Older blog entries for joey (starting at number 499)

I am become Joey, destroyer of drives

drive #1

To add to the fun of being in Nicaragua, my laptop's solid state drive died the second day here. Seems this is the failure mode for a SSD, get a little slow, and then a switch flips and it stops accepting any writes, at all, becoming a read-only media. Never was there an indication of a problem in SMART etc.

Did you know that Nicaragua has neither names for most roads, nor addresses? Rather than trying to shoehorn the directions to my hotel into the address fields of Amazon.com, I shipped the replacement SSD to home, and thought I'd limp along.

drive #2

I destroyed my second drive one hour after getting it working. A borrowed USB flash drive, which seems to have melted under the unusual load while I was away at lunch. Perhaps putting an ext3 filesystem on it was a very bad idea, although I have successfully run other USB flash drives that way for years. Perhaps it was a cheap drive that only pretended to hold 32 gb.

drive #3

For several days I happily used the third drive, a USB hard drive, as my temporary root filesystem. Until I destroyed it by knocking it off my bed.

drive #4, #5

Now my netbook is running from a Debian Live USB key, with a second USB key for my customisations. So far I have not managed to destroy these, but there's still a day left in my trip..

Syndicated 2012-07-13 22:43:36 from see shy jo

debian-cd work at DebCamp

I've been working the past two days on debian-cd, which was the main thing (besides git-annex assistant) I planned to work on at DebCamp.

Yesterday, Steve McIntyre and I cleaned up some cruft in debian-cd's package lists. This freed somewhere in the area of 30 mb. I also took a grep through d-i and made sure the CDs include packages that d-i can optionally install in some situations.

Today, I investigated how Recommends are ordered on the CD, and concluded it's as close to optimal as can be easily achieved. So was not able to save space there, but I did find a way to reorganize the desktop task that avoids needing to include a lot of printing stuff and some other stuff on the first CD. While that helped some, it still didn't get either Gnome or Kde to entirely fit, so getting there will probably involve rebuilding 100 or so packages with xz, if someone decides to do that.

So it's stil TBD whether Gnome or Kde will fit on a single CD in Debian wheezy. At this point I think most of us are getting tired of fighting this increasingly losing battle every release, and so other options like only having a desktop DVD are looking more appealing, as they solve the problem long-term. This would also free up the first CD for other interesting use cases, perhaps xfce, or perhaps a CD targeted at server users, and/or containing high-popularity non-desktop packages.

Syndicated 2012-07-09 02:52:58 from see shy jo

git-annex-assistant milestone

I reached a nice milestone on my git-annex assistant in my first day's work at DebCamp in Nicaragua. Here's a screencast demoing it.

git-annex-assistant.ogg (12 MB)

By the way, the weather, food, and people here are all excellent.

Syndicated 2012-07-05 22:40:10 from see shy jo

notes for a caretaker

I recently had the sort of weird experience of a recent blog post being on the top of Hacker News and there being a fair amount of interest in the details of my wacky living situation.

I could write a detailed post explaining everything, but that'd be boring .. instead I'll tease the stalkers with more oblique references to it. So here's my notes for a caretaker who will be here while I'm away at DebConf.


Please make yourself at home!

