Older blog entries for robertc (starting at number 148)

LibrePlanet 2010 Day 2

John Gilmore keynote – What do we do next, having produced a free software system for our computers? Perhaps we should aim at Windows? Wine + an extended ndiswrapper to run other hardware drivers + a better system administration interface/resources/manuals. However that means knowing a lot about windows internals – something that open source developers don’t seem to want to do. We shouldn’t just carry on tweaking – its not inspiring; whats our stretch goal? Discussion followed – reactos, continue integrating software and people with a goal of achieving really close integration: software as human rights issue! ‘Desktop paradigm needs to be replaced’ : need to move away from a document based desktop to a device based desktop. Concern about the goal of running binary drivers for hardware: encourages manufacturers to sell hardware w/out specs; we shouldn’t encourage the idea that that is ok. Lots of concern about cloning, lots of concern about what will bring more freedom to users, and what it will take to have a compelling vision to inspire 50000 free software hackers. Free software in cars – lots of safety issues in .e.g brake controllers, accelerators.

Eben Moglen – ‘We’re at the inflection point of free software’ – because any large scale global projects these days are not feasible without free software. Claims that doing something that scales from tiny to huge environment requires ‘us’ — A claim I would (sadly) dispute. Lots of incoming and remaining challenges. ‘Entirely clear that the patent systems relationship to technology is pathological and dangerous’ – that I agree with! Patent muggings are a problem – patent holders are unhappy with patents granted to other people :) . Patent pools are helping slowly as they grow. Companies which don’t care about the freedom aspect of GPLv3 are adopting it because of the patent protection aspects. Patent system is at the head of the list of causes-of-bad-things affecting free software. SFLC is building coalitions outside the core community to protect the interests of the free software community. We are starting to be taken for granted at the high end of mgmt in companies that build on free software. … We face a problem in the erosion of privacy. We need to build a stack, running on commodity hardware that runs federated services rather than folk needing centralised services.

Marina Zhurakhinskaya on GNOME Shell: Integrates old and new ideas in an overall comprehensive design. Marina ran through the various goals of the shell – growing with users, being delightful, starting simply so new users are not overwhelmed. The activities screen looks pretty nice ;) The workspace rearrangement UI is really good. The notifications thing is interesting; you can respond to a chat message in-line in the notification.

Richard Stallman on Software as a Service – he presented verbally the case made in the paper. Some key quotes… “All your data on a server is equivalent to total spyware” – I think this is a worst-case analogy; it suggests that you can never trust another party: kindof a sad state of paranoia to assume that all network servers are always out to get you all the time. And I have to ask – should we get rid of Savannah then (because all the data is stored there) – the argument for why Savannah is not SaaS is not convincing: its just file storage, so what makes it different to e.g. Ubuntu One? “If there is a server and only a little bit of it is SaaS, perhaps just say don’t worry about it – because that little bit is often the hardest bit to replace.”  ”Lets write systems for collaborative word process that don’t involve a central server” — abiword w/the sharing plugin ? :) RMS seems to be claiming that someone else sysadmining a server for you is better than someone else sysadmining a time-shared server for you: I don’t actually see the difference, unless you’re also asserting that you’ll always have root over your’ own machine’. The argument seems very fuzzy and unclear to me as to why there is really a greater risk – in particular when there is a commercial relationship with the operator (as opposed to, say, an advertising supported relationship).

Syndicated 2010-03-20 21:09:34 from Code happens

LibrePlanet – GNU Hackers Meetup

GNU Hackers meetups are a face to face meeting to balance the online collaboration that GNU maintainers and contributors do all the time. These are  a recent (since 2007) thing, and are having a positive effect within GNU and the FSF.

The LibrePlanet 2010 GNU Hackers meetup runs concurrent with the first day of LibrePlanet.

