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Russ Allbery: DocKnot 7.00

18 January, 2022 - 04:41

The recent 6.01 release of my static web site generator was kind of a buggy mess, which uncovered a bunch of holes in my test suite and immediately turned up problems when I tried to use it to rebuild my actual web site. Most of the problems were Unicode-related; this release hopefully sorts out Unicode properly and handles it consistently.

Other bugs fixed include processing of old-style pointers in a spin input tree, several rather obvious bugs in the new docknot release command, and a few long-standing issues with docknot dist that should make its results more consistent and reliable.

I also got on a roll and finished the Path::Tiny transition in DocKnot, so now (nearly) all paths are internally represented as Path::Tiny objects. This meant changing some APIs, hence the version bump to 7.00.

For anyone who still does a lot of Perl, I highly recommend the Path::Tiny module. If you also write Python, you will be reminded (in a good way) of Python's pathlib module, which I now use whenever possible.

You can get the latest version of DocKnot from CPAN or from its distribution page.

Wouter Verhelst: Different types of Backups

17 January, 2022 - 22:43

In my previous post, I explained how I recently set up backups for my home server to be synced using Amazon's services. I received a (correct) comment on that by Iustin Pop which pointed out that while it is reasonably cheap to upload data into Amazon's offering, the reverse -- extracting data -- is not as cheap.

He is right, in that extracting data from S3 Glacier Deep Archive costs over an order of magnitude more than it costs to store it there on a monthly basis -- in my case, I expect to have to pay somewhere in the vicinity of 300-400 USD for a full restore. However, I do not consider this to be a major problem, as these backups are only to fulfill the rarer of the two types of backups cases.

There are two reasons why you should have backups.

The first is the most common one: "oops, I shouldn't have deleted that file". This happens reasonably often; people will occasionally delete or edit a file that they did not mean to, and then they will want to recover their data. At my first job, a significant part of my job was to handle recovery requests from users who had accidentally deleted a file that they still needed.

Ideally, backups to handle this type of situation are easily accessible to end users, and are performed reasonably frequently. A system that automatically creates and deletes filesystem snapshots (such as the zfsnap script for ZFS snapshots, which I use on my server) works well. The crucial bit here is to ensure that it is easier to copy an older version of a file than it is to start again from scratch -- if a user must file a support request that may or may not be answered within a day or so, it is likely they will not do so for a file they were working on for only half a day, which means they lose half a day of work in such a case. If, on the other hand, they can just go into the snapshots directory themselves and it takes them all of two minutes to copy their file, then they will also do that for files they only created half an hour ago, so they don't even lose half an hour of work and can get right back to it. This means that backup strategies to mitigate the "oops I lost a file" case ideally do not involve off-site file storage, and instead are performed online.

The second case is the much rarer one, but (when required) has the much bigger impact: "oops the building burned down". Variants of this can involve things like lightning strikes, thieves, earth quakes, and the like; in all cases, the point is that you want to be able to recover all your files, even if every piece of equipment you own is no longer usable.

That being the case, you will first need to replace that equipment, which is not going to be cheap, and it is also not going to be an overnight thing. In order to still be useful after you lost all your equipment, they must also be stored off-site, and should preferably be offline backups, too. Since replacing your equipment is going to cost you time and money, it's fine if restoring the backups is going to take a while -- you can't really restore from backup any time soon anyway. And since you will lose a number of days of content that you can't create when you can only fall back on your off-site backups, it's fine if you also lose a few days of content that you will have to re-create.

All in all, the two types of backups have opposing requirements: "oops I lost a file" backups should be performed often and should be easily available; "oops I lost my building" backups should not be easily available, and are ideally done less often, so you don't pay a high amount of money for storage of your off-sites.

In my opinion, if you have good "lost my file" backups, then it's also fine if the recovery of your backups are a bit more expensive. You don't expect to have to ever pay for these; you may end up with a situation where you don't have a choice, and then you'll be happy that the choice is there, but as long as you can reasonably pay for the worst case scenario of a full restore, it's not a case you should be worried about much.

As such, and given that a full restore from Amazon Storage Gateway is going to be somewhere between 300 and 400 USD for my case -- a price I can afford, although it's not something I want to pay every day -- I don't think it's a major issue that extracting data is significantly more expensive than uploading data.

But of course, this is something everyone should consider for themselves...

Matthew Garrett: Boot Guard and PSB have user-hostile defaults

17 January, 2022 - 11:37
Compromising an OS without it being detectable is hard. Modern operating systems support the imposition of a security policy or the launch of some sort of monitoring agent sufficient early in boot that even if you compromise the OS, you're probably going to have left some sort of detectable trace[1]. You can avoid this by attacking the lower layers - if you compromise the bootloader then it can just hotpatch a backdoor into the kernel before executing it, for instance.

This is avoided via one of two mechanisms. Measured boot (such as TPM-based Trusted Boot) makes a tamper-proof cryptographic record of what the system booted, with each component in turn creating a measurement of the next component in the boot chain. If a component is tampered with, its measurement will be different. This can be used to either prevent the release of a cryptographic secret if the boot chain is modified (for instance, using the TPM to encrypt the disk encryption key), or can be used to attest the boot state to another device which can tell you whether you're safe or not. The other approach is verified boot (such as UEFI Secure Boot), where each component in the boot chain verifies the next component before executing it. If the verification fails, execution halts.

In both cases, each component in the boot chain measures and/or verifies the next. But something needs to be the first link in this chain, and traditionally this was the system firmware. Which means you could tamper with the system firmware and subvert the entire process - either have the firmware patch the bootloader in RAM after measuring or verifying it, or just load a modified bootloader and lie about the measurements or ignore the verification. Attackers had already been targeting the firmware (Hacking Team had something along these lines, although this was pre-secure boot so just dropped a rootkit into the OS), and given a well-implemented measured and verified boot chain, the firmware becomes an even more attractive target.

Intel's Boot Guard and AMD's Platform Secure Boot attempt to solve this problem by moving the validation of the core system firmware to an (approximately) immutable environment. Intel's solution involves the Management Engine, a separate x86 core integrated into the motherboard chipset. The ME's boot ROM verifies a signature on its firmware before executing it, and once the ME is up it verifies that the system firmware's bootblock is signed using a public key that corresponds to a hash blown into one-time programmable fuses in the chipset. What happens next depends on policy - it can either prevent the system from booting, allow the system to boot to recover the firmware but automatically shut it down after a while, or flag the failure but allow the system to boot anyway. Most policies will also involve a measurement of the bootblock being pushed into the TPM.

AMD's Platform Secure Boot is slightly different. Rather than the root of trust living in the motherboard chipset, it's in AMD's Platform Security Processor which is incorporated directly onto the CPU die. Similar to Boot Guard, the PSP has ROM that verifies the PSP's own firmware, and then that firmware verifies the system firmware signature against a set of blown fuses in the CPU. If that fails, system boot is halted. I'm having trouble finding decent technical documentation about PSB, and what I have found doesn't mention measuring anything into the TPM - if this is the case, PSB only implements verified boot, not measured boot.

What's the practical upshot of this? The first is that you can't replace the system firmware with anything that doesn't have a valid signature, which effectively means you're locked into firmware the vendor chooses to sign. This prevents replacing the system firmware with either a replacement implementation (such as Coreboot) or a modified version of the original implementation (such as firmware that disables locking of CPU functionality or removes hardware allowlists). In this respect, enforcing system firmware verification works against the user rather than benefiting them.
Of course, it also prevents an attacker from doing the same thing, but while this is a real threat to some users, I think it's hard to say that it's a realistic threat for most users.

The problem is that vendors are shipping with Boot Guard and (increasingly) PSB enabled by default. In the AMD case this causes another problem - because the fuses are in the CPU itself, a CPU that's had PSB enabled is no longer compatible with any motherboards running firmware that wasn't signed with the same key. If a user wants to upgrade their system's CPU, they're effectively unable to sell the old one. But in both scenarios, the user's ability to control what their system is running is reduced.

As I said, the threat that these technologies seek to protect against is real. If you're a large company that handles a lot of sensitive data, you should probably worry about it. If you're a journalist or an activist dealing with governments that have a track record of targeting people like you, it should probably be part of your threat model. But otherwise, the probability of you being hit by a purely userland attack is so ludicrously high compared to you being targeted this way that it's just not a big deal.

I think there's a more reasonable tradeoff than where we've ended up. Tying things like disk encryption secrets to TPM state means that if the system firmware is measured into the TPM prior to being executed, we can at least detect that the firmware has been tampered with. In this case nothing prevents the firmware being modified, there's just a record in your TPM that it's no longer the same as it was when you encrypted the secret. So, here's what I'd suggest:

1) The default behaviour of technologies like Boot Guard or PSB should be to measure the firmware signing key and whether the firmware has a valid signature into PCR 7 (the TPM register that is also used to record which UEFI Secure Boot signing key is used to verify the bootloader).
2) If the PCR 7 value changes, the disk encryption key release will be blocked, and the user will be redirected to a key recovery process. This should include remote attestation, allowing the user to be informed that their firmware signing situation has changed.
3) Tooling should be provided to switch the policy from merely measuring to verifying, and users at meaningful risk of firmware-based attacks should be encouraged to make use of this tooling

This would allow users to replace their system firmware at will, at the cost of having to re-seal their disk encryption keys against the new TPM measurements. It would provide enough information that, in the (unlikely for most users) scenario that their firmware has actually been modified without their knowledge, they can identify that. And it would allow users who are at high risk to switch to a higher security state, and for hardware that is explicitly intended to be resilient against attacks to have different defaults.

