it is not that big of deal. And despite me not actually saying much interesting in the talk, I got good feedback afterwards. So if it now actually motivates someone to contribute to GHC, I’m even more happier.

And then there is of course the Hallway Track. I discussed the issues with fusing a left fold (unfortunately, without a great solution). In order to tackle this problem more systematically, John Wiegley and I created the beginning of a “List Fusion Lab”, i.e. a bunch of list benchmark and the possibility to compare various implementations (e.g. with different RULES) and various compilers. With that we can hopefully better assess the effect of a change to the list functions.

PS: The next train is now also delayed, so I’ll likely miss my tram and arrive home even later...

PPS: I really have to update my 10 year old picture on my homepage (or redesign it completely). Quite a few people knew my name, but expected someone with shoulder-long hair...

PPPS: Haskell is really becoming mainstream: I just talked to a randomly chosen person (the boy sitting next to me in the train), and he is a Haskell enthusiast, building a structured editor for Haskell together with his brother. And all that as a 12th-grader...

Jonathan McDowell: Breaking up with America

7 September, 2014 - 06:00

Back in January I changed jobs. This took me longer to decide to do than it should have. My US visa (an L-1B) was tied to the old job, and not transferable, so leaving the old job also meant leaving the US. That was hard to do; I'd had a mostly fun 3 and a half years in the SF Bay Area.

The new job had an office in Belfast, and HQ in the Bay Area. I went to work in Belfast, and got sent out to the US to meet coworkers and generally get up to speed. During that visit the company applied for an H-1B visa for me. This would have let me return to the US in October 2014 and start working in the US office; up until that point I'd have continued to work from Belfast. Unfortunately there were 172,500 applications for 85,000 available visas and mine was not selected for processing.

I'm disappointed by this. I've enjoyed my time in the US. I had a green card application in process, but after nearly 2 years it still hadn't completed the initial hurdle of the labor certification stage (a combination of a number of factors, human, organizational and governmental). However the effort of returning to live here seems too great for the benefits gained. I can work for a US company with a non-US office and return on an L-1B after a year. And once again have to leave should I grow out of the job, or the job change in some way that doesn't suit me, or the company hit problems and have to lay me off. Or I can try again for an H-1B next year, aiming for an October 2015 return, and hope that this time my application gets selected for processing.

Neither really appeals. Both involve putting things on hold in the hope longer terms pans out as I hope. And to be honest I'm bored of that. I've loved living in America, but I ended up spending at least 6 months longer in the job I left in January than I'd have done if I'd been freely able to change employer without having to change continent. So it seems the time has come to accept that America and I must part ways, sad as that is. Which is why I'm currently sitting in SFO waiting for a flight back to Belfast and for the first time in 5 years not having any idea when I might be back in the US.

Thomas Goirand: Debconf 14 activity

7 September, 2014 - 01:42

Before I start a short listing of (some of) the stuff I did during Debconf 14, I’d like to say how much I enjoyed everyone there. You guys (all of you, really!) are just awesome, and it’s always a real pleasure to see you all, each time.

Anyway, here’s a bits of the stuff I did.

1/ packaging of Google Cloud Engine client tools.

Thanks to the presence of Eric and Jimmy, I was able to finish the work I started at Debconf 13 last year. All python modules are packaged and uploaded. Only the final client (the “gcloud” command line utility) isn’t uploaded, even though it’s already packaged. The reason is that this client downloads “stuff” from internet, so I need to get the full, bundled, version of it, to avoid this. Eric gave me the link, I just didn’t have time to finish it yet. Though the (unfinished) package is already in the Git in Alioth.