We started with some project updates:

  • SipWitch – a project to do discovery of SIP endpoints and setup encryption etc. This looks quite interesting, and is looking for contributors.
  • Bazaar – I presented an update on where Bazaar is at and what we’re focusing on now and in the future:
    • short term: merging and collaboration:
      • merge behaviour
      • conflict behaviour
      • develop a rebase that can combine unrelated branches
      • looms to be polished, or pipelines extended – something to manage long-standing patches for distributions, or other environments that need long lived patch sets.
    • long term
      • continuing optimisation of network and local perf
      • meta-branch operations – mirror collections of branches,
      • work with many branches at once (many branches in one dir (a-la git, hopefully less confusing)
      • easier ‘get up and go’ for new contributors
    • now and forever
      • keep fostering community growth
      • we’re aiming for negative bug growth- get on top and stay there

Felipe Sanches presented his list of things that should be on the high priority project list:

  • accessibility since 1st boot
  • reconfigurable hardware development (FPGA tools) – this is particularly relevant for handling e.g. wifi cards that have a FPGA in the card, so we can replace the non-free microcode.
  • nonfree firmware issue


John Eaton on Octave. John compared the octave contributors – 30 or so over the years, and never more than 2 at a time. The Proprietary product Matlab that Octave is very similar to has 2000 staff working at the company producing it. Users seem to expect the two products to be equivalent, and are disappointed that Octave is less capable, and that the community is not as able to do the sort of support that a commercial organisation might have done. Octave would like to gain some more developers and be able to educe users more effectively – convert more to become developers.

Rob Myers, the chief GNU webmaster gave a description of his role: The webmasters deal with adding new content, dealing with mail to webmaster@, which can be queries for the GNU project, random questions about CDs, and an endless flood of spam. The webmasters project is run as a free software project – the site is in CVS (yes CVS), visible on Savannah. Templates could be made nicer and perhaps move to a CMS.

Aubrey Jaffer on cross platform. There is a thing called Water which is meant to replace all the different languages used in web apps – generates html, css, alters the DOM, does what you’d do with javascript. So there is a Water -> backend translator that outputs Java for servers, C# for windows, and so on. (I think, this wasn’t entirely clear). He went on to talk about many of the internals of a thing called Schlep which is used as a compiler to get scheme code running in C/C#/Java so as to make it available to Water backends in different environments.

Matt Lee spoke about GNU FM – GNU FM is a free ‘last.fm’ site. The site is running at http://libre.fm/.  24ish devs, but stalle after 6 months – whats next? Matt has started GNU Social to build a communication framework for GNU projects to talk to each other – e.g. for each GNU FM site to communicate on the back end, with a particular focus on doing social functionality – groups, friendships, personal info. The wiki page needs ideas!

GNU advisory board discussion…   too much to capture, but focused GNU wide issues – things like how projects get contributors, contributions, coordination. Teams were a big discussion point, bug trackers – how to coordinate teams followed up of that, and there is s ‘GNU Source Release Collection’ project to do coordinated releases of GNU software that are all known to work together.

Syndicated 2010-03-19 21:33:02 from Code happens

LCA 2010 videos are showing up

Not all the videos are there yet, but they are starting to show up . Yay. See http://mirror.internode.on.net/pub/linux.conf.au/2010/index.html or your local LA mirror.

Syndicated 2010-03-17 03:19:40 from Code happens

Yay Dell-with-Ubuntu down under

Dell has been offering Ubuntu on selected models for a while. I had however nearly given up hope on being able to buy one, because they hadn’t started doing that in Australia. I am very glad to see this has changed though – check out their notebook page. Not all models yet, but a reasonable number have Ubuntu as an option.


Syndicated 2010-02-15 05:48:12 from Code happens

Using UEC instead of EC2

So, we wanted to move a Hudson CI server at Canonical from using chroots to VM’s (for better isolation and security), and there is this great product Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud (UEC – basically Eucalyptus). To do this I needed to make some changes to the Hudson EC2 plugin – and thats where the fun starts. While I focus on getting Hudson up and running with UEC in this post, folk generally interested in the differences between UEC and EC2, or getting a single-machine UEC instance up for testing should also find this useful.

Firstly, getting a test UEC instance installed was a little tricky – I only had one machine to deploy it on, and this is an unusual configuration. Nicely though, it all worked, once a few initial bugs and misconfiguration items got fixed up. I wrote up the crux of the outcome on the Ubuntu community help wiki. See ‘1 Physical system’. The particular trap to watch out for seems to be that this configuration is not well tested, so the installation scripts have a hard time getting it right. I haven’t tried to make it play nice with Network Manager in the loop, but I’m pretty sure that that can be done via interface aliasing or something similar.

