Planet Fellowship (en)

Monday, 26 January 2015

Get your Nagios issues as an iCalendar feed

DanielPocock.com - fsfe | 21:37, Monday, 26 January 2015

The other day I demonstrated how to get your Github issues/bugs as an iCalendar feed.

I'm planning to take this concept further and I just whipped up another Python script, exposing Nagios issues as an iCalendar feed.

The script is nagios-icalendar. Usage is explained concisely in the README file, it takes just minutes to get up and running.

One interesting feature is that you can append a contact name to the URL and just get the issues for that contact, e.g.:

http://nagios-server.example.org:5001?contact=daniel

Screenshots

Here I demonstrate using Mozilla Lightning / Iceowl-extension to aggregate issues from Nagios, the Fedora instance of Bugzilla and Lumicall's Github issues into a single to-do list.

New horizons

Karsten on Free Software | 12:01, Monday, 26 January 2015

By October this year, FSFE will have a new leadership team. When my current (third) term as the organisation’s president comes to an end this autumn, I will hand over the role of president, and move on to new horizons.

FSFE is in a great place right now. We’re making a bigger impact than ever before. We sharpened and refocused our mission during 2014, and developed a new strategy focused on empowering users. We are reaching more people than ever before, and have very good traction with policymakers. People value what we do: Thanks to our Fellows and donors, FSFE’s finances look better than they ever have.

FSFE’s fierce independence and focus on the long term make it a very special place to work. My current job is a wonderful vantage point from which to explore the world. But from time to time, it’s good to change one’s perspective and seek out new challenges.

Come October, Matthias Kirschner will take over as president, pending confirmation by FSFE’s General Assembly. Having worked very tightly with him for the past years, I can confidently say that he is the single best person to take FSFE forward into the future. He knows the organisation inside out, takes to policy work like a duck to water, and is very good at getting people to work together. He will make an excellent president.

Before then, in March, we’re taking on board an executive director. This will be a someone who has been with FSFE from the start: Jonas Öberg, one of FSFE’s founding members and a former vice-president. Jonas has considerable experience in managing Free Software-related projects and organisations. This includes building up the FSCons conference in its original form, acting as Creative Commons’ coordinator for Europe, his latest venture Commons Machinery and and the Elog.io project. We couldn’t have found a better person for this role.

So, what are you doing next?

Professionally, I’m going to look for a role where I can make a difference, and bring to bear the skills I’ve learned running FSFE. I’d love to continue working with digital freedoms, strategy, and policy. This could be at the helm of another NGO, or as part of a larger organisation or company. If you would like to discuss potential opportunities, I’ll be delighted to hear from you.

With regard to FSFE, I will remain part of the General Assembly, and will give my full support to Matthias and Jonas as they drive the organisation forward. Wherever my work will take me, FSFE and the Free Software community will always remain close to my heart.

My candidacy in FSFE’s Fellowship Election 2015

/var/log/fsfe/flx » planet-en | 11:49, Monday, 26 January 2015

Dear FSFE Fellow,

For those of you reading this post because you’re trying to decide who to vote for in the upcoming Fellowship Election (which starts 20 February), I’ve tried to provide a little bit of information about myself and my candidature.

About me

I’m FSFE’s Deputy Coordinator Netherlands. I’ve been a Fellow since 2008. You can read about some of the things I’ve done for FSFE last year in my blog post about FSFE Netherlands in 2014.

I also volunteer at (Dutch digital rights organisation) Bits of Freedom‘s Privacy Café (and other CryptoParties).

I’m currently studying Computer Science & Cyber Security at Radboud University in the Netherlands.

I’m interested in Privacy, Security, Free Software, Freedom and (Digital) Civil Rights; as well as Mathematics, Computer Science and Software Development. I also enjoy teaching and speaking.

My goals

I’m highly motivated to do more for the FSFE. I’d like to:

  • continue the Dutch team’s transborder activities with Fellows from Germany and Belgium;
  • be more active on team@;
  • and improve communication & cooperation with (Dutch) Fellows, other organisations & communities, and the general public.

Being a Fellowship representative would provide me with a great opportunity to do this (and more).

Who to vote for?

I think Max & Nicolas would be great Fellowship representatives as well and we seem to share many of the same goals.

So I’m not going to tell you why you should elect me instead of one of them — although I certainly hope you’ll vote for me.

Instead, I want to tell you that no matter who wins the election, I intend to work together with Max & Nicolas — and all of you — to make FSFE even better.


You’ve already found your way to my blog, but you can also follow me on twitter. And if you’d like to get in touch with me, feel free to send me an email.

See you @ FOSDEM!

- Felix

FSFE Netherlands in 2014

/var/log/fsfe/flx » planet-en | 09:49, Monday, 26 January 2015

Now that 2015 is in full swing, here’s a look back at what happened in the Netherlands in 2014; and a peek forward at what’s to come in 2015.

fellows

Changes in 2014

Regular Meetings

With several fellows living in or around Nijmegen, we now have regular meetings at Linux Nijmegen.

Dutch Team

We now have a Dutch Team! Consisting of André, Jeroen, Kevin, Maurice, Nico, Roel, Willem, and myself. Contact us at netherlands@fsfeurope.org.

Dutch Translations

André & Nico are doing a wonderful job translating & proofreading. Thank you!

Privacy Café

I became a regular volunteer at Bits of Freedom‘s Privacy Café (where I also try to tell visitors about the importance of Free Software and hand out FSFE leaflets).


Events in 2014

CryptoParty

We started the year with a CryptoParty at Linux Nijmegen on 14 January.

Düsseldorf

Maurice and I visited our neighbouring fellowship group in Düsseldorf several times in 2014.

FOSDEM

We had a Benelux Fellowshipmeeting at FOSDEM 2014.

EPFSUG

I attended EPFSUG‘s “Trust your friends” event at the European Parliament, which featured the official launch of DebianParl.

Free Software Pact

We asked Dutch candidates in the European elections to sign the Free Software Pact; several did and some of them were elected!

The Importance of Free Software

I wrote about The Importance of Free Software.

Privacy Café Utrecht

I held a lightning talk about the importance of Free Software at a Privacy Café in Utrecht.

Fellowshipmeeting in Utrecht

We had a Dutch Fellowshipmeeting in Utrecht on 24 May at the Dutch Linux Users Group (NLLGG)‘s bimonthly meeting.

Germanophone Team Meeting

Maurice and I attended FSFE’s Germanophone Team Meeting 2014. I led a workshop on Privacy and Free Software.

T-DOSE

Maurice, Kevin and I spoke at T-DOSE. A lot of Dutch fellows were there, and of course we brought the FSFE booth.

OpenRheinRuhr

André, Maurice, Willem and I visited our neighbours at OpenRheinRuhr. I even sold a few T-shirts at the FSFE booth.

Fundraising

We’ve started contacting Dutch companies and organisations to raise funds for FSFE’s work in 2015.

31C3

Maurice and I attended the 31st Chaos Communication Congress and also visited FSFE’s assembly.


2015

Privacy Café Nijmegen

I organised the first Privacy Café in Nijmegen.

Fellowship Election

Nicolas Dietrich, Max Mehl and I are candidates in the Fellowship Election 2015.