2/ Tasksel talks

We discussed improvements in Tasksel both during the conference, and later (in front of beers…). I was able to add a custom task on a modified version of the Tasksel package for my own use. I volunteered myself for adding a “more task” option in Tasksel for Jessie+1 because I really would like to see this feature, and nobody raised hand, but honestly, I have no idea how to do it, and therefore, I’m not sure I’ll be able to do so. We’ll see… Anyway, before this happen, we must make sure that we know what kind of tasks we want in this “more tasks” screen, otherwise it’d be useless work for nothing. Therefore, I have setup a wiki page. Please edit the page and drop your ideas there. I’ve already added entries for desktops and Debian blends, but I’m sure there’s more that we could add.

3/ Custom Debian CD

I started experimentation on building my own Debian Wheezy CD image (well, DVD, since the resulting image is nearly 2GB). This was fun, but I am still having the issue that the installer fails to install Dash, so the CD is still unusable. I’ll try to debug it. Oh…  I nearly forgot… “of course”, the ISO image aims at including all OpenStack Icehouce packages backported to Wheezy, and the goal was to include the above custom Tasksel task, with an “OpenStack proxy node” task, and a “OpenStack compute” task. Let’s hope I can figure out what the issue is, and finally release it.

4/ OpenStack talk

Nothing special to say, just watch the video. I hope my talk was interesting enough. Of course, after watching myself, I hate everything I see, and would like to correct so many mistakes, but that’s the usual, I guess.

5/ Some RC fixing

Thanks to the nice work of our DPL rebuilding all the archive, I had to fix a couple of FTBFS issues on my own packages. 3 of them have been easy to fix (2 missing build-dependencies which I missed because my automated build environment has them by default, and a unit test failure), I still don’t understand what’s going on with Ceilometer. I also NMU-ed transmission (switching from 2.82 to 2.84, as upstream had the bugfix, and current maintainer was not responsive) which was the last blocker for the miniupnpc transition to Jessie. After the 5 days delay of the upload, it went in Sid, then migrated to Jessie, together with the miniupnpc library. I also fixed a trivial RC bug with python3-webob.

6/ Python team meeting

It was nice to see everyone, and hopefully, we’ll soon implement what we discussed. I hope to start migrating some of my OpenStack dependencies to the team once we move to Git (though please don’t expect this to happen before the Juno release, which keeps me very busy these days).

There’s probably more stuff which I did during Debconf 14 (hacking or otherwise), but either it’s not worth sharing, or I can’t remember… :)

Russ Allbery: Accumulated hauls

6 September, 2014 - 12:38

I haven't made one of these in a long time, so I have some catching from random purchases to do, which includes a (repurposed) nice parting gift from my previous employer and a trip to Powell's since I was in the area for DebConf14. This also includes the contents of the Hugo voter's packet, which contained a wide variety of random stuff even if some of the novels were represented only by excerpts.

John Joseph Adams (ed.) — The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination (sff anthology)
Roger McBride Allen — The Ring of Charon (sff)
Roger McBride Allen — The Shattered Sphere (sff)
Iain M. Banks — The Hydrogen Sonata (sff)
Julian Barnes — The Sense of an Ending (mainstream)
M. David Blake (ed.) — 2014 Campbellian Anthology (sff anthology)
Algis Budrys — Benchmarks Continued (non-fiction)
Algis Budrys — Benchmarks Revisited (non-fiction)
Algis Budrys — Benchmarks Concluded (non-fiction)
Edgar Rice Burroughs — Carson of Venus (sff)
Wesley Chu — The Lives of Tao (sff)
Ernest Cline — Ready Player One (sff)
Larry Correia — Hard Magic (sff)
Larry Correia — Spellbound (sff)
Larry Correia — Warbound (sff)
Sigrid Ellis & Michael Damien Thomas (ed.) — Queer Chicks Dig Time Lords (non-fiction)
Neil Gaiman — The Ocean at the End of the Lane (sff)
Max Gladstone — Three Parts Dead (sff)
Max Gladstone — Two Serpents Rise (sff)
S.L. Huang — Zero Sum Game (sff)
Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson — The Wheel of Time (sff)
Drew Karpyshyn — Mass Effect: Revelation (sff)
Justin Landon & Jared Shurin (ed.) — Speculative Fiction 2012 (non-fiction)
John J. Lumpkin — Through Struggle, the Stars (sff)
L. David Marquet — Turn the Ship Around! (non-fiction)
George R.R. Martin & Raya Golden — Meathouse Man (graphic novel)
Ramez Naam — Nexus (sff)
Eiichiro Oda — One Piece Volume 1 (manga)
Eiichiro Oda — One Piece Volume 2 (manga)
Eiichiro Oda — One Piece Volume 3 (manga)
Eiichiro Oda — One Piece Volume 4 (manga)
Alexei Panshin — New Celebrations (sff)
K.J. Parker — Devices and Desires (sff)
K.J. Parker — Evil for Evil (sff)
Sofia Samatar — A Stranger in Olondria (sff)
John Scalzi — The Human Division (sff)
Jonathan Straham (ed.) — Fearsome Journeys (sff anthology)
Vernor Vinge — The Children of the Sky (sff)
Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan — Demo (graphic novel)
Charles Yu — How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (sff)