Secondly I needed to find out what was different between EC2 and UEC (Note that I was running on Karmic (Ubuntu 9.10) – so things could be different in Lucid). I couldn’t find a simple description of this, so this list may be incomplete:

  1. UEC runs an old version of the EC2 API. This is because it hasn’t implemented everything in the new API versions yet.
  2. UEC defaults to port 8773, not port 80 (for both the EC2 and S3 API’s)
  3. The EC2 and S3 API’s are rooted differently: at AWS they are at /, for UEC they are at /services/Eucalyptus and /services/Walrus
  4. UEC doesn’t supply a SSL API port as far as I can tell.
  5. DescribeImages has something wonky with it.

So the next step then is to modify the Hudson EC2 plugin to support these differences. Fortunately it is in Java, and the Java community has already updated the various libraries (jets3t and typica) to support UEC – I just needed to write a UI for the differences and pass the info down the various code paths. Kohsuke has let me land this now even though it has an average UI (in rev 27366), and I’m going to make the UI better now by consolidating all the little aspects into a couple of URL’s. Folk comfortable with building their own .hpi can get this now by svn updating and rebuilding the ec2 plugin. We’ve also filed another bug asking for a single API call to establish the endpoints, so that its even easier for users to set this up.

Finally, and this isn’t a UEC difference, I needed to modify the Hudson EC2 plugin to work with the ubuntu user rather than root, as Ubuntu AMI’s ship with root disabled (as all Ubuntu installs do). I chose to have Hudson reenable root, rather than making everything work without root, because the current code paths assume they can scp things as root, so this was less disruptive.

With all that done, its now possible to configure up a Hudson instance testing via UEC nodes. Here’s how:

  1. Install UEC and make sure you can run up instances using euca-run-instances, ssh into them and that networking works for you. Make sure you have installed at least one image (EMI aka AMI) to run tests on. I used the vanilla in-store UEC Karmic images.
  2. Install Hudson and the EC2 plugin (you’ll need to build your own until a new release (1.6) is made).
  3. Go to /configure and near the bottom click on ‘Add a new cloud’ and choose Amazon EC2.
  4. Look in ~/.euca/eucarc, or in the zip file that the UEC admin web page lets you download, to get at your credentials. Fill in the Access Key and Secret Access key fields accordingly. You can put in the private key (UEC holds onto the public half) that you want to use, or (once the connection is fully setup) use the “Generate Key’ button to have a dedicated Hudson key created. I like to use one that I can ssh into to look at a live node – YMMV. (Or you could add a user and as many keys as you want in the init script – more  on that in a second).
  5. Click on Advanced, this will give you a bunch of details like ‘EC2 Endpoint hostname’. Fill these out.
  6. Sensible values for a default UEC install are: 8773 for both ports, /services/Eucalyptus and /services/Walrus for the base URLs, and SSL turned off. (Note that the online help tells you this as well).
  7. Set an instance cap, unless you truely have unlimited machines. E.g. 5, to run 5 VMs at a time.
  8. Click on ‘Test Connection’ – it should pretty much instantly say ‘Success’.
  9. Thats the Cloud itself configured, now we configure VM’s that Hudson is willing to start. Click on ‘Add’ right above the ‘List of AMIs to be launched as slaves’ text.
  10. Fill out the AMI with your EMI – e.g. emi-E027107D is the Ubuntu 9.10 image I used.
  11. for remote FS root, just put /hudson or something, unless you have a preseeded area (e.g. with a shared bzr repo or something) inside your image.
  12. For description describe the intent of the image – e.g. ‘DB test environment’
  13. For the labels put one or more tags that you will use to tell test jobs they should run on this instance. They can be the same as labels on physical machines – it will act as an overflow buffer. If no physical machines exist, a VM will be spawned when needed. For testing I put ‘euca’
  14. For the init script, its a little more complex. You need to configure up java so that hudson itself can run:
    cat >> /etc/apt/sources.list << EOF
    deb http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ karmic multiverse
    deb http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ karmic-updates multiverse
    deb http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ karmic-security multiverse
    export http_proxy=
    export DEBIAN_FRONTEND=noninteractive
    apt-get update
    echo "buildd shared/accepted-sun-dlj-v1-1 boolean true" | debconf-set-selections
    apt-get install -y -f sun-java6-jre

    Note that I have included my local HTTP proxy there – just remove that line if you don’t have one.

  15. Click on Advanced, to get at the less-common options.
  16. For remote user, put ‘ubuntu’, and for root command prefix put ’sudo’.
  17. For number of executors, you are essentially choosing the number of CPU’s that the instance will request. E.g. putting 20 will ask for an extra-large high-cpu model machine when it deploys. This will then show up as 20 workers on the same machine.
  18. Click save :)
  19. Now, when you add a job a new option in the job configuration will appear – ‘tie this job to a node’. Select one of the label(s) you put in for the AMI, and running the job will cause that instance to start up if its not already available.