FOSDEM

See you at FOSDEM 2015! I’ll probably spend a fair amount of time behind or near the FSFE booth. There will also be another Benelux Fellowshipmeeting.

… and more

We’re ambitious to do even more in 2015 (now that we have a bigger Dutch Team) and we’re still looking for ideas (and we can use your help).

If you have ideas or suggestions for our work in 2015, want to ask a question, or if you just want to say hi, feel free to contact us at netherlands@fsfeurope.org or via the (public) Benelux mailing list (which also features discussions and announcements).


That’s it for now. I’m excited to do even more in 2015. Thanks everyone!

- Felix

Sunday, 25 January 2015

My candidacy for FSFE’s Fellowship Election

Max's weblog » English | 23:24, Sunday, 25 January 2015

Dear FSFE-Fellow,

you hopefully visited this page because you want to give your precious vote for the FSFE’s Fellowship election (which starts to February 20) to one of the three candidates, Nicolas, Felix, or to me.

The Fellowship Election takes place once a year. The elected person will be part of FSFE’s General Assembly, its most important organ, for 2 years. The GA makes important decisions like the strategic agenda or budget plans. The two Fellowship representatives have the honorable task to attend these discussion in the name of the hundreds and thousands of Fellows. Besides that, they can also use their weight to push changes to the FSFE which all Fellows might benefit from. So these elections are a very important democratic tool for YOU to influence FSFE’s future path.

In the next few paragraphs I want to tell you who I am, why I want to be your representative, why I may be the right person for that task and also why you may not want to vote for me.

About me

My name is Max Mehl, 24 years old and currently living in Konstanz, Germany, next to the Swiss border. I’m in my last semester of Politics and Administration. Besides I work as an IT freelancer (computer support, websites, server administration) where I work with Free Software as much as possible. In some months I will go to Tanzania, Africa for half a year to work there as a volunteer teacher.

My connection to FSFE began 2011 when I subscribed FSFE’s translators mailing list. It didn’t took long until I became a proud Fellow like you. But all the time I wanted to do more – not because I had a lot of time but because I felt that this Free Software organisation is something special. And as luck would have it, I was able to do my six months internship (required by my university) at FSFE’s Berlin office where I met many staffers, GA members, Fellows and volunteers. With this motivation and gained knowledge I joined the germanophone team where I am as active as in web@ or translators@. On my FSFE team page there’re listed some campaigns and activities which I am involed into.

In my free time I am leading the local scouts group, and if there’s some time I play guitar and Pen&Paper RPGs.

My goals as your representative

During my internship where I was able to look behind many scenes I realised that one thing needs improvement for Fellows: more insight and transparency. Admit it: We’re supporting the FSFE financially (and that’s great!) but do you exactly know which people are using it for what? Wouldn’t it be good to have the possibility to 1. get to know the great people behind FSFE and 2. get to know what they are currently working on?

When I spoke with some Fellows in my home town, most of them don’t know about our structure or the staffers and what they’re doing. I think, that’s something which has to be improved, for example by periodical small reports by the people themselves and the interesting things they’ve done in the, let’s say, last 4 weeks – from their personal perspective.
And that wouldn’t even cause really more time consumption for the staffers because many reports already exist – they just have to made public in a way Fellows could be interested in (and not complicated organigrams or endless lists of avatars).

From a Fellowship representative I also expect to be available for all kinds of questions and feedback of the people he represents. So for me it goes without saying that you could contact me anytime if you want to know something or want me to bring some input in the General Assembly. Of course, I would also still be an active member of the teams I’m working with at the moment, so translators@, web@, the compulsory routers team and some others would still have to read my mails :P

A few reasons to vote for me

The goals I explained above aren’t going to be easily implemented. FSFE is – like many others – a place where people like to discuss their opinion. My advantage is to know most of the many perspectives of FSFE: The view as a volunteer, a Fellow and a staffer. Especially as the last I had a quite good oversight over many aspects because I helped organising campaigns, co-worked with many people in- and outside of FSFE, followed a lot of internal discussions and also witnessed a few conflicts. I can relate to both our Fellows’ side and the staffers’ or GA members’ side and I am confident to be able to intermediate when needed.

And a few reasons to not vote for me

When thinking about running for the seat as a Fellowship representative, there came also some reasons in my mind why you may not want to vote for me. All of them may be legit but I also want you to know my side of the story.

You are German
Yes, I know. There’re people complaining about the percentage of Germans or german-speakers inside FSFE. First of all, I cannot relate to this problem because there are a lot of people from other nationalities very active in FSFE and the whole Free Software movement. And second, I cannot understand this nationality-focussed point of view. We’re an European organisation, most of FSFE’s work is communicated in English on mailing lists and chats and if you take a look in the translators team you’ll see that collaboration between different nations and languages works. And additionally I live so close beneath the Swiss border that many – even German – people don’t even know in which country I live ;)

You are male
True, it would be cool to have more women inside FSFE. Unfortunately there’re no women running for this seat so if you don’t vote for me or Felix and Nicolas because of this reason, please ask you female friends to get active in FSFE, become Fellow and run for this seat! There’ll be many people appreciating it :)

You are going to Tanzania soon
One may think that living in Africa makes it impossible for a western living to represent tech-savvy people. I don’t think so. There are many internet cafés, my workplace has two broadband connections and you can also have quite cheap internet connection via radio network. So I would still be able to follow discussions in mailing lists and answer your questions and concerns. And this stay in Tanzania would only last a quarter of the whole representative’s term.

Privacy Café Nijmegen

/var/log/fsfe/flx » planet-en | 08:01, Sunday, 25 January 2015

In spite of the snow the first Privacy Café in Nijmegen was a success!

With (only) four volunteers (from Bits of Freedom and the Free Software Foundation Europe) we managed to help 60 to 80 visitors to better protect their privacy.

Some of the Linux Nijmegen folks came by as well.

The Dutch “menu” can be found here (pdf) and the slides here. English versions can be found here (pdf) and here.

For some background on the Privacy Café in English, see my earlier post.

I’d like to thank all volunteers and visitors! See you next time.

- Felix

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Get your Github issues as an iCalendar feed

DanielPocock.com - fsfe | 23:07, Saturday, 24 January 2015

I've just whipped up a Python script that renders Github issue lists from your favourite projects as an iCalendar feed.

The project is called github-icalendar. It uses Python Flask to expose the iCalendar feed over HTTP.

It is really easy to get up and running. All the dependencies are available on a modern Linux distribution, for example:

$ sudo apt-get install python-yaml python-icalendar python-flask python-pygithub

Just create an API token in Github and put it into a configuration file with a list of your repositories like this:

api_token: 6b36b3d7579d06c9f8e88bc6fb33864e4765e5fac4a3c2fd1bc33aad
bind_address: ::0
bind_port: 5000
repositories:
- repository: your-user-name/your-project
- repository: your-user-name/another-project

Run it from the shell:

$ ./github_icalendar/main.py github-ics.cfg

and connect to it with your favourite iCalendar client.

Consolidating issue lists from Bugzilla, Github, Debian BTS and other sources

A single iCalendar client can usually support multiple sources and thereby consolidate lists of issues from multiple bug trackers.