This is frustratingly close to possible with Boot Guard, but I don't think it's quite there. Before you've blown the Boot Guard fuses, the Boot Guard policy can be read out of flash. This means that you can drop a Boot Guard configuration into flash telling the ME to measure the firmware but not prevent it from running. But there are two problems remaining:

1) The measurement is made into PCR 0, and PCR 0 changes every time your firmware is updated. That makes it a bad default for sealing encryption keys.
2) It doesn't look like the policy is measured before being enforced. This means that an attacker can simply reflash modified firmware with a policy that disables measurement and then make a fake measurement that makes it look like the firmware is ok.

Fixing this seems simple enough - the Boot Guard policy should always be measured, and measurements of the policy and the signing key should be made into a PCR other than PCR 0. If an attacker modified the policy, the PCR value would change. If an attacker modified the firmware without modifying the policy, the PCR value would also change. People who are at high risk would run an app that would blow the Boot Guard policy into fuses rather than just relying on the copy in flash, and enable verification as well as measurement. Now if an attacker tampers with the firmware, the system simply refuses to boot and the attacker doesn't get anything.

Things are harder on the AMD side. I can't find any indication that PSB supports measuring the firmware at all, which obviously makes this approach impossible. I'm somewhat surprised by that, and so wouldn't be surprised if it does do a measurement somewhere. If it doesn't, there's a rather more significant problem - if a system has a socketed CPU, and someone has sufficient physical access to replace the firmware, they can just swap out the CPU as well with one that doesn't have PSB enabled. Under normal circumstances the system firmware can detect this and prompt the user, but given that the attacker has just replaced the firmware we can assume that they'd do so with firmware that doesn't decide to tell the user what just happened. In the absence of better documentation, it's extremely hard to say that PSB actually provides meaningful security benefits.

So, overall: I think Boot Guard protects against a real-world attack that matters to a small but important set of targets. I think most of its benefits could be provided in a way that still gave users control over their system firmware, while also permitting high-risk targets to opt-in to stronger guarantees. Based on what's publicly documented about PSB, it's hard to say that it provides real-world security benefits for anyone at present. In both cases, what's actually shipping reduces the control people have over their systems, and should be considered user-hostile.

[1] Assuming that someone's both turning this on and actually looking at the data produced

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Chris Lamb: Favourite films of 2021

17 January, 2022 - 01:44

In my four most recent posts, I went over the memoirs and biographies, the non-fiction, the fiction and the 'classic' novels that I enjoyed reading the most in 2021. But in the very last of my 2021 roundup posts, I'll be going over some of my favourite movies. (Saying that, these are perhaps less of my 'favourite films' than the ones worth remarking on — after all, nobody needs to hear that The Godfather is a good movie.)


It's probably helpful to remark you that I took a self-directed course in film history in 2021, based around the first volume of Roger Ebert's The Great Movies. This collection of 100-odd movie essays aims to “make a tour of the landmarks of the first century of cinema,” and I watched all but a handul before the year was out. I am slowly making my way through volume two in 2022. This tome was tremendously useful, and not simply due to the background context that Ebert added to each film: it also brought me into contact with films I would have hardly come through some other means. Would I have ever discovered the sly comedy of Trouble in Paradise (1932) or the touching proto-realism of L'Atalante (1934) any other way? It also helped me to 'get around' to watching films I may have put off watching forever — the influential Battleship Potemkin (1925), for instance, and the ur-epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962) spring to mind here.

Choosing a 'worst' film is perhaps more difficult than choosing the best. There are first those that left me completely dry (Ready or Not, Written on the Wind, etc.), and those that were simply poorly executed. And there are those that failed to meet their own high opinions of themselves, such as the 'made for Reddit' Tenet (2020) or the inscrutable Vanilla Sky (2001) — the latter being an almost perfect example of late-20th century cultural exhaustion.

But I must save my most severe judgement for those films where I took a visceral dislike how their subjects were portrayed. The sexually problematic Sixteen Candles (1984) and the pseudo-Catholic vigilantism of The Boondock Saints (1999) both spring to mind here, the latter of which combines so many things I dislike into such a short running time I'd need an entire essay to adequately express how much I disliked it.

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Dogtooth (2009)

A father, a mother, a brother and two sisters live in a large and affluent house behind a very high wall and an always-locked gate. Only the father ever leaves the property, driving to the factory that he happens to own. Dogtooth goes far beyond any allusion to Josef Fritzl's cellar, though, as the children's education is a grotesque parody of home-schooling. Here, the parents deliberately teach their children the wrong meaning of words (e.g. a yellow flower is called a 'zombie'), all of which renders the outside world utterly meaningless and unreadable, and completely mystifying its very existence. It is this creepy strangeness within a 'regular' family unit in Dogtooth that is both socially and epistemically horrific, and I'll say nothing here of its sexual elements as well.

Despite its cold, inscrutable and deadpan surreality, Dogtooth invites all manner of potential interpretations. Is this film about the artificiality of the nuclear family that the West insists is the benchmark of normality? Or is it, as I prefer to believe, something more visceral altogether: an allegory for the various forms of ontological violence wrought by fascism, as well a sobering nod towards some of fascism's inherent appeals? (Perhaps it is both. In 1972, French poststructuralists Gilles and Félix Guattari wrote Anti-Oedipus, which plays with the idea of the family unit as a metaphor for the authoritarian state.) The Greek-language Dogtooth, elegantly shot, thankfully provides no easy answers.

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Holy Motors (2012)

There is an infamous scene in Un Chien Andalou, the 1929 film collaboration between Luis Buñuel and famed artist Salvador Dalí. A young woman is cornered in her own apartment by a threatening man, and she reaches for a tennis racquet in self-defence. But the man suddenly picks up two nearby ropes and drags into the frame two large grand pianos... each leaden with a dead donkey, a stone tablet, a pumpkin and a bewildered priest.

This bizarre sketch serves as a better introduction to Leos Carax's Holy Motors than any elementary outline of its plot, which ostensibly follows 24 hours in the life of a man who must play a number of extremely diverse roles around Paris... all for no apparent reason. (And is he even a man?) Surrealism as an art movement gets a pretty bad wrap these days, and perhaps justifiably so. But Holy Motors and Un Chien Andalou serve as a good reminder that surrealism can be, well, 'good, actually'. And if not quite high art, Holy Motors at least demonstrates that surrealism can still unnerving and hilariously funny. Indeed, recalling the whimsy of the plot to a close friend, the tears of laughter came unbidden to my eyes once again. ("And then the limousines...!")

Still, it is unclear how Holy Motors truly refreshes surrealism for the twenty-first century. Surrealism was, in part, a reaction to the mechanical and unfeeling brutality of World War I and ultimately sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind. Holy Motors cannot be responding to another continental conflagration, and so it appears to me to be some kind of commentary on the roles we exhibit in an era of 'post-postmodernity': a sketch on our age of performative authenticity, perhaps, or an idle doodle on the function and psychosocial function of work.

Or perhaps not. After all, this film was produced in a time that offers the near-universal availability of mind-altering substances, and this certainly changes the context in which this film was both created. And, how can I put it, was intended to be watched.

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Manchester by the Sea (2016)

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

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McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)

Roger Ebert called this movie “one of the saddest films I have ever seen, filled with a yearning for love and home that will not ever come.” But whilst it is difficult to disagree with his sentiment, Ebert's choice of “sad” is somehow not quite the right word. Indeed, I've long regretted that our dictionaries don't have more nuanced blends of tragedy and sadness; perhaps the Ancient Greeks can loan us some.

Nevertheless, the plot of this film is of a gambler and a prostitute who become business partners in a new and remote mining town called Presbyterian Church. However, as their town and enterprise booms, it comes to the attention of a large mining corporation who want to bully or buy their way into the action. What makes this film stand out is not the plot itself, however, but its mood and tone — the town and its inhabitants seem to be thrown together out of raw lumber, covered alternatively in mud or frozen ice, and their days (and their personalities) are both short and dark in equal measure.

As a brief aside, if you haven't seen a Roger Altman film before, this has all the trappings of being a good introduction. As Ebert went on to observe: “This is not the kind of movie where the characters are introduced. They are all already here.” Furthermore, we can see some of Altman's trademark conversations that overlap, a superb handling of ensemble casts, and a quietly subversive view of the tyranny of 'genre'... and the latter in a time when the appetite for revisionist portrays of the West was not very strong. All of these 'Altmanian' trademarks can be ordered in much stronger measures in his later films: in particular, his comedy-drama Nashville (1975) has 24 main characters, and my jejune interpretation of Gosford Park (2001) is that it is purposefully designed to poke fun those who take a reductionist view of 'genre', or at least on the audience's expectations. (In this case, an Edwardian-era English murder mystery in the style of Agatha Christie, but where no real murder or detection really takes place.)

On the other hand, McCabe & Mrs. Miller is actually a poor introduction to Altman. The story is told in a suitable deliberate and slow tempo, and the two stars of the film are shown thoroughly defrocked of any 'star status', in both the visual and moral dimensions. All of these traits are, however, this film's strength, adding up to a credible, fascinating and riveting portrayal of the old West.

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Detour (1945)

Detour was filmed in less than a week, and it's difficult to decide — out of the actors and the screenplay — which is its weakest point.... Yet it still somehow seemed to drag me in.

The plot revolves around luckless Al who is hitchhiking to California. Al gets a lift from a man called Haskell who quickly falls down dead from a heart attack. Al quickly buries the body and takes Haskell's money, car and identification, believing that the police will believe Al murdered him. An unstable element is soon introduced in the guise of Vera, who, through a set of coincidences that stretches credulity, knows that this 'new' Haskell (ie. Al pretending to be him) is not who he seems. Vera then attaches herself to Al in order to blackmail him, and the world starts to spin out of his control.