  • The back bedroom bed is made
  • That weird thing on a stand next to it that looks like a juice container with a wire coming out of it is a lamp. Plug it in to use it.
  • Check battery voltage (press the green button on the Xantrex controller) and avoid using much power if it gets below 12.0 volts. (10.0 is absolute minimum)
  • Orange inverter on stand in front bedroom has a switch to turn on, regular power cord on front porch.
  • Plug in server computer in kitchen (under my portrait), wait 10 minutes, and you can get online with wireless. (Wireless network is "hollow", and is an ad-hoc network, with Cell id AA:AA:AA:AA:AA:AA. You may have to enter this information manually.) Slow is normal.
  • Cook stove: Pull red handle behind stove to turn on gas. Light w/lighter. Turn off cook stove gas with red handle when not in use!
  • Eat any staple foods in kitchen.
  • Eat everything in fridge! (It won't keep; food lasts only half as long in it as you're used to.)
  • Check once a day (especially on windy or stormy days) that the fridge is lit, by touching the black pipe sticking above it on the back. That's its chimney. It should be warm to the touch. Temperature can be adjusted in rear also. If fridge is blown out, follow instructions printed in back to re-light.
  • Human drinking water is in large jugs in kitchen + red water cooler. Sorry it's so turbid right now, I'm using a neighbor's well.. but it's safe. I have not tested the water from the large cistern yet this year.
  • Dishwashing water: Use water from any of these (non-potable) sources:
    • rain barrels
    • outdoor shower (on way to outhouse, not at parking area; that other one is fed from a spring that has dried up)
    • large pail on coffee table
  • Please don't drink the distilled water; it's used in battery maintenance.
  • Feed dog 3/4 of metal bowl each day (on porch, next to table)
  • Cat: 1 dish full each day.
  • Consider brushing the cat, with the folding saw, on the left-side porch steps, every other day. Hairballs..
  • Chickens: 3/4 yoghurt container of feed per day (feeding station is across yard, down steps, on right; some feed is in container there)
  • Eggs can be found in nest under bush in woods. Trail starts to left of shower, goes about 10 feet in. Eat eggs, or give to dog with food.
  • Blueberries are currently available on the small hill near the greenhouse.
  • Dog and chicken feed is in front bedroom.
  • Keep solar powered fountian to the left of the sliding door full; it's used by the dog and chickens.
  • Cat has large water pail in bathroom, good for about 2 weeks.
  • Take animal water from rain barrels or from shower outside. (Can detach hose for easier access and watering.)
  • Also water lemon and lime trees, in pots, if it's dry. (Feel free to eat lemons.)
  • The house does best in hot weather if all windows are closed during the day, and opened during the night.
  • If it gets too humid inside, drain water from trays of salt underneath the pantry shelves, and run the fan.

Syndicated 2012-07-02 02:07:35 from see shy jo

trying obnam

Obnam 1.0 was released during several months when I had no well-connected server to use for backups. Yesterday I installed a terabyte disk in a basement with a fiber optic network connection, so my backupless time is over.

Now, granted, I have a very multi-layered approach to backups; all my data is stored in git, most of it with dozens of copies automatically maintained, and with archival data managed by git-annex. But I still like to have a "real" backup system underneath, to catch anything else. And to back up those parts of my user's data that I have not given them tools to put into git yet...

My backup server is not my basement, so I need to securely encrypt the backups stored there. Encrypting your offsite backups is such a good idea that I've always been surprised at the paucity of tools to do it. I got by with duplicity for years, but it's increasingly creaky, and the few times I've needed to restore, it's been a terrific pain. So I'm excited to be trying Obnam today.

So far I quite like it. The only real problem is that it can be slow, when there's a transatlantic link between the client and the server. Each file backed up requires several TCP round-trips, and the latency kills the bandwidth. Large files are still sent fast, and obnam uses little resources on either the client or server while running. And this mostly only affects the initial, full backup.

But the encryption and ease of use more than make up for this. The real killer feature with Obnam's encryption isn't that it's industry-standard encryption with gpg, that can be trivially enabled with a single option (--encrypt-with=DEADBEEF). No, the great thing about it is its key management.

I generate a new gpg key for each system I back up. This prevents systems reading each other's backups. But that means you have to backup the backup keys.. or when a system is lost, the backup would be inaccessible.

With Obnam, I can instead just grant my personal gpg key access to the repository: obnam add-key --keyid 2512E3C7. Now both the machine's key and my gpg key can access the data. Great system; can't revoke access, but otherwise perfect. I liked this so much I stole the design and used it in git-annex too. :)

I'm also pleased I can lock down .ssh/authorized_keys on my backup server, to prevent clients running arbitrary commands. Duplicity runs ad-hoc commands over ssh, which defeated me from ever locking it down. Obnam can be easily locked down, like this: command="/usr/lib/openssh/sftp-server"

This could still be improved, since clients can still read the whole filesystem with sftp. I'd like to have something like git-annex's git-annex-shell, which can limit access to only a specific repository. Hmm, if Obnam had its own server-side program like this, it could stream backup data to it using a protocol that avoids the roundtrips needed by the SFTP protocol, and fix the latency issue too. Lars, I know you've been looking for a Haskell starter project ... perhaps this is it? :)

Syndicated 2012-06-24 22:00:07 from see shy jo

I work for The Internet now

I have an interesting problem: How do I shoehorn "hired by The Internet for a full year to work on Free Software" into my resume?