This can be much more powerful than combining RSS bug feeds because iCalendar has built-in support for concepts such as priority and deadline. The client can use these to help you identify the most critical issues across all your projects, no matter which bug tracker they use.

Bugzilla bugtrackers already expose iCalendar feeds directly, just look for the iCalendar link at the bottom of any search results page. Here is an example URL from the Mozilla instance of Bugzilla.

The Ultimate Debian Database consolidates information from the Debian and Ubuntu universe and can already export it as an RSS feed, there is discussion about extrapolating that to an iCalendar feed too.

Further possibilities

  • Prioritizing the issues in Github and mapping these priorities to iCalendar priorities
  • Creating tags in Github that allow issues to be ignored/excluded from the feed (e.g. excluding wishlist items)
  • Creating summary entries instead of listing all the issues, e.g. a single task entry with the title Fix 2 critical bugs for project foo

Screenshots

The screenshots below are based on the issue list of the Lumicall secure SIP phone for Android.

Screenshot - Mozilla Thunderbird/Lightning (Icedove/Iceowl-extension on Debian)

My first LV2 plugin

tobias_platen's blog | 21:30, Saturday, 24 January 2015

My first LV2 plugin

Recently I wrote my first LV2 plugin. It’s an additive singing synthesizer similar to Madde by Svante Granqvist but it also uses the Excitation plus Resonance voice model that is used by VOCALOID. It runs in realtime and it can be controlled using a MIDI keyboard. But it can also act as a placeholder for the singing voice in an Ardour project when composing songs.

LV2 is a plugin standard for free software developers that allows decentralized extensibility. It is a replacment for the older LADSPA and DSSI plugin standards that are commonly used with older DAWs such as Rosegarden and LMMS. Unlike other well known plugin standards such as VST there are no licencing restrictions in LV2. There is a small program called Jalv which connects your LV2 plugins to Jack and makes testing easy. It is also possible to combine multiple plugins and applications using Patchage which allows you to make modular synthesizers.

The MaddeLOID plugin is part of my work on free virtual singer project which aims at building a free software replacement for both VOCALOID and UTAU. There are already some free programs such as jcadencii, vConnect-STAND and Sinsy, but most of them lack flexibility and support for other languages than Japanese. Therefore I started writing my own programs that fill the gap and improving existing ones where it should be done. New features such as Non-Session Management and Jack Transport are likely to be added to the QTau Editor, which currently lacks both a working synthesizer and a lyricizer. I dedided to use eSpeak as the speech synthesis backend, which does two different things. First words are converted to phonetic symbols, and in the second step the waveform is generated. Then WORLD is used to change the length of the notes and to apply vibrato and portamento. All of my programs and related documentation can be cloned from my gitorious.

Yourls URL Shortener for Turpial

Max's weblog » English | 01:58, Saturday, 24 January 2015

Maybe you know Yourls, a pretty cool URL shortener which you can set up on your own server very easily. Link shorteners are nice to have because

  1. you can share long links with short urls and
  2. you can view and organise all links you ever shared (incl. statistics and so on).

There are many alternatives like bit.ly, ur1.ca and so on, but Yourls belongs to YOU and you don’t have to pay attention to ToS changes or the provider’s financial status. AND you can use whichever domain you own, for example in my case it’s s.mehl.mx/blabla.

And maybe you also know Turpial, a Twitter client for GNU/Linux systems (I don’t like Twitter’s web page). Until lately I used Choqok, a KDE optimised client, but there were many things which annoyed me: No image previews, slow development, unconvenient reply behaviour and so on. And hey, why not trying something new? So I started to use Turpial which seems to solve all these critic points. Well, like always I missed some preferences to configure. But since it’s Free Software, one is able to look how the software works and to change it – and to share the improvements which I’ll do in the next step!

Turpial already offers some link shorteners but not Yourls. But we can add it manually. To do so, open the file /usr/lib/python2.7/dist-packages/libturpial/lib/services/url/shortypython/shorty.py as root. Now add the following somewhere between the already existing shorteners

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# Yourls
class Yourls(Service):
 
	def shrink(self, bigurl):
		resp = request('http://YOUR_DOMAIN/yourls-api.php', {'action': 'shorturl', 'format': 'xml', 'url': bigurl, 'signature': 'YOUR_SIGNATURE'})
		returned_data = resp.read()
		matched_re = re.search('(http://YOUR_DOMAIN/[^"]+)', returned_data)
		if matched_re:
			return matched_re.group(1)
		else:
			raise ShortyError('Failed to shrink url')
 
yourls = Yourls()

Just replace YOUR_DOMAIN and YOUR_SIGNATURE accordingly. The usage of a signature enables you to hide your username and password when sending the shorten requests, like an API key and looks like f51qw35w6 (more about passwordlessAPI). You can retrieve your signature on your Yourls’ Admin page via “Tools”.

Then add the new service to the list of shorteners. In the same file search for services = { (on the bottom) and add somewhere in the following list:

'yourls-instance': yourls,

Well, then just restart Turpial, go to Preferences > Services and choose “yourls-instance” from the list of Short URL services. Congrats, you should be able to short your URLs with Yourls in Turpial now :)

Any problems or improvements? Drop me a message!

__________
Notes:

  • For me, only hardcoding the signature worked but not the prompt for these data like in some other services stated in the file
  • Another file worth your attention might be /usr/lib/python2.7/dist-packages/turpial/ui/qt/templates/style.css. There you can change colors, fonts and so on. For example, the “Ubuntu” font wasn’t installed on my system so I just chose Sans Serif instead.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Last exam finished ☺

Hook’s Humble Homepage | 11:15, Friday, 23 January 2015

Yesterday I passed my last exam on my alma mater – the Faculty of Law, University of Ljubljana.

With the International (Public) Law behind me, I have collected all the academic pokémon needed to level up, there are no more exams left between me and my thesis.

So next up: finishing my LL.M., which is about the FLA and already taking shape.

Yay!

hook out → la di da, la di da di da daaaaaa ☺

Sunday, 25 January 2015

FSFE’s assembly at Chaos Communication Congress (31C3)

Don't Panic » English Planet | 16:32, Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Chaos Communication Congress has been held for the 31st time (“31C3″ in short) in the end of 2014 (December 27 to 30) and FSFE was present for the first time with a so-called assembly. An assembly at the Chaos … Continue reading

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Brown Dogs and Barbers – “Could not have come at a better time, nor be better pitched”

Computer Floss | 09:37, Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The British Computer Society (BCS), the professional body for IT workers in the UK, was kind enough to publish a review of my book Brown Dogs and Barbers recently and gave it a roaringly good verdict – 9 out of 10. Here is a link to the review.

Of course, it’s very nice for someone to pay your work compliments, like being called “eloquent” and having an “easy, engaging style”. But there are other things in the review which I’m particularly pleased to read because they show that I’m achieving my goals for the book.

For instance, the reviewer agrees with me that the book is “aimed squarely at the intelligent layperson, it requires no prior expertise and sits within the genre of popular science.” I’m glad that I have managed to present these ideas in an understandable way that requires no background knowledge.

Furthermore, the reviewer recommends the book to target audiences that I also intended to shoot for: “IT professionals, teachers, parents and their teenage children will all find it an invaluable introduction to the key concepts and their practical application.” This is especially nice to read as I now know that the reviewer is in the field of education, working at a British school and active in the Computing at School BCS working group.