It must be understood that none of this is executed very well. Rather, what makes Detour so interesting to watch is that its 'errors' lend a distinctively creepy and unnatural hue to the film. Indeed, in the early twentieth century, Sigmund Freud used the word unheimlich to describe the experience of something that is not simply mysterious, but something creepy in a strangely familiar way. This is almost the perfect description of watching Detour — its eerie nature means that we are not only frequently second-guessed about where the film is going, but are often uncertain whether we are watching the usual objective perspective offered by cinema.

In particular, are all the ham-fisted segues, stilted dialogue and inscrutable character motivations actually a product of Al inventing a story for the viewer? Did he murder Haskell after all, despite the film 'showing' us that Haskell died of natural causes? In other words, are we watching what Al wants us to believe? Regardless of the answers to these questions, the film succeeds precisely because of its accidental or inadvertent choices, so it is an implicit reminder that seeking the director's original intention in any piece of art is a complete mirage. Detour is certainly not a good film, but it just might be a great one. (It is a short film too, and, out of copyright, it is available online for free.)

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Safe (1995)

Safe is a subtly disturbing film about an upper-middle-class housewife who begins to complain about vague symptoms of illness. Initially claiming that she “doesn't feel right,” Carol starts to have unexplained headaches, a dry cough and nosebleeds, and eventually begins to have trouble breathing. Carol's family doctor treats her concerns with little care, and suggests to her husband that she sees a psychiatrist.

Yet Carol's episodes soon escalate. For example, as a 'homemaker' and with nothing else to occupy her, Carol's orders a new couch for a party. But when the store delivers the wrong one (although it is not altogether clear that they did), Carol has a near breakdown. Unsure where to turn, an 'allergist' tells Carol she has "Environmental Illness," and so Carol eventually checks herself into a new-age commune filled with alternative therapies.

On the surface, Safe is thus a film about the increasing about of pesticides and chemicals in our lives, something that was clearly felt far more viscerally in the 1990s. But it is also a film about how lack of genuine healthcare for women must be seen as a critical factor in the rise of crank medicine. (Indeed, it made for something of an uncomfortable watch during the coronavirus lockdown.) More interestingly, however, Safe gently-yet-critically examines the psychosocial causes that may be aggravating Carol's illnesses, including her vacant marriage, her hollow friends and the 'empty calorie' stimulus of suburbia. None of this should be especially new to anyone: the gendered Victorian term 'hysterical' is often all but spoken throughout this film, and perhaps from the very invention of modern medicine, women's symptoms have often regularly minimised or outright dismissed. (Hilary Mantel's 2003 memoir, Giving Up the Ghost is especially harrowing on this.)

As I opened this review, the film is subtle in its messaging. Just to take one example from many, the sound of the cars is always just a fraction too loud: there's a scene where a group is eating dinner with a road in the background, and the total effect can be seen as representing the toxic fumes of modernity invading our social lives and health. I won't spoiler the conclusion of this quietly devasting film, but don't expect a happy ending.

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The Driver (1978)

Critics grossly misunderstood The Driver when it was first released. They interpreted the cold and unemotional affect of the characters with the lack of developmental depth, instead of representing their dissociation from the society around them. This reading was encouraged by the fact that the principal actors aren't given real names and are instead known simply by their archetypes instead: 'The Driver', 'The Detective', 'The Player' and so on. This sort of quasi-Jungian erudition is common in many crime films today (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, Layer Cake, Fight Club), so the critics' misconceptions were entirely reasonable in 1978.

The plot of The Driver involves the eponymous Driver, a noted getaway driver for robberies in Los Angeles. His exceptional talent has far prevented him from being captured thus far, so the Detective attempts to catch the Driver by pardoning another gang if they help convict the Driver via a set-up robbery. To give himself an edge, however, The Driver seeks help from the femme fatale 'Player' in order to mislead the Detective.

If this all sounds eerily familiar, you would not be far wrong. The film was essentially remade by Nicolas Winding Refn as Drive (2011) and in Edgar Wright's 2017 Baby Driver. Yet The Driver offers something that these neon-noir variants do not. In particular, the car chases around Los Angeles are some of the most captivating I've seen: they aren't thrilling in the sense of tyre squeals, explosions and flying boxes, but rather the vehicles come across like wild animals hunting one another. This feels especially so when the police are hunting The Driver, which feels less like a low-stakes game of cat and mouse than a pack of feral animals working together — a gang who will tear apart their prey if they find him. In contrast to the undercar neon glow of the Fast & Furious franchise, the urban realism backdrop of the The Driver's LA metropolis contributes to a sincere feeling of artistic fidelity as well.

To be sure, most of this is present in the truly-excellent Drive, where the chase scenes do really communicate a credible sense of stakes. But the substitution of The Driver's grit with Drive's soft neon tilts it slightly towards that common affliction of crime movies: style over substance. Nevertheless, I can highly recommend watching The Driver and Drive together, as it can tell you a lot about the disconnected socioeconomic practices of the 1980s compared to the 2010s. More than that, however, the pseudo-1980s synthwave soundtrack of Drive captures something crucial to analysing the world of today. In particular, these 'sounds from the past filtered through the present' bring to mind the increasing role of nostalgia for lost futures in the culture of today, where temporality and pop culture references are almost-exclusively citational and commemorational.

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The Souvenir (2019)

The ostensible outline of this quietly understated film follows a shy but ambitious film student who falls into an emotionally fraught relationship with a charismatic but untrustworthy older man. But that doesn't quite cover the plot at all, for not only is The Souvenir a film about a young artist who is inspired, derailed and ultimately strengthened by a toxic relationship, it is also partly a coming-of-age drama, a subtle portrait of class and, finally, a film about the making of a film.

Still, one of the geniuses of this truly heartbreaking movie is that none of these many elements crowds out the other. It never, ever feels rushed. Indeed, there are many scenes where the camera simply 'sits there' and quietly observes what is going on. Other films might smother themselves through references to 18th-century oil paintings, but The Souvenir somehow evades this too. And there's a certain ring of credibility to the story as well, no doubt in part due to the fact it is based on director Joanna Hogg's own experiences at film school. A beautifully observed and multi-layered film; I'll be happy if the sequel is one-half as good.

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The Wrestler (2008)

Randy 'The Ram' Robinson is long past his prime, but he is still rarin' to go in the local pro-wrestling circuit. Yet after a brutal beating that seriously threatens his health, Randy hangs up his tights and pursues a serious relationship... and even tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter. But Randy can't resist the lure of the ring, and readies himself for a comeback.

The stage is thus set for Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, which is essentially about what drives Randy back to the ring. To be sure, Randy derives much of his money from wrestling as well as his 'fitness', self-image, self-esteem and self-worth. Oh, it's no use insisting that wrestling is fake, for the sport is, needless to say, Randy's identity; it's not for nothing that this film is called The Wrestler.

In a number of ways, The Sound of Metal (2019) is both a reaction to (and a quiet remake of) The Wrestler, if only because both movies utilise 'cool' professions to explore such questions of identity. But perhaps simply when The Wrestler was produced makes it the superior film. Indeed, the role of time feels very important for the Wrestler. In the first instance, time is clearly taking its toll on Randy's body, but I felt it more strongly in the sense this was very much a pre-2008 film, released on the cliff-edge of the global financial crisis, and the concomitant precarity of the 2010s.

Indeed, it is curious to consider that you couldn't make The Wrestler today, although not because the relationship to work has changed in any fundamentalway. (Indeed, isn't it somewhat depressing the realise that, since the start of the pandemic and the 'work from home' trend to one side, we now require even more people to wreck their bodies and mental health to cover their bills?) No, what I mean to say here is that, post-2016, you cannot portray wrestling on-screen without, how can I put it, unwelcome connotations. All of which then reminds me of Minari's notorious red hat...

But I digress. The Wrestler is a grittily stark darkly humorous look into the life of a desperate man and a sorrowful world, all through one tragic profession.

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Thief (1981)

Frank is an expert professional safecracker and specialises in high-profile diamond heists. He plans to use his ill-gotten gains to retire from crime and build a life for himself with a wife and kids, so he signs on with a top gangster for one last big score. This, of course, could be the plot to any number of heist movies, but Thief does something different. Similar to The Wrestler and The Driver (see above) and a number of other films that I watched this year, Thief seems to be saying about our relationship to work and family in modernity and postmodernity.

Indeed, the 'heist film', we are told, is an understudied genre, but part of the pleasure of watching these films is said to arise from how they portray our desired relationship to work. In particular, Frank's desire to pull off that last big job feels less about the money it would bring him, but a displacement from (or proxy for) fulfilling some deep-down desire to have a family or indeed any relationship at all. Because in theory, of course, Frank could enter into a fulfilling long-term relationship right away, without stealing millions of dollars in diamonds... but that's kinda the entire point: Frank needing just one more theft is an excuse to not pursue a relationship and put it off indefinitely in favour of 'work'. (And being Federal crimes, it also means Frank cannot put down meaningful roots in a community.) All this is communicated extremely subtly in the justly-lauded lowkey diner scene, by far the best scene in the movie.

The visual aesthetic of Thief is as if you set The Warriors (1979) in a similarly-filthy Chicago, with the Xenophon-inspired plot of The Warriors replaced with an almost deliberate lack of plot development... and the allure of The Warriors' fantastical criminal gangs (with their alluringly well-defined social identities) substituted by a bunch of amoral individuals with no solidarity beyond the immediate moment. A tale of our time, perhaps.

I should warn you that the ending of Thief is famously weak, but this is a gritty, intelligent and strangely credible heist movie before you get there.