A whole bunch of this is from the Hugo voter's packet, and since the Hugos are over, much of that probably won't get prioritized. (I was very happy with the results of the voting, though.)

Other than that, it's a very random collection of stuff, including a few things that I picked up based on James Nicoll's reviews. Now that I have a daily train commute, I should pick up the pace of reading, and as long as I can find enough time in my schedule to also write reviews, hopefully there will be more content in this blog shortly.

Craig Small: WordPress 4.0 for Debian

5 September, 2014 - 19:35

Yesterday WordPress released version 4.0 or “Benny” of WordPress. I have now downloaded it and packed up for Debian users. The files just hit the ftp-master a few minutes ago and will then be distributed out to the various Debian mirrors.

The upgrade should go smoothly but you will probably need to upgrade the twentytwelve/twentyfourteen themes if you have them installed. It seems release 4.0 they also updated these themes.

My next Debian task for wordpress is to re-examine the permissions and locations of wp-content to see if we can have something that permits online updates but is still FHS compliant. I’ve also had some people report they have some installation problems, mainly around configuration and directories so let’s see if that can get fixed too.

 

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Wouter Verhelst: ASCII art Wouter

5 September, 2014 - 18:20
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You know you're doing a fun gig when you get to do things like the above on billable hours.

Full story: writing a test suite for reading data from eID cards. It makes sense to decode the JPEG data which you read from the card, so that you know there's no error in the lower-layer subroutines (which would result in corruption). And since we've decoded it anyway, why not show it in the test suite log? Right.

Junichi Uekawa: Bluetooth network error.

5 September, 2014 - 05:19
Bluetooth network error. I think it's a network-manager feature to be able to use bluetooth tethering. I think it's a network-manager bug that when bluetooth tethering fails due to some error, and does not report that error. Yesterday I finally figured out what was going wrong after staring at hcidump. It was obvious after I did. I've reset my tablet so bluetooth PIN was wrong. If only the GUI told me that.

Junichi Uekawa: I wanted to file a bug but Debian BTS doesn't seem toreceive my SMTP mail for some reason.

5 September, 2014 - 05:18
I wanted to file a bug but Debian BTS doesn't seem to receive my SMTP mail for some reason. Somewhere between the MTA and the server something is wrong.

Steve Kemp: If you signed my old key, please consider repeating the process

5 September, 2014 - 01:08

I'm in the process of rejoining the Debian project. When I was previously a member I had a 1024-bit key, which is considered to be a poor size these days.

Happily I've already generated a new key, which is much bigger.

If you've signed my old key, and thus trust my identity was confirmed at some point in time, then please do consider repeating the process with the new one.

As I've signed the new with the old there should be no concern that it is random/spurious/malicious.

Obviously the ideal scenario is that I meet local-people to perform signing rites, in exchange for cake, beer, or other bribery.