In the reviewer’s opinion (and mine too) Brown Dogs and Barbers is also a book that’s relevant to people already working in IT, stating: “If you have no background in computer science, this book will be a revelation. And if you think you know what computer science is about, this book will invoke connections you may never have considered before.”

If you’d like to read for yourself what prompted this review, you can order my book online at Smashwords or Amazon, where there are also samples to try before you buy.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Quantifying the performance of the Microserver

DanielPocock.com - fsfe | 19:53, Tuesday, 20 January 2015

In my earlier blog about choosing a storage controller, I mentioned that the Microserver's on-board AMD SB820M SATA controller doesn't quite let the SSDs perform at their best.

Just how bad is it?

I did run some tests with the fio benchmarking utility.

Lets have a look at those random writes, they simulate the workload of synchronous NFS write operations:

rand-write: (groupid=3, jobs=1): err= 0: pid=1979
  write: io=1024.0MB, bw=22621KB/s, iops=5655 , runt= 46355msec

Now compare it to the HP Z800 on my desk, it has the Crucial CT512MX100SSD1 on a built-in LSI SAS 1068E controller:

rand-write: (groupid=3, jobs=1): err= 0: pid=21103
  write: io=1024.0MB, bw=81002KB/s, iops=20250 , runt= 12945msec

and then there is the Thinkpad with OCZ-NOCTI mSATA SSD:

rand-write: (groupid=3, jobs=1): err= 0: pid=30185
  write: io=1024.0MB, bw=106088KB/s, iops=26522 , runt=  9884msec

That's right, the HP workstation is four times faster than the Microserver, but the Thinkpad whips both of them.

I don't know how much I can expect of the PCI bus in the Microserver but I suspect that any storage controller will help me get some gain here.

Monday, 19 January 2015

jSMPP project update, 2.1.1 and 2.2.1 releases

DanielPocock.com - fsfe | 21:29, Monday, 19 January 2015

The jSMPP project on Github stopped processing pull requests over a year ago and appeared to be needing some help.

I've recently started hosting it under https://github.com/opentelecoms-org/jsmpp and tried to merge some of the backlog of pull requests myself.

There have been new releases:

  • 2.1.1 works in any project already using 2.1.0. It introduces bug fixes only.
  • 2.2.1 introduces some new features and API changes and bigger bug fixes

The new versions are easily accessible for Maven users through the central repository service.

Apache Camel has already updated to use 2.1.1.

Thanks to all those people who have contributed to this project throughout its history.

Storage controllers for small Linux NFS networks

DanielPocock.com - fsfe | 13:59, Monday, 19 January 2015

While contemplating the disk capacity upgrade for my Microserver at home, I've also been thinking about adding a proper storage controller.

Currently I just use the built-in controller in the Microserver. It is an AMD SB820M SATA controller. It is a bottleneck for the SSD IOPS.

On the disks, I prefer to use software RAID (such as md or BtrFs) and not become dependent on the metadata format of any specific RAID controller. The RAID controllers don't offer the checksumming feature that is available in BtrFs and ZFS.

The use case is NFS for a small number of workstations. NFS synchronous writes block the client while the server ensures data really goes onto the disk. This creates a performance bottleneck. It is actually slower than if clients are writing directly to their local disks through the local OS caches.

SSDs on an NFS server offer some benefit because they can complete write operations more quickly and the NFS server can then tell the client the operation is complete. The more performant solution (albeit with a slight risk of data corruption) is to use a storage controller with a non-volatile (battery-backed or flash-protected) write cache.

Many RAID controllers have non-volatile write caches. Some online discussions of BtrFs and ZFS have suggested staying away from full RAID controllers though, amongst other things, to avoid the complexities of RAID controllers adding their metadata to the drives.

This brings me to the first challenge though: are there suitable storage controllers that have a non-volatile write cache but without having other RAID features?

Or a second possibility: out of the various RAID controllers that are available, do any provide first-class JBOD support?

Observations

I looked at specs and documentation for various RAID controllers and identified some of the following challenges:

Next steps

Are there other options to look at, for example, alternatives to NFS?

If I just add in a non-RAID HBA to enable faster IO to the SSDs will this be enough to make a noticeable difference on the small number of NFS clients I'm using?

Or is it inevitable that I will have to go with one of the solutions that involves putting a vendor's volume metadata onto JBOD volumes? If I do go that way, which of the vendors' metadata formats are most likely to be recognized by free software utilities in the future if I ever connect the disk to a generic non-RAID HBA?

Thanks to all those people who provided comments about choosing drives for this type of NAS usage.

Related reading

Key Update

freedom bits | 11:42, Monday, 19 January 2015

I’m a fossil, apparently. My oldest PGP key dates back to 1997, so around the time when GnuPG just got started – and I switched to it early. Over the years I’ve been working a lot with GnuPG, which perhaps isn’t surprising. Werner Koch has been one of the co-founders of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) and so we share quite a bit of a long and interesting history together. I was always proud of the work he did – and together with Bernhard Reiter and others was doing what I could to try and support GnuPG when most people did not seem to understand how essential it truly was – and even many security experts declared proprietary encryption technology acceptable. Bernhard was also crucial to start the more than 10 year track record of Kolab development supporting GnuPG over the years. And especially the usability of GnuPG has always been something I’ve advocated for. As the now famous video by Edward Snowden demonstrated, this unfortunately continued to be an unsolved problem but hopefully will be solved “real soon now.”

 

In any case. I’ve been happy with my GnuPG setup for a long time. Which is why the key I’ve been using for the past 16 years looked like this:
sec# 1024D/86574ACA 1999-02-20
uid                  Georg C. F. Greve <greve@gnu.org>
uid                  Georg C. F. Greve <greve@fsfeurope.org>
uid                  Georg C. F. Greve <greve@brave-gnu-world.org>
uid                  Brave GNU World <column@gnu.org>
uid                  Georg C. F. Greve <greve@fsfe.org>
uid                  Georg C. F. Greve <greve@gnuhh.org>
uid                  Georg C. F. Greve (Kolab Systems AG, CEO) <georg.greve@kolabsys.com>
uid                  Georg C. F. Greve (Kolab Systems AG, CEO) <greve@kolabsys.com>
ssb>  1024R/B7DB041C 2005-05-02
ssb>  1024R/7DF16B24 2005-05-02
ssb>  1024R/5378AB47 2005-05-02
You’ll see that I kept the actual primary key off my work machines (look for the ‘#’) and I also moved the actual sub keys onto a hardware token. Naturally a FSFE Fellowship Smart Card from the first batch ever produced.
Given that smart card is battered and bruised, but its chip is still intact with 58470 signatures and counting, the key itself is likely still intact and hasn’t been compromised for lack of having been on a networked machine. But unfortunately there is no way to extend the length of a key. And while 1024 is probably still okay today, it’s not going to last much longer. So I finally went through the motions of generating a new key:
sec#  4096R/B358917A 2015-01-11 [expires: 2020-01-10]
uid                  Georg C. F. Greve (Kolab Systems AG, CEO) <greve@kolabsystems.com>
uid                  Georg C. F. Greve (Kolab Systems AG, CEO) <greve@kolabsystems.ch>
uid                  Georg C. F. Greve (Kolab Systems AG, CEO) <greve@kolabsys.com>
uid                  Georg C. F. Greve (Kolab Community) <georg@kolab.org>
uid                  Georg C. F. Greve (Free Software Foundation Europe, Founding President) <greve@fsfeurope.org>
uid                  Georg C. F. Greve (Free Software Foundation Europe, Founding President) <greve@fsfe.org>
uid                  Georg C. F. Greve (digitalSTROM.org Board) <georg.greve@digitalSTROM.org>
uid                  Georg C. F. Greve <mail@georggreve.net>
uid                  Georg C. F. Greve (GNU Project) <greve@gnu.org>
ssb>  4096R/AD394E01 2015-01-11
ssb>  4096R/B0EE38D8 2015-01-11
ssb>  4096R/1B249D9E 2015-01-11