§


Uncut Gems (2019)

The most exhausting film I've seen in years; the cinematic equivalent of four cups of double espresso, I didn't even bother even trying to sleep after downing Uncut Gems late one night. Directed by the two Safdie Brothers, it often felt like I was watching two films that had been made at the same time. (Or do I mean two films at 2X speed?)

No, whatever clumsy metaphor you choose to adopt, the unavoidable effect of this film's finely-tuned chaos is an uncompromising and anxiety-inducing piece of cinema. The plot follows Howard as a man lost to his countless vices — mostly gambling with a significant side hustle in adultery, but you get the distinct impression he would be happy with anything that will give him another high. A true junkie's junkie, you might say. You know right from the beginning it's going to end in some kind of disaster, the only question remaining is precisely how and what.

Portrayed by an (almost unrecognisable) Adam Sandler, there's an uncanny sense of distance in the emotional chasm between 'Sandler-as-junkie' and 'Sandler-as-regular-star-of-goofy-comedies'. Yet instead of being distracting and reducing the film's affect, this possibly-deliberate intertextuality somehow adds to the masterfully-controlled mayhem. My heart races just at the memory. Oof.

§


Woman in the Dunes (1964)

I ended up watching three films that feature sand this year: Denis Villeneuve's Dune (2021), Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Woman in the Dunes. But it is this last 1964 film by Hiroshi Teshigahara that will stick in my mind in the years to come. Sure, there is none of the Medician intrigue of Dune or the Super Panavision-70 of Lawrence of Arabia (or its quasi-orientalist score, itself likely stolen from Anton Bruckner's 6th Symphony), but Woman in the Dunes doesn't have to assert its confidence so boldly, and it reveals the enormity of its plot slowly and deliberately instead. Woman in the Dunes never rushes to get to the film's central dilemma, and it uncovers its terror in little hints and insights, all whilst establishing the daily rhythm of life.

Woman in the Dunes has something of the uncanny horror as Dogtooth (see above), as well as its broad range of potential interpretations. Both films permit a wide array of readings, without resorting to being deliberately obscurantist or being just plain random — it is perhaps this reason why I enjoyed them so much. It is true that asking 'So what does the sand mean?' sounds tediously sophomoric shorn of any context, but it somehow applies to this thoughtfully self-contained piece of cinema.

§


A Quiet Place (2018)

Although A Quiet Place was not actually one of the best films I saw this year, I'm including it here as it is certainly one of the better 'mainstream' Hollywood franchises I came across. Not only is the film very ably constructed and engages on a visceral level, I should point out that it is rare that I can empathise with the peril of conventional horror movies (and perhaps prefer to focus on its cultural and political aesthetics), but I did here.

The conceit of this particular post-apocalyptic world is that a family is forced to live in almost complete silence while hiding from creatures that hunt by sound alone. Still, A Quiet Place engages on an intellectual level too, and this probably works in tandem with the pure 'horrorific' elements and make it stick into your mind. In particular, and to my mind at least, A Quiet Place a deeply American conservative film below the surface: it exalts the family structure and a certain kind of sacrifice for your family. (The music often had a passacaglia-like strain too, forming a tombeau for America.) Moreover, you survive in this dystopia by staying quiet — that is to say, by staying stoic — suggesting that in the wake of any conflict that might beset the world, the best thing to do is to keep quiet. Even communicating with your loved ones can be deadly to both of you, so not emote, acquiesce quietly to your fate, and don't, whatever you do, speak up. (Or join a union.)

I could go on, but The Quiet Place is more than this. It's taut and brief, and despite cinema being an increasingly visual medium, it encourages its audience to develop a new relationship with sound.

Wouter Verhelst: Backing up my home server with Bacula and Amazon Storage Gateway

16 January, 2022 - 16:06

I have a home server.

Initially conceived and sized so I could digitize my (rather sizeable) DVD collection, I started using it for other things; I added a few play VMs on it, started using it as a destination for the deja-dup-based backups of my laptop and the time machine-based ones of the various macs in the house, and used it as the primary location of all the photos I've taken with my cameras over the years (currently taking up somewhere around 500G) as well as those that were taking at our wedding (another 100G). To add to that, I've copied the data that my wife had on various older laptops and external hard drives onto this home server as well, so that we don't lose the data should something happen to one or more of these bits of older hardware.

Needless to say, the server was running full, so a few months ago I replaced the 4x2T hard drives that I originally put in the server with 4x6T ones, and there was much rejoicing.

But then I started considering what I was doing. Originally, the intent was for the server to contain DVD rips of my collection; if I were to lose the server, I could always re-rip the collection and recover that way (unless something happened that caused me to lose both at the same time, of course, but I consider that sufficiently unlikely that I don't want to worry about it). Much of the new data on the server, however, cannot be recovered like that; if the server dies, I lose my photos forever, with no way of recovering them. Obviously that can't be okay.

So I started looking at options to create backups of my data, preferably in ways that make it easily doable for me to automate the backups -- because backups that have to be initiated are backups that will be forgotten, and backups that are forgotten are backups that don't exist. So let's not try that.

When I was still self-employed in Belgium and running a consultancy business, I sold a number of lower-end tape libraries for which I then configured bacula, and I preferred a solution that would be similar to that without costing an arm and a leg. I did have a look at a few second-hand tape libraries, but even second hand these are still way outside what I can budget for this kind of thing, so that was out too.

After looking at a few solutions that seemed very hackish and would require quite a bit of handholding (which I don't think is a good idea), I remembered that a few years ago, I had a look at the Amazon Storage Gateway for a customer. This gateway provides a virtual tape library with 10 drives and 3200 slots (half of which are import/export slots) over iSCSI. The idea is that you install the VM on a local machine, you connect it to your Amazon account, you connect your backup software to it over iSCSI, and then it syncs the data that you write to Amazon S3, with the ability to archive data to S3 Glacier or S3 Glacier Deep Archive. I didn't end up using it at the time because it required a VMWare virtualization infrastructure (which I'm not interested in), but I found out that these days, they also provide VM images for Linux KVM-based virtual machines (amongst others), so that changes things significantly.

After making a few calculations, I figured out that for the amount of data that I would need to back up, I would require a monthly budget of somewhere between 10 and 20 USD if the bulk of the data would be on S3 Glacier Deep Archive. This is well within my means, so I gave it a try.

The VM's technical requirements state that you need to assign four vCPUs and 16GiB of RAM, which just so happens to be the exact amount of RAM and CPU that my physical home server has. Obviously we can't do that. I tried getting away with 4GiB and 2 vCPUs, but that didn't work; the backup failed out after about 500G out of 2T had been written, due to the VM running out of resources. On the VM's console I found complaints that it required more memory, and I saw it mention something in the vicinity of 7GiB instead, so I decided to try again, this time with 8GiB of RAM rather than 4. This worked, and the backup was successful.

As far as bacula is concerned, the tape library is just a (very big...) normal tape library, and I got data throughput of about 30M/s while the VM's upload buffer hadn't run full yet, with things slowing down to pretty much my Internet line speed when it had. With those speeds, Bacula finished the backup successfully in "1 day 6 hours 43 mins 45 secs", although the storage gateway was still uploading things to S3 Glacier for a few hours after that.

All in all, this seems like a viable backup solution for large(r) amounts of data, although I haven't yet tried to perform a restore.

Russell Coker: SSD Endurance

16 January, 2022 - 12:33

I previously wrote about the issue of swap potentially breaking SSD [1]. My conclusion was that swap wouldn’t be a problem as no normally operating systems that I run had swap using any significant fraction of total disk writes. In that post the most writes I could see was 128GB written per day on a 120G Intel SSD (writing the entire device once a day).

My post about swap and SSD was based on the assumption that you could get many thousands of writes to the entire device which was incorrect. Here’s a background on the terminology from WD [2]. So in the case of the 120G Intel SSD I was doing over 1 DWPD (Drive Writes Per Day) which is in the middle of the range of SSD capability, Intel doesn’t specify the DWPD or TBW (Tera Bytes Written) for that device.

The most expensive and high end NVMe device sold by my local computer store is the Samsung 980 Pro which has a warranty of 150TBW for the 250G device and 600TBW for the 1TB device [3]. That means that the system which used to have an Intel SSD would have exceeded the warranty in 3 years if it had a 250G device.

My current workstation has been up for just over 7 days and has averaged 110GB written per day. It has some light VM use and the occasional kernel compile, a fairly typical developer workstation. It’s storage is 2*Crucial 1TB NVMe devices in a BTRFS RAID-1, the NVMe devices are the old series of Crucial ones and are rated for 200TBW which means that they can be expected to last for 5 years under the current load. This isn’t a real problem for me as the performance of those devices is lower than I hoped for so I will buy faster ones before they are 5yo anyway.

My home server (and my wife’s workstation) is averaging 325GB per day on the SSDs used for the RAID-1 BTRFS filesystem for root and for most data that is written much (including VMs). The SSDs are 500G Samsung 850 EVOs [4] which are rated at 150TBW which means just over a year of expected lifetime. The SSDs are much more than a year old, I think Samsung stopped selling them more than a year ago. Between the 2 SSDs SMART reports 18 uncorrectable errors and “btrfs device stats” reports 55 errors on one of them. I’m not about to immediately replace them, but it appears that they are well past their prime.

The server which runs my blog (among many other things) is averaging over 1TB written per day. It currently has a RAID-1 of hard drives for all storage but it’s previous incarnation (which probably had about the same amount of writes) had a RAID-1 of “enterprise” SSDs for the most written data. After a few years of running like that (and some time running with someone else’s load before it) the SSDs became extremely slow (sustained writes of 15MB/s) and started getting errors. So that’s a pair of SSDs that were burned out.