Old key:

pub   1024D/CD4C0D9D 2002-05-29
      Key fingerprint = DB1F F3FB 1D08 FC01 ED22  2243 C0CF C6B3 CD4C 0D9D
uid                  Steve Kemp <steve@steve.org.uk>
sub   2048g/AC995563 2002-05-29

New key:

pub   4096R/0C626242 2014-03-24
      Key fingerprint = D516 C42B 1D0E 3F85 4CAB  9723 1909 D408 0C62 6242
uid                  Steve Kemp (Edinburgh, Scotland) <steve@steve.org.uk>
sub   4096R/229A4066 2014-03-24

Joseph Bisch: My First Package

4 September, 2014 - 22:14

I got my first package uploaded to Debian this week. That package is winetricks. It was orphaned and I adopted it. Now the lastest version (0.0+20140818+svn1202) is available in sid and should migrate to testing in nine days.

I moved the vcs from collab-maint to a personal repo, since I don’t have access to collab-maint.

I also have a sponsor for slowaes. It is also a package that was orphaned that I am adopting. The changes I made are more minor than those for winetricks. Besides adding myself as a maintainer, I just fix some lintian warnings. Slowaes should be uploaded soon.

Jakub Wilk: Joys of East Asian encodings

4 September, 2014 - 20:01

In i18nspector I try to support all the encodings that were blessed by gettext, but it turns out to be more difficult than I anticipated:

$ roundtrip() { c=$(echo $1 | iconv -t $2); printf '%s -> %s -> %s\n' $1 $c $(echo $c | iconv -f "$2"); }

$ roundtrip ¥ EUC-JP
¥ -> \ -> \

$ roundtrip ¥ SHIFT_JIS
¥ -> \ -> ¥

$ roundtrip ₩ JOHAB
₩ -> \ -> ₩

Now let's do the same in Python:

$ python3 -q
>>> roundtrip = lambda s, e: print('%s -> %s -> %s' % (s, s.encode(e).decode('ASCII', 'replace'), s.encode(e).decode(e)))
>>> roundtrip('¥', 'EUC-JP')
¥ -> \ -> \
>>> roundtrip('¥', 'SHIFT_JIS')
¥ -> \ -> \
>>> roundtrip('₩', 'JOHAB')
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <module>
  File "<stdin>", line 1, in <lambda>
UnicodeEncodeError: 'johab' codec can't encode character '\u20a9' in position 0: illegal multibyte sequence

So is 0x5C a backslash or a yen/won sign? Or both?

And what if 0x5C could be a second byte of a two-byte character? What could possibly go wrong?

Adnan Hodzic: Debian PPA Utility

4 September, 2014 - 19:55

Debian remains to be my favorite distribution, however there’s one thing that’s missing, that thing is called PPA.

There were numerous discussions on this topic inside of Debian, but AFAIK without any visible movement. Thus, I decided to publish a utility I’ve been using for some time now.

PPA’s

Since its introduction, PPA’s are exclusively connected to Ubuntu and its derivatives (Mint, Elementary, etc …). But over time, a number of interesting projects appeared whose whole development is happening inside of PPA’s. To name few, I’m talking about TLP, Geary, Oracle Java Installer, Elementary OS and etc … Some of these projects are in WNPP without much happening for a long time, i.e: TLP

One option was to repackage these packages and then have them uploaded to Debian, or just go rogue and install them directly from its PPA’s. Title of this post might hint which path I took.

In theory, adding Ubuntu packages on your Debian system is a bad idea, and adding its PPA’s is probably even worse. But, I’ve been using couple (TLP, Geary, couple of custom icon sets) of these PPA’s on my personal/work boxes, and to be honest, never had a single problem.

Most of the PPA’s I use, are usually fairly simple packages with single binary and dependencies which are found in Debian itself. Of course, I don’t recommend adding PPA’s on production boxes, or even PPA’s such as GNOME3 Team PPA’s, but rather add APT Pinning on your system and fetch those packages directly from Debian.