My basic setup is still the same, and the key has been uploaded to the key servers, signed by my old key, which I have meanwhile revoked and which you should stop using. From now on please use the key
pub   4096R/B358917A 2015-01-11 [expires: 2020-01-10]
      Key fingerprint = E39A C3F5 D81C 7069 B755  4466 CD08 3CE6 B358 917A
exclusively and feel free to verify the fingerprint with me through side channels.

 

Not that this key has any chance to ever again make it among the top 50… but then that is a good sign in so far as it means a lot more people are using GnuPG these days. And that is definitely good news.

And in case you haven’t done so already, go and support GnuPG right now.

 

 

Are you prepared for your child’s computing education?

Computer Floss | 08:53, Monday, 19 January 2015

An overhaul of computing education is looming in schools throughout the UK.

In recent years – but at least as far back as when I was a pupil in the 1990s – education in computing and computer science within British schools had a rather narrow focus. Children learned mainly about operating computers: using word processors to write documents, whipping up spreadsheets, (maybe) building simple databases and proficiency in using an operating system (any operating system, so long as it’s Microsoft Windows).

There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s a fine goal to teach someone how to make good use of everyday applications. However, it must be admitted that this narrow focus merely teaches children how to be passive users of a computer. It gives them no grounding in the fundamentals of computing; they learn nothing about how a computer actually works.

But the upcoming overhaul of computing education will change that. Computing education will in the future focus on things like what an algorithm actually is; how to program a computer; how a program relates to an algorithm; how to detect errors in programs; how to reason about source code and find errors, and much more. It will be like physics lessons going from focusing on how to drive a car to learning the principles of the internal combustion engine.

And these changes won’t only affect college-level, or secondary school-level. It will begin from the first year of primary school.

Parents naturally want to support their children’s learning at home. With many subjects, you can do this. Many of today’s subjects are the same as when you were at school (Maths, Science, English, History etc.), so discussing their contents and helping with homework are doable. But chances are you were taught nothing about computer science at school, so how could you support your child in this subject?

One way to get a feeling is to look at the proposed syllabus. Schools in England and Wales divide all schooling into several blocks called key stages.  Each key stage covers several years of a child’s education.

Key stages 1 – 3 cover all of primary and most of secondary education. Children educated within these stages are aged between 5 and 14 years. Here’s a link to the UK Government’s breakdown of plans for teaching computing in England, but I’ve picked out some of the key parts here:

Key stage 1 (aged 5 – 7 years)

At this stage, some things your child will learn include:

  • What an algorithm is
  • What a program is and how it relates to an algorithm
  • What a digital device is
  • How to perform simple programming

Key stage 2 (aged 7 – 11 years)

  • Understand the importance of sequence, selection and repetition in algorithms
  • Understand computer networks
  • Use logical reasoning
  • Understand and detect errors in programs

Key stage 3 (aged 11 – 14 years)

  • Use and evaluate computational abstractions
  • Understand key algorithms (e.g. for sorting and searching)
  • Understand binary numbers and their use in computing
  • Understand how instructions and data are stored and executed in a computer

Some may look at that list and find that most of the items mean nothing to them. That might be discouraging if you’re a parent with a child in school. Nevertheless, it might prompt you to learn about the subject for yourself so you can share in what your son or daughter is picking up in computing lessons, but you may be unsure where to begin.

That’s one of the reasons I wrote my recently released book about computer science, Brown Dogs and Barbers. It has several intended audiences, but one of the primary ones is those people with no background in computing whatsoever who would like to learn about its fundamentals. That’s why it’s an easy-to-read book with a fun, casual style and touch of humour mixed in.

As an indicator of how helpful Brown Dogs and Barbers should be, compare the list of topics covered in the book (below) with the school syllabus. Topics that appear in both the book and the syllabus are emphasised:

  • Graph Theory
  • Set Theory
  • Sequence, selection and iteration
  • Algorithms
  • Theory of Computation
  • Turing Machine
  • Halting Problem
  • Complexity Theory
  • Binary and Hexadecimal
  • Binary Architecture
  • Von Neumann Architecture
  • Machine Coding and Assembly Language
  • High-Level Programming Languages
  • Searching and Sorting
  • Data Structures
  • Multi-tasking
  • Scheduling
  • Concurrency
  • Operating Systems
  • Networking
  • Security

I think that my book is ideal if you have school-age children and want to brush up on computer science so that you can prepare yourself to help them get to grips with this sometimes challenging but nevertheless rewarding and important subject.

It’s available to order at Smashwords or Amazon, where there are also samples to try before you buy.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Testing the Chromium OS touchpad driver on my C720

the_unconventional's blog » English | 17:00, Sunday, 18 January 2015

Now that I’ve switched to Ubuntu, using third-party software packages should be a lot easier through the use of PPA’s. For instance, having the latest versions of LibreOffice is a great advantage.

One thing that recently came to mind, was that I hadn’t yet tested the Chromium OS touchpad driver, which is said to work a lot better for the C720′s touchpad than the default Synaptics driver. I couldn’t get it to work on Debian, but perhaps Ubuntu would be a different story.

As it turned out, it was. The Synaptics driver registered a lot of unintentional taps, which seems to be a lot less of an issue with the CMT driver, which unfortunately isn’t part of any other GNU/Linux distribution than Chromium OS.

Fortunately, Hugh Greenberg has ported the driver to “normal” X.org, and provides a PPA for easy installation on Ubuntu systems.

Setting up the CMT driver is pretty easy. First off, add the PPA:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:hugegreenbug/cmt

Then update the package list and install the required packages:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install libevdevc libgestures xf86-input-cmt

Get rid of the Synaptics driver:

sudo apt-get purge xserver-xorg-input-synaptics

And undo any previous tweaks to said driver:

sudo rm /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/50-touchpad.conf

Now symlink the configuration file for your Chromebook model (Peppy for the C720):

sudo ln -s /usr/share/xf86-input-cmt/50-touchpad-cmt-peppy.conf /usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d/50-touchpad-cmt-peppy.conf

Then create a script called, for instance, ~/.touchpad.sh and add these lines to it:

#!/bin/sh

ID=`xinput | grep cyapa | cut -f 2 | sed -e 's/id=//'`

xinput --set-int-prop $ID "Tap Drag Enable" 8 1
xinput --set-float-prop $ID "Tap Drag Delay" 0.060000
xinput --set-int-prop $ID "Pointer Sensitivity" 32 4
xinput --set-float-prop $ID "Two Finger Scroll Distance Thresh" 40.0
xinput --set-float-prop $ID "Two Finger Horizontal Close Distance Thresh" 100.0
xinput --set-float-prop $ID "Two Finger Vertical Close Distance Thresh" 85.0
xinput --set-float-prop $ID "Two Finger Pressure Diff Thresh" 80.0

Make it executable by running chmod +x ~/.touchpad.sh and add it to your session startup applications (i.e. ~/.config/autostart/).