Conclusion

The amounts of data being written are steadily increasing. Recent machines with more RAM can decrease storage usage in some situations but that doesn’t compare to the increased use of checksummed and logged filesystems, VMs, databases for local storage, and other things that multiply writes. The amount of writes allowed under warranty isn’t increasing much and there are new technologies for larger SSD storage that decrease the DWPD rating of the underlying hardware.

For the systems I own it seems that they are all going to exceed the rated TBW for the SSDs before I have other reasons to replace them, and they aren’t particularly high usage systems. A mail server for a large number of users would hit it much earlier.

RAID of SSDs is a really good thing. Replacement of SSDs is something that should be planned for and a way of swapping SSDs to less important uses is also good (my parents have some SSDs that are too small for my current use but which work well for them). Another thing to consider is that if you have a server with spare drive bays you could put some extra SSDs in to spread the wear among a larger RAID-10 array. Instead of having a 2*SSD BTRFS RAID-1 for a server you could have 6*SSD to get a 3* longer lifetime than a regular RAID-1 before the SSDs wear out (BTRFS supports this sort of thing).

Based on these calculations and the small number of errors I’ve seen on my home server I’ll add a 480G SSD I have lying around to the array to spread the load and keep it running for a while longer.

Related posts:

  1. Some Ideas About Storage Reliability Hard Drive Brands When people ask for advice about what...
  2. SMART and SSDs The Hetzner server that hosts my blog among other things...
  3. Swap Breaking SSD I’ve seen many comments about swap space and SSD claiming...

Russ Allbery: Review: The Brightest Fell

16 January, 2022 - 10:06

Review: The Brightest Fell, by Seanan McGuire

Series: October Daye #11 Publisher: DAW Copyright: 2017 ISBN: 0-698-18352-5 Format: Kindle Pages: 353

This is the eleventh book in the October Daye urban fantasy series, not counting various novellas and side stories. You really cannot start here, particularly given how many ties this book has to the rest of the series.

I would like to claim there's some sort of plan or strategy in how I read long series, but there are just a lot of books to read and then I get distracted and three years have gone by. The advantage of those pauses, at least for writing reviews, is that I return to the series with fresh eyes and more points of comparison. My first thought this time around was "oh, these books aren't that well written, are they," followed shortly thereafter by staying up past midnight reading just one more chapter.

Plot summaries are essentially impossible this deep into a series, when even the names of the involved characters can be a bit of a spoiler. What I can say is that we finally get the long-awaited confrontation between Toby and her mother, although it comes in an unexpected (and unsatisfying) form. This fills in a few of the gaps in Toby's childhood, although there's not much there we didn't already know. It fills in considerably more details about the rest of Toby's family, most notably her pure-blood sister.

The writing is indeed not great. This series is showing some of the signs I've seen in other authors (Mercedes Lackey, for instance) who wrote too many books per year to do each of them justice. I have complained before about McGuire's tendency to reuse the same basic plot structure, and this instance seemed particularly egregious. The book opens with Toby enjoying herself and her found family, feeling like they can finally relax. Then something horrible happens to people she cares about, forcing her to go solve the problem. This in theory requires her to work out some sort of puzzle, but in practice is fairly linear and obvious because, although I love Toby as a character, she can't puzzle her way out of a wet sack. Everything is (mostly) fixed in the end, but there's a high cost to pay, and everyone ends the book with more trauma.

The best books of this series are the ones where McGuire manages to break with this formula. This is not one of them. The plot is literally on magical rails, since The Brightest Fell skips even pretending that Toby is an actual detective (although it establishes that she's apparently still working as one in the human world, a detail that I find baffling) and gives her a plot compass that tells her where to go. I don't really mind this since I read this series for emotional catharsis rather than Toby's ingenuity, but alas that's mostly missing here as well. There is a resolution of sorts, but it's the partial and conditional kind that doesn't include awful people getting their just deserts.

This is also not a good series entry for world-building. McGuire has apparently been dropping hints for this plot back at least as far as Ashes of Honor. I like that sort of long-term texture to series like this, but the unfortunate impact on this book is a lot of revisiting of previous settings and very little in the way of new world-building. The bit with the pixies was very good; I wanted more of that, not the trip to an Ashes of Honor setting to pick up a loose end, or yet another significant scene in Borderland Books.

As an aside, I wish authors would not put real people into their books as characters, even when it's with permission as I'm sure it was here. It's understandable to write a prominent local business into a story as part of the local color (although even then I would rather it not be a significant setting in the story), but having the actual owner and staff show up, even in brief cameos, feels creepy and weird to me. It also comes with some serious risks because real people are not characters under the author's control. (All the content warnings for that link, which is a news story from three years after this book was published.)

So, with all those complaints, why did I stay up late reading just one more chapter? Part of the answer is that McGuire writes very grabby books, at least for me. Toby is a full-speed-ahead character who is constantly making things happen, and although the writing in this book had more than the usual amount of throat-clearing and rehashing of the same internal monologue, the plot still moved along at a reasonable clip. Another part of the answer is that I am all-in on these characters: I like them, I want them to be happy, and I want to know what's going to happen next. It helps that McGuire has slowly added characters over the course of a long series and given most of them a chance to shine. It helps even more that I like all of them as people, and I like the style of banter that McGuire writes. Also, significant screen time for the Luidaeg is never a bad thing.

I think this was the weakest entry in the series in a while. It wrapped up some loose ends that I wasn't that interested in wrapping up, introduced a new conflict that it doesn't resolve, spent a bunch of time with a highly unpleasant character I didn't enjoy reading about, didn't break much new world-building ground, and needed way more faerie court politics. But some of the banter was excellent, the pixies and the Luidaeg were great, and I still care a lot about these characters. I am definitely still reading.

Followed by Nights and Silences.

Continuing a pattern from Once Broken Faith, the ebook version of The Brightest Fell includes a bonus novella. (I'm not sure if it's also present in the print version.)

"Of Things Unknown": As is usual for the short fiction in this series, this is a side story from the perspective of someone other than Toby. In this case, that's April O'Leary, first introduced all the way back in A Local Habitation, and the novella focuses on loose ends from that novel. Loose ends are apparently the theme of this book.

This was... fine. I like April, I enjoyed reading a story from her perspective, and I'm always curious to see how Toby looks from the outside. I thought the plot was strained and the resolution a bit too easy and painless, and I was not entirely convinced by April's internal thought processes. It felt like McGuire left some potential for greater plot complications on the table here, and I found it hard to shake the impression that this story was patching an error that McGuire felt she'd made in the much earlier novel. But it was nice to have an unambiguously happy ending after the more conditional ending of the main story. (6)

Rating: 6 out of 10

Russ Allbery: DocKnot 6.01

16 January, 2022 - 08:34

This release of my static site generator and software release manager finishes incorporating the last piece of my old release script that I was still using: copying a new software release into a software distribution archive tree, updating symlinks, updating the version database used to generate my web pages, and archiving the old version.

I also added a new docknot update-spin command that updates an input tree for the spin static site generator, fixing any deprecations or changes in the input format. Currently, all this does is convert the old-style *.rpod pointer files to new-style *.spin pointers.

This release also has a few other minor bug fixes, including for an embarrassing bug that required docknot spin be run from a package source tree because it tried to load per-package metadata (even though it doesn't use that data).

You can get the latest release from CPAN or from the DocKnot distribution page.

Debian Social Team: Some site updates

15 January, 2022 - 01:01
  • Pleroma has been updated to version 2.4.1. We also suffered some downtime during the 11th of January. Upgrading to the latest version fixed our issues.
  • Peertube has been upgraded to version 4.0.0.
  • Jitsi Meet has been upgraded to version 2.0.6726.
  • Mjolnr has been upgraded to 1.2.1.
  • Our upgrade to bullseye is complete, we haven’t encountered any problems upgrading to bullseye \o/.

Norbert Preining: Future of “my” packages in Debian

14 January, 2022 - 09:17

After having been (again) demoted (timed perfectly to my round birthday!) based on flimsy arguments, I have been forced to rethink the level of contribution I want to do for Debian. Considering in particular that I have switched my main desktop to dual-boot into Arch Linux (all on the same btrfs fs with subvolumes, great!) and have run Arch now for several days exclusively, I think it is time to review the packages I am somehow responsible for (full list of packages).

After about 20 years in Debian, time to send off quite some stuff that has accumulated over time.

KDE/Plasma, frameworks, Gears, and related packages

All these packages are group maintained, so there is not much to worry about. Furthermore, a few new faces have joined the team and are actively working on the packages, although mostly on Qt6. I guess that with me not taking action, frameworks, gears, and plasma will fall back over time (frameworks: Debian 5.88 versus current 5.90, gears: Debian 21.08 versus current 21.12, plasma uptodate at the moment).

With respect to my packages on OBS, they will probably also go stale over time. Using Arch nowadays I lack the development tools necessary to build Debian packages, and above all, the motivation.

I am sorry for all those who have learned to rely on my OBS packages over the last years, bringing modern and uptodate KDE/Plasma to Debian/stable, please direct your complaints at the responsible entities in Debian.

Cinnamon

As I have written already here, I have reduced my involvement quite a lot, and nowadays Fabio and Joshua are doing the work. But both are not even DM (AFAIR) and I am the only one doing uploads (I got DM upload permissions for it). But I am not sure how long I will continue doing this. This also means that in the near future, Cinnamon will also go stale.

TeX related packages

Hilmar has DM upload permissions and is very actively caring for the packages, so I don’t see any source of concern here. New packages will need to find a new uploader, though. With myself also being part of upstream, I can surely help out in the future with difficult problems.

Calibre and related packages

Yokota-san (another DM I have sponsored) has DM upload permissions and is very actively caring for the packages, so also here there is not much of concern.