Yes, the git-annex Kickstarter went well. :) I had asked for enough to get by for three months. Multiple people thought I should instead work on it for a full year and really do the idea justice. Jason Scott was especially enthusiastic about this idea. So I added new goals and eventually it got there.

graph: up and to the right, to 800% funded

Don Marti thinks the success of my Kickstarter validates crowdfunding for Free Software. Hard to say; this is not the first Free Software to be funded on Kickstarter. Remember Diaspora?

Here's what I think worked to make this a success:

  • I have a pretty good reach with this blog. I reached my original goal in the first 24 hours, and during that time, probably 75% of contributions were from people I know, people who use git-annex already, or people who probably read this blog. Oh, and these contributors were amazingly generous.

  • I had a small, realistic, easily acheivable goal. This ensured my project was quickly visible in "successful projects" on Kickstarter, and stayed visible. If I had asked for a year up front, I might not have fared as well. It also led to my project being a "Staff Pick" for a week on Kickstarter, which exposed it to a much wider audience. In the end, nearly half my funding came from people who stumbled over the project on Kickstarter.

  • The git-annex assistant is an easy idea to grasp, at varying levels of technical expertise. It can be explained by analogy to DropBox, or as something on top of git, or as an approach to avoid to cloud vendor lockin. Most of my previous work would be much harder to explain to a broad audience in a Kickstarter. But this still appeals to very technical audiences too. I hit a sweet spot here.

  • I'm enhancing software I've already written. This made my Kickstarter a lot less vaporware than some other software projects on Kickstarter. I even had a branch in git where I'd made sure I could pull off the basic idea of tying git-annex and inotify together.

  • I put in a lot of time on the Kickstarter side. My 3 minute video, amuaturish as it is, took 3 solid days work to put together. (And 14 thousand people watched it... eep!) I added new and better rewards, posted fairly frequent updates, answered numerous questions, etc.

  • I managed to have at least some Kickstarter rewards that are connected to the project is relevant ways. This is a hard part of Kickstarter for Free Software; just giving backers a copy of the software is not an incentive for most of them. A credits file mention pulled in a massive 50% of all backers, but they were mostly causual backers. On the other end, 30% of funds came from USB keychains, which will be a high-quality reward and has a real use case with git-annex.

    The surprising, but gratifying part of the rewards was that 30% of funds came from rewards that were essentially "participate in this free software project" -- ie, "help set my goals" and "beta tester". It's cool to see people see real value in participating in Free Software.

  • I was flexible when users asked for more. I only hope I can deliver on the Android port. Its gonna be a real challange. I even eventually agreed to spend a month trying to port it to Windows. (I refused to develop an IOS port even though it could have probably increased my funding; Steve's controlling ghost and I don't get along.)

  • It seemed to help the slope of the graph when I started actually working on the project, while the Kickstarter was still ongoing. I'd reached my original goal, so why not?

I've already put two weeks work into developing the git-annex assistant. I'm blogging about my progress every day on its development blog. The first new feature, a git annex watch command that automatically commits changes to git, will be in the next release of git-annex.

I can already tell this is going to be a year of hard work, difficult problems, and great results. Thank you for helping make it happen.

Syndicated 2012-06-19 16:14:36 from see shy jo

going to DebConf 12

going to Debconf button

Nicaragua here I come! I plan to be at DebCamp for a few days too, taking advantage of some time on internet-better-than-dialup to work on fixing the tasks on the CDs. Also will be available for one-on-one sessions on debhelper, debconf, debian-installer development, pristine-tar, or git-annex. Give me a yell if you'd like to spend some time learning about any of these.

Also, my git-annex Kickstarter ends in 3 days. It has reached heights that will fund me, at a modest rate, for a full year of development!

(I'm also about to start renting my house for the first time. Whee!)

Syndicated 2012-06-08 19:18:57 from see shy jo

a year of olduse.net

My olduse.net exhibit has now finished replaying the first year of historical Usenet posts from 30 years ago, in real time.