And finally reboot.

 

After using the CMT driver for a couple of days now, I can say that my quality of life has greatly improved. I use my C720 a lot, and I never really thought about how poor the touchpad actually performed with the default Synaptics driver. CMT solves pretty much all the annoyances I’ve had before, so I can understand why Google uses it for Chromium OS.

whatmaps 0.0.9

Colors of Noise - Entries tagged planetfsfe | 09:17, Sunday, 18 January 2015

I have released whatmaps 0.0.9 a tool to check which processes map shared objects of a certain package. It can integrate into apt to automatically restart services after a security upgrade.

This release fixes the integration with recent systemd (as in Debian Jessie), makes logging more consistent and eases integration into downstream distributions. It's available in Debian Sid and Jessie and will show up in Wheezy-backports soon.

This blog is flattr enabled.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

krb5-auth-dialog 3.15.4

Colors of Noise - Entries tagged planetfsfe | 09:42, Saturday, 17 January 2015

To keep up with GNOMEs schedule I've released krb5-auth-dialog 3.15.4. The changes of 3.15.1 and 3.15.4 include among updated translations, the replacement of deprecated GTK+ widgets, minor UI cleanups and bug fixes a header bar fix that makes us only use header bar buttons iff the desktop environment has them enabled:

krb5-auth-dialog with header bar krb5-auth-dialog without header bar

This makes krb5-auth-dialog better ingtegrated into other desktops again thanks to mclasen's awesome work.

This blog is flattr enabled.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Why engineering students need to be taught free software

Nico Rikken » fsfe | 22:00, Thursday, 15 January 2015

At a power systems symposium today I met some of my previous classmates of the technical university, now in the starting phase of their engineering career. My viewpoint on the need for free software in education was once again confirmed. Whilst at the university many advanced software packages are provided to students at negligible cost, at work these same tools are hard to obtain. In practice these software packages are too expensive to be used on just a couple of cases, let alone ‘try out’ to find a use case. This basically leave the choice between misusing unsuitable packages or not taking on the task in the first place, both of which are generally undesirable.

As I have learned, and my classmates are learning as well, as an engineering professional you are in need for software with no strings attached: free software. Engineers are taught to overcome many hurdles by grasping the problem and coming up with a right approach for solving the problem at hand. Restricting the set of these possible approaches by restricting the software selection ultimately leaves unmet engineering potential, making this practice hurtful to the end-result.

As each individual use case will require the software for a different use case, software packages in general cover a larger set of features in order to target a larger market of multiple use cases, resulting in relatively overpriced software. Apart from the cost of the software package, there are the costs of maintaining yet another software install and having to deal with recurring costs like license fees per year or version. A way to diminish this barrier is by offering subscriptions to hosted solutions, as many software vendors have started doing. Whilst this reduces the upfront cost, there is more to free software than cost alone.

The freedom to modify the code enables integrating the software package in a solution like an automated tool chain. Better still by modifying the underlying code or even working with upstream development engineers can customize and improve each tool of your tool set. Since it is free software no party will be able to take it from you, and you are able to fork the software if you disagree with the direction development is heading in. In this way an engineer is able to achieve far greater independence.

Whilst it seems to be a good idea to teach students to use professional software pckages used in the workplace, this approach presumes that those software packages will be available for students at the job after graduation. If this isn’t the case, these engineers experience unmet potential. By teaching free software, all students are able to exercise their potential, although some students will experience a non-free software package on the job. If the latter is the case, this presumably is because of specific features, which wouldn’t have been taught at university in the first place.

Furthermore students need to be taught to evaluate software offerings in order to select a package based on the task at hand, rather than to have a package selected for them which is often misused or underused. And free software should be taught just like academics are taught, since both value sharing information and checking the work of others.

Disk expansion

DanielPocock.com - fsfe | 20:29, Thursday, 15 January 2015

A persistent problem that I encounter with hard disks is the capacity limit. If only hard disks could expand like the Tardis.

My current setup at home involves a HP Microserver. It has four drive bays carrying two SSDs (for home directories) and two Western Digital RE4 2TB drives for bulk data storage (photos, source tarballs and other things that don't change often). Each pair of drives is mirrored. I chose the RE4 because I use RAID1 and they offer good performance and error recovery control which is useful in any RAID scenario.

When I put in the 2TB drives, I created a 1TB partition on each for Linux md RAID1 and another 1TB partition on each for BtrFs.

Later I added the SSDs and I chose BtrFs again as it had been working well for me.

Where to from here?

Since getting a 36 megapixel DSLR that produces 100MB raw images and 20MB JPEGs I've been filling up that 2TB faster than I could have ever imagined.

I've also noticed that vendors are offering much bigger NAS and archive disks so I'm tempted to upgrade.

First I looked at the Seagate Archive 8TB drives. 2TB bigger than the nearest competition. Discussion on Reddit suggests they don't have Error Recovery Control / TLER however and that leaves me feeling they are not the right solution for me.

Then I had a look at WD Red. Slightly less performant than the RE4 drives I run now, but with the possibility of 6TB per drive and a little cheaper. Apparently they have TLER though, just like the RE4 and other enterprise drives.

Will 6 or 8TB create new problems?

This all leaves me scratching my head and wondering about a couple of things though:

  • Will I run into trouble with the firmware in my HP Microserver if I try to use such a big disk?
  • Should I run the whole thing with BtrFs and how well will it work at this scale?
  • Should I avoid the WD Red and stick with RE4 or similar drives from Seagate or elsehwere?

If anybody can share any feedback it would be really welcome.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Improving Ubuntu privacy: step two

the_unconventional's blog » English | 10:00, Wednesday, 14 January 2015

You may have read my earlier post about installing Ubuntu without proprietary software. Using that script, you’ll get a minimal Unity environment without all the bloatware and the online stuff.

Still, there are some default Ubuntu and GNOME settings better off changed to improve system privacy and to reduce clutter. I’ll try to list as many of those changes as possible.

The majority of things can be done with dconf; either with the GUI dconf-editor or using gsettings set. I’ll describe the latter, because it’s a lot easier to explain.