Onedrive

This is already badly outdated, and I recommend using the OBS builds which are current and provide binaries for Ubuntu and Debian for various versions.

ROCm

Here fortunately a new generation of developers has taken over maintenance and everything is going smoothly, much better than I could have done, yeah to that!

Qalculate related packages

These are group maintained, but unfortunately nobody else but me has touched the repos for quite some time. I fear that the packages will go stale rather soon.

isync/mbsync

I have recently salvaged this package, and use it daily, but I guess it needs to be orphaned sooner or later.

CafeOBJ

While I am also part of upstream here, I guess it will be orphaned.

Julia

Julia is group maintained, but unfortunately nobody else but me has touched the repo for quite some time, and we are already far behind the normal releases (and julia got removed from testing). While go stale/orphaned. I recommend installing upstream binaries.

python-mechanize

Another package that is group maintained in the Python team, but with only me as uploader I guess it will go stale and effectively be orphaned soon.

xxhash

Has already by orphaned.

qpdfview

No upstream development, so not much to do, but will be orphaned, too.

Dirk Eddelbuettel: Rcpp 1.0.8: Updated, Strict Headers

14 January, 2022 - 08:03

The Rcpp team is thrilled to share the news of the newest release 1.0.8 of Rcpp which hit CRAN today, and has already been uploaded to Debian as well. Windows and macOS builds should appear at CRAN in the next few days. This release continues with the six-months cycle started with release 1.0.5 in July 2020. As a reminder, interim ‘dev’ or ‘rc’ releases will alwasys be available in the Rcpp drat repo; this cycle there were once again seven (!!) – times two as we also tested the modified header (more below). These rolling release tend to work just as well, and are also fully tested against all reverse-dependencies.

Rcpp has become the most popular way of enhancing R with C or C++ code. Right now, around 2478 packages on CRAN depend on Rcpp for making analytical code go faster and further, along with 242 in BioConductor.

This release finally brings a change we have worked on quite a bit over the last few months. The idea of enforcing the setting of STRICT_R_HEADERS was prososed years ago in 2016 and again in 2018. But making such a chance against a widely-deployed code base has repurcussions, and we were not ready then. Last April, this was revisited in issue #1158. Over the course of numerous lengthy runs of tests of a changed Rcpp package against (essentially) all reverse-dependencies (i.e. packages which use Rcpp) we identified ninetyfour packages in total which needed a change. We provided either a patch we emailed, or a GitHub pull request, to all ninetyfour. And we are happy to say that eighty cases were resolved via a new CRAN upload, with a seven more having merged the pull request but not yet uploaded.

Hence, we could make the case to CRAN (who were always CC’ed on the monthly ‘nag’ emails we sent to maintainers of packages needing a change) that an upload was warranted. And after a brief period for their checks and inspection, our January 11 release of Rcpp 1.0.8 arrived on CRAN on January 13.

So with that, a big and heartfelt Thank You! to all eighty maintainers for updating their packages to permit this change at the Rcpp end, to CRAN for the extra checking, and to everybody else who I bugged with the numerous emails and updated to the seemingly never-ending issue #1158. We all got this done, and that is a Good Thing (TM).

Other than the aforementioned change which will not automatically set STRICT_R_HEADERS (unless opted out which one can), a number of nice pull request by a number of contributors are included in this release:

  • Iñaki generalized use of finalizers for external pointers in #1180
  • Kevin ensured include paths are always quoted in #1189
  • Dirk added new headers to allow a more fine-grained choice of Rcpp feature for faster builds in #1191
  • Travers Ching extended the function signature generator to allow for a default R argument in #1184 and #1187
  • Dirk extended documentation, removed old example code, updated references and refreshed CI setup in several PRs (see below)

The full list of details follows.

Changes in Rcpp release version 1.0.8 (2022-01-11)
  • Changes in Rcpp API:

    • STRICT_R_HEADERS is now enabled by default, see extensive discussion in #1158 closing #898.

    • A new #define allows default setting of finalizer calls for external pointers (Iñaki in #1180 closing #1108).

    • Rcpp:::CxxFlags() now quotes the include path generated, (Kevin in #1189 closing #1188).

    • New header files Rcpp/Light, Rcpp/Lighter, Rcpp/Lightest and default Rcpp/Rcpp for fine-grained access to features (and compilation time) (Dirk #1191 addressing #1168).

  • Changes in Rcpp Attributes:

    • A new option signature allows customization of function signatures (Travers Ching in #1184 and #1187 fixing #1182)
  • Changes in Rcpp Documentation:

    • The Rcpp FAQ has a new entry on how not to grow a vector (Dirk in #1167).

    • Some long-spurious calls to RNGSope have been removed from examples (Dirk in #1173 closing #1172).

    • DOI reference in the bibtex files have been updated per JSS request (Dirk in #1186).

  • Changes in Rcpp Deployment:

    • Some continuous integration components have been updated (Dirk in #1174, #1181, and #1190).

Thanks to my CRANberries, you can also look at a diff to the previous release. Questions, comments etc should go to the rcpp-devel mailing list off the R-Forge page. Bugs reports are welcome at the GitHub issue tracker as well (where one can also search among open or closed issues); questions are also welcome under rcpp tag at StackOverflow which also allows searching among the (currently) 2822 previous questions.

If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can sponsor me at GitHub.

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

Reproducible Builds (diffoscope): diffoscope 200 released

14 January, 2022 - 07:00

The diffoscope maintainers are pleased to announce the release of diffoscope version 200. This version includes the following changes:

* Even if a Sphinx .inv inventory file is labelled "The remainder of this
  file is compressed using zlib", it might not actually be. In this case,
  don't traceback, and simply return the original content.
  (Closes: reproducible-builds/diffoscope#299)
* Update "X has been modified after NT_GNU_BUILD_ID has been applied" message
  to, for instance, not duplicating the full filename in the primary
  diffoscope's output.

You find out more by visiting the project homepage.

Bits from Debian: New Debian Developers and Maintainers (November and December 2021)

13 January, 2022 - 23:00

The following contributors got their Debian Developer accounts in the last two months:

  • Douglas Andrew Torrance (dtorrance)
  • Mark Lee Garrett (lee)

The following contributors were added as Debian Maintainers in the last two months:

  • Lukas Matthias Märdian
  • Paulo Roberto Alves de Oliveira
  • Sergio Almeida Cipriano Junior
  • Julien Lamy
  • Kristian Nielsen
  • Jeremy Paul Arnold Sowden
  • Jussi Tapio Pakkanen
  • Marius Gripsgard
  • Martin Budaj
  • Peymaneh
  • Tommi Petteri Höynälänmaa

Congratulations!

Michael Prokop: Revisiting 2021

13 January, 2022 - 00:30

Uhm yeah, so this shirt didn’t age well. :) Mainly to recall what happened, I’m once again revisiting my previous year (previous edition: 2020).

2021 was quite challenging overall. It started with four weeks of distance learning at school. Luckily at least at school things got back to "some kind of normal" afterwards. The lockdowns turned out to be an excellent opportunity for practising Geocaching though, and that’s what I started to do with my family. It’s a great way to grab some fresh air, get to know new areas, and spend time with family and friends – I plan to continue doing this. :)

We bought a family season ticket for Freibäder (open-air baths) in Graz; this turned out to be a great investment – I enjoyed the open air swimming with family, as well as going for swimming laps on my own very much, and plan to do the same in 2022. Due to the lockdowns and the pandemics, the weekly Badminton sessions sadly didn’t really take place, so I pushed towards the above-mentioned outdoor swimming and also some running; with my family we managed to do some cycling, inline skating and even practiced some boulder climbing.

For obvious reasons plenty of concerts I was looking forward didn’t take place. With my parents we at least managed to attend a concert performance of Puccinis Tosca with Jonas Kaufmann at Schloßbergbühne Kasematten/Graz, and with the kids we saw "Robin Hood" in Oper Graz and "Pippi Langstrumpf" at Studiobühne of Oper Graz. The lack of concerts and rehearsals once again and still severely impacts my playing the drums, including at HTU BigBand Graz. :-/

Grml-wise we managed to publish release 2021.07, codename JauKerl. Debian-wise we got version 11 AKA bullseye released as new stable release in August.

For 2021 I planned to and also managed to minimize buying (new) physical stuff, except for books and other reading stuff. Speaking of reading, 2021 was nice — I managed to finish more than 100 books (see “Mein Lesejahr 2021“), and I’d like to keep the reading pace.

Now let’s hope for better times in 2022!

Steinar H. Gunderson: Training apps

13 January, 2022 - 00:27

I've been using various training apps (and their associated web sites) since 2010 now, forward-porting data to give me twelve years of logs. (My primary migration path has been CardioTrianer → Endomondo → Strava.) However, it strikes me that they're just becoming worse and worse, and I think I've figured out why: What I want is a training site with some social functions, but what companies are creating are social networks. Not social networks about training; just social networks.

To be a bit more concrete: I want something that's essentially a database. I want to quickly search for workouts in a given area and of a given length, and then bring up key information, compare, contrast, get proper graphs (not something where you can't see the difference between 3:00/km and 4:00/km!), and so on. (There's a long, long list of features and bugs I'd like to get fixed, but I won't list them all.)

But Strava is laser-focused on what's happened recently; there's a stream with my own workouts and my friends', just like a social network, and that's pretty much the main focus (and they have not even tried to solve the stream problem; if I have a friend that's too active, I don't see anything else). I'd need to pay a very steep price (roughly $110/year, the same price of a used GPS watch!) to even get a calendar; without that, I need to go back through a super-slow pagination UI 20 and 20 workouts at a time to even see something older.