That was only twelve thousand messages, probably less than many people get on Facebook in a year.. but if you read along this year, you probably have a much better feel for what early Usenet was like. If you didn't, it's not too early to start, 9 years of Usenet's flowering lie ahead.

I don't know how many people followed along. I read .. not every message, but a large fraction of them. I see 40 or so unique NNTP connections per day, and some seem to stick around and read for quite a while, so I'm guessing there might be a few hundred people following on a weekly basis.

If you're not one of them, and don't read our olduse.net blog, here are a few of the year's highlights:

  • After announcing the exhibit it hit all the big tech sites like Hacker News and Slashdot, and Boing Boing. A quarter million people loaded the front page. For a while every one of those involved a login to my server to run tin. I have some really amusing who listings. Every post available initially was read an average of 100 times, which was probably more than they were read the first go around.
  • Beautiful ascii art usenet maps were posted as the network mushroomed; I collected them all. In a time-delayed collaboration with Mark, I produced a more modern version.
  • We watched sites struggle with the growth of usenet, and followed along as B-news was developed and deployed.
  • In 2011, Dennis Richie passed. We still enjoy his wit and insight on olduse.net.
  • We enjoyed the first posts of things like The Hacker's Dictionary and DEC Wars.
  • Some source code posted to usenet still compiles. I haven't found anything to add to Debian, yet. :)

I will probably be expiring the first year's messages before too long, to have a more uncluttered view. So if you wanted to read them, hurry up!

Syndicated 2012-06-03 18:10:53 from see shy jo

the rocket

The best thing about rockets is when they go up successfully, and don't come back down.

graph

My git-annex Kickstarter reached escape velocity 24 hours after launch, and is now past 200% funded.

This is great news, because it gives me more time to spend hacking on git-annex, and will let me add more features and polish it better. I had set the goal at a minimal amount because I'd have hated not to get funded at all if this hadn't taken off. But the current funding is much more comfortable, and the further up it goes, the more scope the project can have.

screenshot

At the point shown above, the project had started to be highlighted as popular, based largely on kind and generous readers of this blog and git-annex users who chipped in. For a while, I personally knew around 1/3rd of contributors.

That was enough to get it noticed by Kickstarter staff, which in turn has led to more growth. I love the juxtaposition of geeky tech project with other stuff here.

screenshot

I have 17 days remaining until the Kickstarter is finished. I really had worried it might take that long to get funded. As it is, I can't wait to see where the rocket's trajectory takes it in that time!

Syndicated 2012-05-26 03:29:40 from see shy jo

kickstarter for git-annex assistant

I'm doing a Kickstarter! The plan is to take git-annex and use it as the foundation to build a DropBox-like application, that can be used without any knowledge of git. The other part of the plan is for me to get through the summer with my finances intact. :)

kickstarter

My Kickstarter page explains in more detail, but the basic idea is to make git-annex watch a directory, with inotify, and automatically add and sync files placed there. Then build a local web app to control and configure it. I have a working prototype of the inotify part already; getting the distributed syncronisation to work well will be a major challenge; and overall it's going to be a challanging but I think very achievable project.

One thing I'm really excited about is the potential of Kickstarter to connect me with a diverse group of potential users, who are interested enough in a distributed and autonomous equivilant to DropBox to fund my project. Because, with luck, their involvement won't stop at giving some money, but will extend to actually using what I'm developing, and giving me feedback on it.

I hope this will widen the sphere of git-annex users, beyond the current very technically inclined crowd. It's awesome to have users doing things like taking git-annex on the transiberian railroad to help manage all their photos, and others using it to store scientific data ... but getting more regular folks using git, even if they don't know about it, is something I'm very interested in.

xkcd-esque drawing

BTW, I was surprised how much I got into doing the video for the Kickstarter. Using xkcd-style drawings used to explain technical concepts is a medium I enjoy working in. My own git-annex is stuffed with 17 gigabytes of video clips -- 99 separate takes! -- that boiled down to a 2 minute video.

Anyway, please consider backing me if you can, and more importantly, do anything you can to help spread the word. Thanks!

Syndicated 2012-05-23 16:17:14 from see shy jo

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