Debian PPA Utility

Is a very simple utility, which adds “add-apt-repository” binary that allows you to add PPA’s on Debian. Code is available on GitHub, it’s licensed as GPLv3, so feel free to fork it, improve it, use it and abuse it.

How to use it?

Download/Build package

You can download my signed package (source and changes file are in same directory)

Or you can build your own by running "dpkg-buildpackage -uc -us" inside of the debian-ppa source directory.

Install/Add PPA’s

After you install the package, you’re able to run “add-apt-repository” and add PPA’s. i,e:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:linrunner/tlp

Currently, Debian PPA Utility only works on >= Wheezy.

At this point I have no plans to try pushing this utility into Debian, as I’m sure even this blog post will be labelled as heresy by many.

Update!

It was just pointed to me that “add-apt-repository” is available in “software-properties-common” package. However, PPA’s added by “add-apt-repository”  binary present in this package instead of adding Ubuntu codename’s to your list file, will add Debian codenames which without change will make whole PPA entry useless.

I believe codename handling is better in “Debian PPA Utility”. I admit, my only mistake is, instead of fixing things in “software-properties-common” package, I made a completely new utility which aims to do the same thing.

Added: conflicts/replaces: software-properties-common to debian/control file.

Anyway, enjoy!

Rapha&#235;l Hertzog: The problem of distributing applications

4 September, 2014 - 16:29

A few days ago I watched a Q/A session with Linus Torvalds at Debconf 14. One of the main complaint of Linus towards Linux distribution was the way that distribution ends up using different versions of libraries than what has been used during application development. And the fact that it’s next to impossible to support properly all Linux distributions at the same time due to this kind of differences.


And now I just discovered a new proposal of the systemd team that basically tries to address this: Revisiting how we put together Linux Systems.

They suggest to make extensive use of btrfs subvolumes to host multiple variants of the /usr tree (that is supposed to contain all the invariant system code/data) that you could combine with multiple runtime/framework subvolumes thanks to filesytem namespaces and make available to individual applications.

This way of grouping libraries in “runtime subvolumes” reminds me a bit of the concepts of baserock (they are using git instead of btrfs) and while I was a bit dubious of all this (because it goes against quite a few of the principles of distribution integration) I’m beginning to believe that there’s room for both models to work together.

It would be nice if Debian could become the reference distribution that upstream developers are using to develop against Linux. This would in turn mean that when upstream distribution their application under this new form, they will provide (or reference) Debian-based subvolumes ready for use by users (even those who are not using Debian as their main OS). And those subvolumes would be managed by the Debian project (probably automatically built from our collection of .deb).

We’re still quite far from this goal but it will interesting to see this idea mature and become reality. There are plenty of challenges facing us.

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Russell Coker: Inteltech/Clicksend SMS Script

4 September, 2014 - 12:19

USER=username
API_KEY=1234ABC
OUTPUTDIR=/var/spool/sms
LOG_SERVICE=local1

I’ve just written the below script to send SMS via the inteltech.com/clicksend.com service. It takes the above configuration in /etc/sms-pass.cfg where the username is assigned with the clicksend web page and the API key is a long hex string that clicksend provides as a password. The LOG_SERVICE is which syslog service to use for the log messages, on systems that are expected to send many messages I use the service “local1″ and I use “user” for development systems.

I hope this is useful to someone, and if you have any ideas for improvement then please let me know.