Garmin Connect is somewhat better here; at least I can query on length and such. (Not so strange; Garmin is in the business of selling devices, not making social networks.) But it's very oriented around one specific watch brand, and it's far from perfect either. My big issue is that nobody's even trying, it seems. But I guess there's simply no money in that.

Ritesh Raj Sarraf: ThinkPad AMD Debian

11 January, 2022 - 21:07

After a hiatus of 6 years, it was nice to be back with the ThinkPad. This blog post briefly touches upon my impressions with the current generation ThinkPad T14 Gen2 AMD variant.

ThinkPad T14 Gen2 AMD Lenovo

It took 8 weeks to get my hands on the machine. Given the pandemic, restrictions and uncertainities, not sure if I should call it an ontime delivery. This was a CTO - Customise-to-order; so was nice to get rid of things I really didn’t care/use much. On the other side, it also meant I could save on some power. It also came comparatively cheaper overall.

  • No fingerprint reader
  • No Touch screen

There’s still parts where Lenovo could improve. Or less frustate a customer. I don’t understand why a company would provide a full customization option on their portal, while at the same time, not provide an explicit option to choose the make/model of the hardware one wants. Lenovo deliberately chooses to not show/specify which WiFi adapter one could choose. So, as I suspected, I ended up with a MEDIATEK Corp. Device 7961 wifi adapter.

AMD

For the first time in my computing life, I’m now using AMD at the core. I was pretty frustrated with annoying Intel Graphics bugs, so decided to take the plunge and give AMD/ATI a shot, knowing that the radeon driver does have decent support. So far, on the graphics side of things, I’m glad that things look bright. The stock in-kernel radeon driver has been working perfect for my needs and I haven’t had to tinker even once so far, in my 30 days of use.

On the overall system performance, I have not done any benchmarks nor do I want to do. But wholly, the system performance is smooth.

Power/Thermal

This is where things need more improvement on the AMD side. This AMD laptop terribly draws a lot of power in suspend mode. And it isn’t just this machine, but also the previous T14 Gen1 which has similar problems. I’m not sure if this is a generic ThinkPad problem, or an AMD specific problem. But coming from the Dell XPS 13 9370 Intel, this does draw a lot lot more power. So much, that I chose to use hibernation instead.

Similarly, on the thermal side, this machine doesn’t cool down well as compared the the Dell XPS Intel one. On an idle machine, its temperature are comparatively higher. Looking at powertop reports, it does show to consume an average of 10 watts power even while idle.

I’m hoping these are Linux ingeration issues and that Lenovo/AMD will improve things in the coming months. But given the user feedback on the ThinkPad T14 Gen1 thread, it may just be wishful thinking.

Linux

The overall hardware support has been surprisingly decent. The MediaTek WiFi driver had some glitches but with Linux 5.15+, things have considerably improved. And I hope the trend will continue with forthcoming Linux releases. My previous device driver experience with MediaTek wasn’t good but I took the plunge, considering that in the worst scenario I’d have the option to swap the card.

There’s a lot of marketing about Linux + Intel. But I took a jibe with Linux + AMD. There are glitches but nothing so far that has been a dealbreaker. If anything, I wish Lenovo/AMD would seriously work on the power/thermal issues.

Migration

Other than what’s mentioned above, I haven’t had any serious issues. I may have had some rare occassional hangs but they’ve been so infrequent that I haven’t spent time to investigate those.

Upon receiving the machine, my biggest requirement was how to switch my current workstation from Dell XPS to Lenovo ThinkPad. I’ve been using btrfs for some time now. And over the years, built my own practise on how to structure it. Things like, provisioning [sub]volumes, based on use cases is one thing I see. Like keeping separate subvols for: cache/temporary data, copy-on-write data , swap etc. I wish these things could be simplified; either on the btrfs tooling side or some different tool on top of it.

Below is filtered list of subvols created over years, that were worthy of moving to the new machine.

rrs@priyasi:~$ cat btrfs-volume-layout 
ID 550 gen 19166 top level 5 path home/foo/.cache
ID 552 gen 1522688 top level 5 path home/rrs
ID 553 gen 1522688 top level 552 path home/rrs/.cache
ID 555 gen 1426323 top level 552 path home/rrs/rrs-home/Libvirt-Images
ID 618 gen 1522672 top level 5 path var/spool/news
ID 634 gen 1522670 top level 5 path var/tmp
ID 635 gen 1522688 top level 5 path var/log
ID 639 gen 1522226 top level 5 path var/cache
ID 992 gen 1522670 top level 5 path disk-tmp
ID 1018 gen 1522688 top level 552 path home/rrs/NoBackup
ID 1196 gen 1522671 top level 5 path etc
ID 23721 gen 775692 top level 5 path swap
18:54 ♒ ॐ ♅ ♄ ⛢     ☺ 😄    
btrfs send/receive

This did come in handy but I sorely missed some feature. Maybe they aren’t there, or are there and I didn’t look close enough. Over the years, different attributes were set to different subvols. Over time I forget what feature was added where. But from a migration point of view, it’d be nice to say, “Take this volume and take it with all its attributes”. I didn’t find that functionality in send/receive.

There’s get/set-property which I noticed later but by then it was late. So some sort of tooling, ideally something like btrfs migrate or somesuch would be nicer.

In the file system world, we already have nice tools to take care of similar scenarios. Like with rsync, I can request it to carry all file attributes.

Also, iirc, send/receive works only on ro volumes. So there’s more work one needs to do in:

  1. create ro vol
  2. send
  3. receive
  4. don’t forget to set rw property
  5. And then somehow find out other properties set on each individual subvols and [re]apply the same on the destination

I wish this all be condensed into a sub-command.

For my own sake, for this migration, the steps used were:

user@debian:~$ for volume in `sudo btrfs sub list /media/user/TOSHIBA/Migrate/ | cut -d ' ' -f9 | grep -v ROOTVOL | grep -v etc | grep -v btrbk`; do echo $volume; sud
o btrfs send /media/user/TOSHIBA/$volume | sudo btrfs receive /media/user/BTRFSROOT/ ; done            
Migrate/snapshot_disk-tmp
At subvol /media/user/TOSHIBA/Migrate/snapshot_disk-tmp
At subvol snapshot_disk-tmp
Migrate/snapshot-home_foo_.cache
At subvol /media/user/TOSHIBA/Migrate/snapshot-home_foo_.cache
At subvol snapshot-home_foo_.cache
Migrate/snapshot-home_rrs
At subvol /media/user/TOSHIBA/Migrate/snapshot-home_rrs
At subvol snapshot-home_rrs
Migrate/snapshot-home_rrs_.cache
At subvol /media/user/TOSHIBA/Migrate/snapshot-home_rrs_.cache
At subvol snapshot-home_rrs_.cache
ERROR: crc32 mismatch in command
Migrate/snapshot-home_rrs_rrs-home_Libvirt-Images
At subvol /media/user/TOSHIBA/Migrate/snapshot-home_rrs_rrs-home_Libvirt-Images
At subvol snapshot-home_rrs_rrs-home_Libvirt-Images
ERROR: crc32 mismatch in command
Migrate/snapshot-var_spool_news
At subvol /media/user/TOSHIBA/Migrate/snapshot-var_spool_news
At subvol snapshot-var_spool_news
Migrate/snapshot-var_lib_machines
At subvol /media/user/TOSHIBA/Migrate/snapshot-var_lib_machines
At subvol snapshot-var_lib_machines
Migrate/snapshot-var_lib_machines_DebianSidTemplate
..... snipped .....

And then, follow-up with:

user@debian:~$ for volume in `sudo btrfs sub list /media/user/BTRFSROOT/ | cut -d ' ' -f9`; do echo $volume; sudo btrfs property set -ts /media/user/BTRFSROOT/$volume ro false; done
ROOTVOL
ERROR: Could not open: No such file or directory
etc
snapshot_disk-tmp
snapshot-home_foo_.cache
snapshot-home_rrs
snapshot-var_spool_news
snapshot-var_lib_machines
snapshot-var_lib_machines_DebianSidTemplate
snapshot-var_lib_machines_DebSidArmhf
snapshot-var_lib_machines_DebianJessieTemplate
snapshot-var_tmp
snapshot-var_log
snapshot-var_cache
snapshot-disk-tmp

And then finally, renaming everything to match proper:

user@debian:/media/user/BTRFSROOT$ for x in snapshot*; do vol=$(echo $x | cut -d '-' -f2 | sed -e "s|_|/|g"); echo $x $vol; sudo mv $x $vol; done
snapshot-var_lib_machines var/lib/machines
snapshot-var_lib_machines_Apertisv2020ospackTargetARMHF var/lib/machines/Apertisv2020ospackTargetARMHF
snapshot-var_lib_machines_Apertisv2021ospackTargetARM64 var/lib/machines/Apertisv2021ospackTargetARM64
snapshot-var_lib_machines_Apertisv2022dev3ospackTargetARMHF var/lib/machines/Apertisv2022dev3ospackTargetARMHF
snapshot-var_lib_machines_BusterArm64 var/lib/machines/BusterArm64
snapshot-var_lib_machines_DebianBusterTemplate var/lib/machines/DebianBusterTemplate
snapshot-var_lib_machines_DebianJessieTemplate var/lib/machines/DebianJessieTemplate
snapshot-var_lib_machines_DebianSidTemplate var/lib/machines/DebianSidTemplate
snapshot-var_lib_machines_DebianSidTemplate_var_lib_portables var/lib/machines/DebianSidTemplate/var/lib/portables
snapshot-var_lib_machines_DebSidArm64 var/lib/machines/DebSidArm64
snapshot-var_lib_machines_DebSidArmhf var/lib/machines/DebSidArmhf
snapshot-var_lib_machines_DebSidMips var/lib/machines/DebSidMips
snapshot-var_lib_machines_JenkinsApertis var/lib/machines/JenkinsApertis
snapshot-var_lib_machines_v2019 var/lib/machines/v2019
snapshot-var_lib_machines_v2019LinuxSupport var/lib/machines/v2019LinuxSupport
snapshot-var_lib_machines_v2020 var/lib/machines/v2020
snapshot-var_lib_machines_v2021dev3Slim var/lib/machines/v2021dev3Slim
snapshot-var_lib_machines_v2021dev3SlimTarget var/lib/machines/v2021dev3SlimTarget
snapshot-var_lib_machines_v2022dev2OspackMinimal var/lib/machines/v2022dev2OspackMinimal
snapshot-var_lib_portables var/lib/portables
snapshot-var_log var/log
snapshot-var_spool_news var/spool/news
snapshot-var_tmp var/tmp
snapper

Entirely independent of this, but indirectly related. I use snapper as my snapshotting tool. It worked perfect on my previous machine. While everything got migrated, the only thing that fell apart was snapper. It just wouldn’t start/run proper. Funny thing is that I just removed the snapper configs and reinitialized with the exact same config again, and voila snapper was happy.