Note that Hudson will try to use java from s3 if you don’t install it, but that won’t work right for a few reasons – I’ll be filing an issue in the Hudson tracker about it, as thats a bit of unusual structure in the existing code that I’m happier leaving well enough alone :) .

Syndicated 2010-02-11 01:41:53 from Code happens

Is a code of silence evil?

Looking at using google apps for my home email, as I want to be able to have my home machines totally turned off from time to time.

Found this interesting gem in the sign up agreement (which I have not yet agreed to :P ):

11. PR. Customer agrees not to issue any public announcement regarding the existence or content of this Agreement without Google’s prior written approval. Google may (i) include Customer’s Brand Features in presentations, marketing materials, and customer lists (which includes, without limitation, customer lists posted on Google’s web sites and screen shots of Customer’s implementation of the Service) and (ii) issue a public announcement regarding the existence or content of this Agreement. Upon Customer’s request, Google will furnish Customer with a sample of such usage or announcement.

This is rather asymmetrical: If I agree to the sign up page, I cannot say ‘I am using google apps’, but google can say ‘Robert is using google apps’. While I can appreciate not wanting to be dissed on if something goes wrong, this is very much not open! A couple of implications: Everyone seeking support for google apps in the apps forums is probably in violation of the sign up agreement; we can assume that anyone having a terrible experience has been squelched under this agreement.

Le sigh.

Syndicated 2010-02-09 08:47:47 from Code happens

Adding new languages to Ubuntu

Scott recently noted that we don’t have Klingon available in Ubuntu. Klingon is available in ISO 639, so adding it  should be straight forward.

Last time I blogged about this three packages needed changing, as well as Launchpad needing a translation team for the language. The situation is a little better now: only two packages need changing as gdm now dynamically looks for languages based on installed locales.

libx11 still needs changing – a minimal diff would be:

=== modified file 'nls/compose.dir.pre'
--- libx11-1.2.1/nls/compose.dir.pre
+++ libx11-1.2.1/nls/compose.dir.pre
@@ -406,0 +406,1 @@
+en_US.UTF-8/Compose:        tlh_GB.UTF-8
=== modified file 'nls/locale.alias.pre'
--- libx11-1.2.1/nls/locale.alias.pre
+++ libx11-1.2.1/nls/locale.alias.pre
@@ -1083,0 +1083,1 @@
+tlh_GB.utf8:                    tlh_GB.UTF-8
 === modified file 'nls/locale.dir.pre'
--- libx11-1.2.1/nls/locale.dir.pre
+++ libx11-1.2.1/nls/locale.dir.pre
@@ -429,0 +429,1 @@
+en_US.UTF-8/XLC_LOCALE:            tlh_GB.UTF-8

Secondly, langpack-locales has to change for two reasons. Firstly a locale definition has to be added (and locales define a place – a language and locale information like days of the week, phone number formatting etc. Secondly the language needs to be added to the SUPPORTED list in that package, so that language packs are generated from Launchpad translations.

Now, gdm autodetects, but it turns out that only ‘complete’ locales were being shown. And that on Ubuntu, this was not looking at language pack directories, rather at


which langpack-built packages do not install translations into. So it could be a bit random about whether a language shows up in gdm. Martin Pitt has kindly turned on the ‘with-incomplete-locales’ configure flag to gdm, and this will permit less completely translated locales to show up (when their langpack is installed – without the langpack nothing will show up).

Syndicated 2010-02-05 23:42:42 from Code happens

lCA 2010 Friday

Tridge on ‘Patent defence for open source projects’. Watch it! Some key elements:

  • prior art defence is very very hard – ‘non infringement’ is a much better defense because you only need to show you don’t do the independent claims.
  • Reading a patent doesn’t really harm us because triple damages is no less fatal than single damages :) Reading patents to avoid them is a good idea.
  • Dealing with patents is very technical. It needs training (and the talk has that training)
  • Patents are hard to read.
  • Claims are often interpreted much more specifically than engineers expect.
  • Best prior art is our own source code, with VCS date records and the exact date often matters because of the riority date.
  • Invalidation: dead patents are vampires… and when they come back they are harder to kill again. Read the file wrapper – audit log containing all correspondence <-> patent office and applicant.
  • Patents are not code: judges can vary the meaning.
  • Claim charts are what you use to talk to patent lawyers.
  • Build workarounds *and publish them*. Encourage others to adopt them.