#!/bin/sh
# $1 is destination number
# text is on standard input
# standard output gives message ID on success, and 0 is returned
# standard error gives error from server on failure, and 1 is returned

. /etc/sms-pass.cfg
OUTPUT=$OUTPUTDIR/out.$$
TEXT=`tr "[:space:]" + | cut -c 1-159`

logger -t sms -p $LOG_SERVICE.info "sending message to $1"
wget -O $OUTPUT "https://api.clicksend.com/http/v2/send.php?method=http&username=$USER&key=$API_KEY&to=$1&message=$TEXT" > /dev/null 2> /dev/null

if [ "$?" != "0" ]; then
  echo "Error running wget" >&2
  logger -t sms -p $LOG_SERVICE.err "failed to send message \"$TEXT\" to $1 – wget error"
  exit 1
fi

if ! grep -q ^.errortext.Success $OUTPUT ; then
  cat $OUTPUT >&2
  echo >&2
  ERR=$(grep ^.errortext $OUTPUT | sed -e s/^.errortext.// -e s/..errortext.$//)
  logger -t sms -p $LOG_SERVICE.err "failed to send message \"$TEXT\" to $1 – $ERR"
  rm $OUTPUT
  exit 1
fi

ID=$(grep ^.messageid $OUTPUT | sed -e s/^.messageid.// -e s/..messageid.$//)
rm $OUTPUT

logger -t sms -p $LOG_SERVICE.info "sent message to $1 with ID $ID"
exit 0

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Steve Kemp: systemd, a brave new world

4 September, 2014 - 09:47

After spending a while fighting with upstart, at work, I decided that systemd couldn't be any worse and yesterday morning upgraded one of my servers to run it.

I have two classes of servers:

  • Those that run standard daemons, with nothing special.
  • Those that run different services under runit
    • For example docker guests, node.js applications, and similar.

I thought it would be a fair test to upgrade one of each systems, to see how it worked.

The Debian wiki has instructions for installing Systemd, and both systems came up just fine.

Although I realize I should replace my current runit jobs with systemd units I didn't want to do that. So I wrote a systemd .service file to launch runit against /etc/service, as expected, and that was fine.

Docker was a special case. I wrote a docker.service + docker.socket file to launch the deamon, but when I wrote a graphite.service file to start a docker instance it kept on restarting, or failing to stop.

In short I couldn't use systemd to manage running a docker guest, but that was probably user-error. For the moment the docker-host has a shell script in root's home directory to launch the guest:

#!/bin/sh
#
# Run Graphite in a detached state.
#
/usr/bin/docker run -d -t -i -p 8080:80 -p 2003:2003 skxskx/graphite

Without getting into politics (ha), systemd installation seemed simple, resulted in a faster boot, and didn't cause me horrific problems. Yet.

ObRandom: Not sure how systemd is controlling prosody, for example. If I run the status command I can see it is using the legacy system:

root@chat ~ # systemctl status prosody.service 
prosody.service - LSB: Prosody XMPP Server
      Loaded: loaded (/etc/init.d/prosody)
      Active: active (running) since Wed, 03 Sep 2014 07:59:44 +0100; 18h ago
      CGroup: name=systemd:/system/prosody.service
          └ 942 lua5.1 /usr/bin/prosody

I've installed systemd and systemd-sysv, so I thought /etc/init.d was obsolete. I guess it is making pretend-services for things it doesn't know about (because obviously not all packages contain /lib/systemd/system entries), but I'm unsure how that works.

Stefano Zacchiroli: interview for the gnu linux setup

3 September, 2014 - 16:48
my setup, take #1

Among the various things I've catched up with during the summer, I've finally managed to set aside some time to answer a pending interview request for The [GNU/]Linux Setup: a blog run by Steven Ovadia that collects interviews about how people use GNU/Linux-based desktops.

In the interview I discuss my day to day work-flow, from GNOME Shell to Mutt, from Emacs to Notmuch, and the various glue code tools I've written for integrating them.

Enjoy!

Feedback is most welcome.

Junichi Uekawa: Can't link qemu with static.

3 September, 2014 - 16:04
Can't link qemu with static. I was puzzled but this looks wrong that pkg-config libssh2 doesn't output -lgpg-error. gcrypt depends on gpg-error.

Dirk Eddelbuettel: littler is faster at doing nothing!