Conclusion

That was pretty much it. With the above and then also migrating /boot and then just chroot to install the boot loader. At some time, I’d like to explore other boot options but given that that is such a non-essential task, it is low on the list.

The good part was that I booted into my new machine with my exact workstation setup as it was. All the way to the user cache and the desktop session. So it was nice on that part.

But I surely think there’s room for a better migration experience here. If not directly as btrfs migrate, then maybe as an independent tool. The problem is that such a tool is going to be used once in years, so I didn’t find the motivation to write one. But this surely would be a good use case for the distribution vendors.

Russ Allbery: Review: Hench

11 January, 2022 - 09:56

Review: Hench, by Natalie Zina Walschots

Publisher: William Morrow Copyright: September 2020 ISBN: 0-06-297859-4 Format: Kindle Pages: 403

Anna Tromedlov is a hench, which means she does boring things for terrible people for money. Supervillains need a lot of labor to keep their bases and criminal organizations running, and they get that labor the same way everyone else does: through temporary agencies. Anna does spreadsheets, preferably from home on her couch.

On-site work was terrifying and she tried to avoid it, but the lure of a long-term contract was too strong. The Electric Eel, despite being a creepy sleazeball, seemed to be a manageable problem. He needed some support at a press conference, which turns out to be code for being a diversity token in front of the camera, but all she should have to do is stand there.

That's how Anna ended up holding the mind control device to the head of the mayor's kid when the superheroes attack, followed shortly by being thrown across the room by Supercollider.

Left with a complex fracture of her leg that will take months to heal, a layoff notice and a fruit basket from Electric Eel's company, and a vaguely menacing hospital conversation with the police (including Supercollider in a transparent disguise) in which it's made clear to her that she is mistaken about Supercollider's hand-print on her thigh, Anna starts wondering just how much damage superheroes have done. The answer, when analyzed using the framework for natural disasters, is astonishingly high. Anna's resulting obsession with adding up the numbers leads to her starting a blog, the Injury Report, with a growing cult following. That, in turn, leads to a new job and a sponsor: the mysterious supervillain Leviathan.

To review this book properly, I need to talk about Watchmen.

One of the things that makes superheroes interesting culturally is the straightforwardness of their foundational appeal. The archetypal superhero story is an id story: an almost pure power fantasy aimed at teenage boys. Like other pulp mass media, they reflect the prevailing cultural myths of the era in which they're told. World War II superheroes are mostly all-American boy scouts who punch Nazis. 1960s superheroes are a more complex mix of outsider misfits with a moral code and sarcastic but earnestly ethical do-gooders. The superhero genre is vast, with numerous reinterpretations, deconstructions, and alternate perspectives, but its ur-story is a good versus evil struggle of individual action, in which exceptional people use their powers for good to defeat nefarious villains.

Watchmen was not the first internal critique of the genre, but it was the one that everyone read in the 1980s and 1990s. It takes direct aim at that moral binary. The superheroes in Watchmen are not paragons of virtue (some of them are truly horrible people), and they have just as much messy entanglement with the world as the rest of us. It was superheroes re-imagined for the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate era, for the end of the Cold War when we were realizing how many lies about morality we had been told. But it was still put superheroes and their struggles with morality at the center of the story.

Hench is a superhero story for the modern neoliberal world of reality TV and power inequality in the way that Watchmen was a superhero story for the Iran-Contra era and the end of the Cold War.

Whether our heroes have feet of clay is no longer a question. Today, a better question is whether the official heroes, the ones that are celebrated as triumphs of individual achievement, are anything but clay. Hench doesn't bother asking whether superheroes have fallen short of their ideal; that answer is obvious. What Hench asks instead is a question familiar to those living in a world full of televangelists, climate denialism, manipulative advertising, and Facebook: are superheroes anything more than a self-perpetuating scam? Has the good superheroes supposedly do ever outweighed the collateral damage? Do they care in the slightest about the people they're supposedly protecting? Or is the whole system of superheroes and supervillains a performance for an audience, one that chews up bystanders and spits them out mangled while delivering simplistic and unquestioned official morality?

This sounds like a deeply cynical premise, but Hench is not a cynical book. It is cynical about superheroes, which is not the same thing. The brilliance of Walschots's approach is that Anna has a foot in both worlds. She works for a supervillain and, over the course of the book, gains access to real power within the world of superheroic battles. But she's also an ordinary person with ordinary problems: not enough money, rocky friendships, deep anger at the injustices of the world and the way people like her are discarded, and now a disability and PTSD. Walschots perfectly balances the tension between those worlds and maintains that tension straight to the end of the book. From the supervillain world, Anna draws support, resources, and a mission, but all of the hope, true morality, and heart of this book comes from the ordinary side.

If you had the infrastructure of a supervillain at your disposal, what would you do with it?

Anna's answer is to treat superheroes as a destructive force like climate change, and to do whatever she can to drive them out of the business and thus reduce their impact on the world. The tool she uses for that is psychological warfare: make them so miserable that they'll snap and do something too catastrophic to be covered up. And the raw material for that psychological warfare is data.

That's the foot in the supervillain world. In descriptions of this book, her skills with data are often called her superpower. That's not exactly wrong, but the reason why she gains power and respect is only partly because of her data skills. Anna lives by the morality of the ordinary people world: you look out for your friends, you treat your co-workers with respect as long as they're not assholes, and you try to make life a bit better for the people around you. When Leviathan gives her the opportunity to put together a team, she finds people with skills she admires, funnels work to people who are good at it, and worries about the team dynamics. She treats the other ordinary employees of a supervillain as people, with lives and personalities and emotions and worth. She wins their respect.

Then she uses their combined skills to destroy superhero lives.

I was fascinated by the moral complexity in this book. Anna and her team do villainous things by the morality of the superheroic world (and, honestly, by the morality of most readers), including some things that result in people's deaths. By the end of the book, one could argue that Anna has been driven by revenge into becoming an unusual sort of supervillain. And yet, she treats the people around her so much better than either the heroes or the villains do. Anna is fiercely moral in all the ordinary person ways, and that leads directly to her becoming a villain in the superhero frame. Hench doesn't resolve that conflict; it just leaves it on the page for the reader to ponder.

The best part about this book is that it's absurdly grabby, unpredictable, and full of narrative momentum. Walschots's pacing kept me up past midnight a couple of times and derailed other weekend plans so that I could keep reading. I had no idea where the plot was going even at the 80% mark. The ending is ambiguous and a bit uncomfortable, just like the morality throughout the book, but I liked it the more I thought about it.

One caveat, unfortunately: Hench has some very graphic descriptions of violence and medical procedures, and there's an extended torture sequence with some incredibly gruesome body horror that I thought went on far too long and was unnecessary to the plot. If you're a bit squeamish like I am, there are some places where you'll want to skim, including one sequence that's annoyingly intermixed with important story developments.

Otherwise, though, this is a truly excellent book. It has a memorable protagonist with a great first-person voice, an epic character arc of empowerment and revenge, a timely take on the superhero genre that uses it for sharp critique of neoliberal governance and reality TV morality, a fascinatingly ambiguous and unsettled moral stance, a gripping and unpredictable plot, and some thoroughly enjoyable competence porn. I had put off reading it because I was worried that it would be too cynical or dark, but apart from the unnecessary torture scene, it's not at all. Highly recommended.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Dirk Eddelbuettel: Rblpapi 0.3.13: Some Fixes and Documentation

10 January, 2022 - 06:07

A new version, now at 0.3.13, of the Rblpapi package just arrived at CRAN. Rblpapi provides a direct interface between R and the Bloomberg Terminal via the C++ API provided by Bloomberg (but note that a valid Bloomberg license and installation is required).

This is the thirteenth release since the package first appeared on CRAN in 2016. It comprises the PRs from three different contributors (with special thanks once again to Michael Kerber), and extends test and documentation, and extends two function interfaces to control explicitly whether returned lists of length one should be simplified.

The list of changes follow below.

Changes in Rblpapi version 0.3.13 (2022-01-09)
  • Add a test for bds (Michael Kerber in #352)

  • Add simplify argument (and option) to bdh and bds (Dirk in #354 closing #353, #351)

  • Improve documentation for bsearch (John in #357 closing #356)

Courtesy of my CRANberries, there is also a diffstat report for the this release. As always, more detailed information is on the Rblpapi page. Questions, comments etc should go to the issue tickets system at the GitHub repo.

If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can now sponsor me at GitHub.

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

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