Syndicated 2010-01-24 02:18:35 from Code happens

LCA 2010 Friday keynote/lightning talks

Nathan Torkington on 3 lightning keynotes:

1) Lessons learnt!

‘Technology solves problems’… no it doesn’t, its all about the meatsacks!

‘If you live a good life you’ll never have to care about marketing’… steer the meatsacks

‘English is an imperative language for controlling meatsacks.’… Tell the smart meatsacks what you want (english is declarative).

2) Open source in New Zealand:

A bit of a satire :) ‘Sheep calculator’, tatoos as circuit diagrams. The reserve bank apparently has a *working* water-economy-simulator. Shades of Terry Pratchett!

3) Predictions – more satire about folk that make predictions – financial analysts, science journalists.

After that, it was lightning talk time. I’ve just grabbed some highlights.

Selena Deckelmann talked about going to Ondo in Nigeria and un-rigging an election:

  1. Run for political office.
  2. Lose – but polls had suggested the reverse result
  3. Don’t give up – protest file May 14 2007
  4. Use technology – fingerprint scanning – 84814 duplicate fingerprints, 360 exactly the same fingerprints
  5. Patience – 2 years and the courts reversed the election

http://flossmanuals.net – nice friendly manuals in many languages writen at book sprints.

Kate Olliver presented on making an origami penguin.

Mark Osbourne presented ‘Open Source School’ – a school in New Zealand that has gone completely open source, even though the NZ school system pays microsoft 10Million/year for a country wide license.

Syndicated 2010-01-21 21:04:59 from Code happens

LCA 2010 Thursday

Jeremy Allison on ‘The elephant in the room – free software and microsoft’. While he works at Google, this talk was ‘off the leash’ – not about Google :) . As usual – grab the  video :) We should care about Microsoft because Microsoft’s business model depends on a monopoly [the desktop]. Microsoft are very interested in ‘Open Source’ – Apache, MIT, BSD licenced software – the GPL is intolerable. Jeremy models Microsoft as a collection of warring tribes that hate each other… e.g. Word vs Excel.

The first attack was on protocols – make the protocols more complex and sophisticated. MS have done this on Kerberos, DCE/RPC, HTTP, and higher up the stack via MSIE rendering modes, ActiveX plugins, Silverlight…  The EU case was brought about this in the ‘Workgroup Server Market’. MS were fined 1 Billion Euros and forced to document their proprietary protocols.

OOXML showed up rampant corruption in the ISO Standards process – but it got through even though it was a battle against nearly everyone! On the good side it resulted into an investigation into MS dominance in file formats -> MS implemented ODF and MS have had to document their old formats.

MS have an ongoing battle in the world wide web – IE / Firefox, ajax applications/ silverlight.

All of these things are long term failures for MS… so what next?… Patents :( . Patents are GPL incompatible, but fine with BSD/MIT. The Tom Tom is the first direct attack using MS’s patent portfolio. This undermines all the outreach work done by the MS Open Source team – which Jeremy tells us are true believers in open source, trying to change MS from the inside. Look for MS pushing RAND patented standards: such things lock us out.

Netbooks are identified as a key point for MS to fight on – lose that and the desktop position is massively weakened.

We should:

  • Keep creating free software and content *under a copyleft license*.
  • Keep pressure on Governments and organisations to adopt open standards and investigate monopolies.
  • Lobby against software patents.
  • Search for prior art on relevant patents and destroy them.
  • Working for a corporation is a moral choice: respectfully call out MS employees.

Jonathan Oxer spoke about the google Moon X-prize and the lunarnumbat.org project – it needs contributors: software and hardware hackers, arduino/beagleboard/[M]JPEG2000 gooks, code testers and reviewers, web coding, documentation, math heads & RF hackers. Sounds like fun… now to find time!

Paul McKenney did another RCU talk – and as always it was interesting… Optimisation Gone Bad (RCU in Linux 1993-2008). Linux 2.6 -rt patch made RCU much much much more complex with atomic operations, memory barriers, frequent cache misses, and since then it was slowly being whittled back, but there is now a new simpler RCU based around the concept of doing the accounting during context switches & tracking running tasks.

Syndicated 2010-01-20 23:28:41 from Code happens

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