 

Panel settings

Disable the restart menu option (useless because of the pop-up):

gsettings set com.canonical.indicator.session suppress-restart-menuitem true

Disable the user list in the session menu:

gsettings set com.canonical.indicator.session user-show-menu false

Hide the keyboard indicator:

gsettings set com.canonical.indicator.keyboard visible false

 

Launcher settings

Disable the HUD history storage:

gsettings set com.canonical.indicator.appmenu.hud store-usage-data false

Disable all scopes, use the launcher as an application drawer only:

gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Dash scopes "['home.scope', 'applications.scope', 'files.scope']"
gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Lenses always-search "['applications.scope', 'files.scope']"
gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Lenses home-lens-default-view "['applications.scope', 'files.scope']"
gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Lenses home-lens-priority "['applications.scope', 'files.scope']"
gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Lenses remote-content-search none

Disable application suggestions (in case you have USC installed):

gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.ApplicationsLens display-available-apps false

Disable locate to speed up searches (files aren’t logged anyway):

gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.FilesLens use-locate false

Nautilus settings

Disable automounting:

gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.media-handling automount false
gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.media-handling automount-open false
gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.media-handling autorun-never true

Disable recently used applications and files storage:

gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.privacy remember-app-usage false
gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.privacy remember-recent-files false

Unfortunately, not every application honors this setting, so in case you really want to avoid recently used file storage, it’s best to change the file into a directory, making it impossible to write to:

rm ~/.local/share/recently-used.xbel
mkdir ~/.local/share/recently-used.xbel

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Silent data loss exposed

DanielPocock.com - fsfe | 20:06, Tuesday, 13 January 2015

I was moving a large number of image files around and decided to compare checksums after putting them in their new home.

Ouf of several thousand files, about 80GB of data, I found that seventeen of them had a checksum mismatch.

Running md5sum manually on each of those was showing a correct checksum, well, up until the sixth file and then I found this:

$ md5sum DSC_2624.NEF
94fc8d3cdea3b0f3479fa255f7634b5b  DSC_2624.NEF
$ md5sum DSC_2624.NEF
25cf4469f44ae5e5d6a13c8e2fb220bf  DSC_2624.NEF
$ md5sum DSC_2624.NEF
03a68230b2c6d29a9888d2358ed8e225  DSC_2624.NEF

Yes, each time I run md5sum on the same file it gives a different result. Out of the seventeen files, I found one other displaying the same problem and the others gave correct checksums when I ran md5sum manually. Definitely not a healthy disk, or is it?

This is the reason why checksumming filesystems like Btrfs are so important.

There are no errors or warnings in the logs on the system with this disk. Silent data loss at its best.

Is the disk to blame though?

It may be tempting to think this is a disk fault, most people have seen faulty disks at some time or another. In the old days you could often hear them too. There is another possible explanation though: memory corruption. The data read from disk is normally cached in RAM and if the RAM is corrupt, the cache would return bad data.

I dropped the read cache:

# echo 3 > /proc/sys/vm/drop_caches 

and tried md5sum again and observed the file checksum is now correct.

It would appear the md5sum command had been operating on data in the page cache and the root cause of the problem is memory corruption. Time to run a memory test and then replace the RAM in the machine.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Lumicall: big steps forward, help needed

DanielPocock.com - fsfe | 20:02, Monday, 12 January 2015

I've recently made more updates to Lumicall, the free, open source and secure alternative to Viber and Skype.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • The dialing popup is now optional, so if you want to call your friends with Lumicall / SIP but they don't want to see the popup when making calls themselves, you can disable the popup on their phone.
  • The dialer popup now shows results asynchronously so you can dial more quickly
  • SIP SIMPLE messaging is now supported, Lumicall is now taking on WhatsApp
  • Various bugs in the preferences/settings have been fixed and adding SIP accounts is now easier
  • Dialing with a TURN relay is now much more reliable
  • It is now possible to redial SIP calls in the call history without seeing the nasty Android bug / popup telling you that you don't have Internet calling configured

F-Droid not updated yet

F-Droid is not yet carrying the latest version. The F-Droid team may need assistance as they appear to be reviewing a lot of the third-party dependencies used by apps they distribute to make sure the full stack is 100% free software. If people want to continue having the option to get Lumicall and other free software through F-Droid instead of Google Play then helping the F-Droid community is the number one way you can help Lumicall.

Other ways you can help, even without coding

You don't have to be a developer to help with Lumicall.

Taking on Viber, Skype and now WhatsApp as well may not sound easy. It isn't. Your help could make the difference though.

Here are some of the things that need assistance:

  • Helping to get it on Wikipedia, they keep deleting the page while happily hosting pages about similar products like Sipdroid and CSipSimple
  • Helping get the latest dependencies and Lumicall version into F-Droid
  • UI design ideas
  • Web site assistance
  • Documentation and screenshots, e.g. for use with Asterisk and FreeSWITCH and various SIP proxies
  • Translation
  • Messaging: to be the default SMS app on an Android device, Lumicall would need a full messaging UI and the ability to replace all functions of the default SMS app. Can anybody identify any other free software that does this and is modular enough to share the relevant code with Lumicall?
  • ZRTP: can you help improve the ZRTP stack used by Lumicall?

Try SIP SIMPLE messaging

When composing a message to a Lumicall user, the SIP address is written sip:number @sip5060.net. E.g. if the number is +442071234567 then the SIP address to use when calling or composing a message is sip:+442071234567 @sip5060.net

Debian Developers should be able to interact with Lumicall users from rtc.debian.org using the SIP over WebSocket messaging.

Getting the latest Lumicall

It is available from:

Nemein has a new home

Henri Bergius | 00:00, Monday, 12 January 2015

When I flew to Tenerife to sail across the Atlantic in late November, there was excitement in the air. Nemein — the software company I started in 2001 with Henri Hovi and Johannes Hentunen, and left later to build an AI-driven web publishing tool — was about to be sold.

Today, I'm happy to tell that Nemein has been acquired by Anders Innovations, a fast-growing software company.

Nemein joins Anders Innovations

I had a videoconference this morning with Nemein's and Anders Inno's CEOs Lauri and Tomi, and it seems the team Nemein has indeed found a good home.

Lauri and Tomi

Technologically, the companies are a good fit. Both companies have a strong emphasis on building business systems on top of the Django framework. To this mix, Nemein will also bring its long background with Midgard CMS and mobile ecosystems like MeeGo and its successor, Sailfish.

I wish the whole team at Anders Innovation the best, and hope they will be able to continue functioning as a champion of the decoupled content management idea.

Nemein has also been a valuable contributor to the Flowhub ecosystem, which I hope will continue.

For those interested in the background of Nemein, I wrote a longish story of the company's first ten years back in 2011. I also promise to write about The Grid soon!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Accepting Free Software in education is not about technology. It’s about human rights.

the_unconventional's blog » English | 21:30, Sunday, 11 January 2015

A couple of weeks ago, I read an article on the BBC site about the way gay people are being treated in Russia. It contained an interview with Vitaly Milonov; presumably one of Russia’s biggest homophobes.

Let me be very clear about this: I do not agree with his insane statements about homosexuality at all. But still, he seems to be more level-headed about the rights people have in their own homes than pretty much any Dutch school is.

Milonov is the kind of guy that got rid of his Apple smartphone after Tim Cook announced that he was gay. And while I certainly applaud anyone who stops using Apple’s products, the sexual orientation of its CEO is probably the dumbest reason for doing so.

While ranting on about how homosexuality is a sin and all gay people should die of AIDS, Milonov did, however, say that even gay people – whom he hates so much – should be allowed to live their lives as they wish in their own homes.

A Russian homophobe

Vitaly Milonov: He really hates gay people, yet acknowledges their private lives.

Let’s compare this – and by that I mean the acceptance of freedom in your own home – with the way Free Software users are being treated by Dutch schools.