3 September, 2014 - 10:25

With yesterday's announcement of littler 0.2.0, I kept thinking about a few not-so-frequently-asked but recurring questions about littler. And an obvious one if of course the relationship to Rscript.

As we have pointed out before, littler preceded Rscript. Now, with Rscript being present in every R installation, it is of course by now more widely known.

But there is one important aspect which I stressed once or twice in the past and which bears repeating. Due to the lean and mean way in which littler is designed and set-up, it actually starts a lot faster than either Rscript or R. How, you ask? Well we actually query the environement at build time and hardcode a number of settings which R and Rscript re-acquire and learn each time they start. Which is more flexible. But slower.

So consider the following, really simple example. In it, we create a simple worker function f which launches the given (and simplest possible) R command of just quitting 250 times (by launching a shell command which loops). We then let littler, Rscript and R (in its just execute this expression mode) run this, and time it via one of the common benchmarking packages.

R> library(rbenchmark)
R> f <- function(cmd) { system(paste0("bash -c \"for i in \\$(seq 1 250); do ", cmd, " -e 'q()'; done\"")); }
R> res <- benchmark(f("r"), f("Rscript"), f("R --slave"), replications=5, order="relative")
R> res
            test replications elapsed relative user.self sys.self user.child sys.child
1         f("r")            5  32.256    1.000     0.001    0.004     26.538     5.706
2   f("Rscript")            5 180.154    5.585     0.001    0.004    152.751    28.522
3 f("R --slave")            5 302.714    9.385     0.001    0.004    270.569    33.098
R> 

So there: littler does "nothing" about five times as fast as Rscript, and about nine times as fast as R. Not that this matters greatly -- but when you design something for repeated (unsupervised) execution, say in a cronjob, it might as well be lightweight.

This post by Dirk Eddelbuettel originated on his Thinking inside the box blog. Please report excessive re-aggregation in third-party for-profit settings.

Mario Lang: exercism.io C++ track

3 September, 2014 - 04:20

exercism.io is a croud-sourced mentorship platform for learning to program. In my opinion, they do a lot of things right. In particular, an exercise on exercism.io consists of a descriptive README file and a set of test cases implemented in the target programming language. The tests have two positive sides: You learn to do test-driven development, which is good. And you also have an automated validation suite. Of course, a test can not give you feedback on your actual implementation, but at least it can give you an idea if you have managed to implement what was required of you. But that is not the end of it. Once you have submitted a solution to a particular exercise, other users of exercism.io can comment on your implementation. And you can, as soon as you have submitted the first implementation, look at the solutions that other people have submitted to that particular problem. So knowledge transfer can happen both ways from there on: You can learn new things from how other people have solved the same problem, and you can also tell other people about things they might have done in a different way. These comments are, somewhat appropriately, called nitpicks on exercism.io.

Now, exercism has recently gained a C++ track. That track is particularily fun, because it is based on C++11, Boost, and CMake. Things that are quite standard to C++ development these days. And the use of C++11 and Boost makes some solutions really shine.

Ian Campbell: Becoming A Debian Developer

3 September, 2014 - 01:58

After becoming a DM at Debconf12 in Managua, Nicaragua and entering the NM queue during Debconf13 in Vaumarcus, Switzerland I received the mail about 24 hours too late to officially become a DD during Debconf14 in Portland, USA. Nevertheless it was a very pleasant surprise to find the mail in my INBOX this morning confirming that my account had been created and that I was officially ijc@debian.org. Thanks to everyone who helped/encouraged me along the way!

I don't imagine much will change in practice, I intend to remain involved in the kernel and Debian Installer efforts as well as continuing to contribute to the Xen packaging and to maintain qcontrol (both in Debian and upstream) and sunxi-tools. I suppose I also still maintain ivtv-utils and xserver-xorg-video-ivtv but they require so little in the way of updates that I'm not sure they count.

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