When I applied for colleges back in the day, I wrote a letter to all of them asking if it would be possible for me to go there without being forced to personally accept contracts with software companies and without being forced to use devices in my home of which I could not research how they work.

My views on technology, for that matter, are very simple: if you are not allowed to analyze the inner workings of a device in your home environment, it provides an inherent risk to the safety of your family. After all, it’s in your house, and you don’t know what it’s doing.

Each and every university and college I applied to, rejected me. All of them claiming that I had to buy computers with proprietary software, that I had to use them at home, that I had to accept contracts with foreign software companies, and that I had to agree with them storing my personal data on servers of which nobody really knew how secure they were. Not even the companies maintaining them.

EULA

If you do not accept the contract that forbids you to research the devices in your home, schools do not accept your presence.

I don’t think anyone would disagree with me saying that people should be free to choose the devices they want or do not want in their own homes.

I also don’t think anyone would disagree with me saying that it’s not normal to force somebody to sign a contract when that person repeatedly says that he or she doesn’t agree with the terms.
In fact, I doubt that any lawyer in the world would ever advise their clients to sign a contract when they don’t explicitly and completely agree with its contents.

Moreover, I doubt that anyone would disagree with me saying that it’s especially inappropriate when a government-funded, (semi-)public institution forces civilians to do these things against their will.

A list of quotes

Some of the many excuses universities came up with to reject my applications.

Still, this is what happens at Dutch schools on a daily basis. Computers have become – whether we like it or not – the basis of pretty much every aspect of society. The software we run on them is therefore the basis of nearly everything in life. If we want to claim that people in our country are “free”, they shouldn’t be bullied into changing the way they want to live or the values they believe in. Most certainly not at home.

By forcing Free Software users to buy computers with proprietary software even though they don’t want to; to accept software licenses even though they don’t agree with them; and to agree with usage terms even though they don’t accept them, schools are doing exactly that. You are expected to lead your personal life the way they tell you to, no matter how you feel about that.

The price you have to pay for education in the Netherlands is the sovereignty over your own home. You can’t go to school unless you let them dictate your personal computer use. Because if you don’t use the devices they tell you to, sign the contracts they want you to, and accept the privacy risks they expect you to, you’re not welcome anywhere.

Compare that harsh reality to the words of the “ringleader” of Russian homophobes:

“They can do whatever they want in their homes.”

The Kremlin

The Kremlin, of course, is totally not gay at all. But they do respect the homes of gay people -and- they allow Free Software users in their schools.

Now don’t get me wrong. Of course I’m not implying that the general quality of life for a Free Software user in the Netherlands is worse than that of a gay person in Russia. But I can’t help but notice that a gay-bashing homophobe like Milonov has a clearer grasp of the sanctity of a personal home environment than any school in the Netherlands does.
In fact, he seems to have a bigger sense of respect for the private lives of a group of people he hates than Dutch schools do for the people who pay them.

After all, he at least grants gay people the right to be who they are when they’re at home, while I am yet to find the first Dutch school accepting me and other Free Software users like me to do the same.

A Wikipedia screenshot

Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights also states that "everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence".

To this very day, I can’t understand why the Dutch educational system as a whole seems to find this situation acceptable, as no-one seems to be doing anything to improve things.
Working with devices that nobody is allowed to know anything about is a clear condition for getting any kind of education in this country, and anyone who doesn’t accept that is pretty much considered unworthy of securing their future by making something of themselves.

Essentially, the ban on everyone who doesn’t accept proprietary software licenses and doesn’t want to take unnecessary privacy risks is the textbook definition of oppression. A group of people is not accepted, and never will be accepted because they’re kept from ever reaching a position in life where they would be able to change things.

Ironically, if I’d live in Russia, I probably would have graduated from a university by now, because Free Software use is accepted and considered “normal” there.
In the mean time, the Dutch (rightfully) criticize Russia for their position on gay rights, oblivious of the fact that “we” happily discriminate and oppress another group of people just as easily. Pointing the finger towards others is easier after all.

Ubuntu laptops

While even accepted in the US, home of Microsoft and Apple, using GNU/Linux at Dutch schools can almost be considered illegal.

Ending the BBC article was a statement about how young Russian homosexuals are increasingly looking for advice to emigrate from their home country, because they believe that fighting for their rights is futile.
Albeit for other reasons, I personally feel the same. Of course Free Software users aren’t threatened by physical violence in the Netherlands, but their chances of securing a decent future are, in fact, threatened very much. And after many years of campaigning for a better future for the next generation, I still have no reason to believe there will be any improvements any time soon.

While other European countries like Germany, France, Portugal, Spain, and Iceland have started to accept Free Software many years ago, and even “bad” countries like Russia and China doing the same, it’s depressing to see the Netherlands endlessly lagging behind. All while acting morally superior towards the rest of the world, of course.

Free Software in Education News – December

Being Fellow #952 of FSFE » English | 20:52, Sunday, 11 January 2015

Here’s what we collected in December. If you come accross anything that might be worth mentioning in this series, please drop me a note, dump it in this pad or drop it on the edu-eu mailinglist!

FSFE Edu-Team activities

Distro news

Guadalinex

Other news

Future events

  • Jan 21-24, 2015: BettShow, London
  • Jan 30, edu-team meeting, Brussles

Thanks to all contributors!

flattr this!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Disabling a touchpad when the screen lid is closed

the_unconventional's blog » English | 10:00, Saturday, 10 January 2015

My mom’s laptop has a weird hardware issue. Whenever the lid is closed and the machine is carried around, the touchpad seems to register pressure from the LCD panel as finger presses, often launching applications without her knowing.

In order to stop that from happening, I wanted to come up with a way to disable the touchpad when the lid is closed and re-enable it once it’s opened. Although that might seem complicated to accomplish, it really wasn’t.

There’s not a lot of things needed: acpi-support and xinput will do. And another machine with SSH access will really come in handy as well.

This was tested on a machine running Ubuntu 14.04, but it will probably work for most distributions.

 

First things first; make sure the required packages are installed by running the following command:

sudo apt-get install acpi-support xinput

Then, find out your touchpad’s device number:

xinput --list

⎡ Virtual core pointer                   id=2  [master pointer  (3)]
⎜   ↳ Virtual core XTEST pointer         id=4  [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎜   ↳ FSPPS/2 Sentelic FingerSensingPad  id=11 [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎣ Virtual core keyboard                  id=3  [master keyboard (2)]

As you can see, it’s device 11. This may very well be different in your case though.

Now we’ll have to find out if the lid switch works. (This is easier from another machine using SSH.)

With the lid opened, run:

cat /proc/acpi/button/lid/LID/state state:      open

Close the lid, and repeat:

cat /proc/acpi/button/lid/LID/state state:      closed

This argument has to be translated to an xinput parameter, which is simply 0 or 1 for enabling/disabling the touchpad. So we use grep:

grep -q closed /proc/acpi/button/lid/LID/state
echo $?
1

Close the lid, and repeat:

grep -q closed /proc/acpi/button/lid/LID/state
echo $?
0

So, with the lid opened, it generates 1, and with the lid closed, it generates 0. Exactly what we need to tell xinput to disable the touchpad.

In order to disable the touchpad, we have to run the following command (in case it’s device 11, of course):

xinput set-int-prop 11 "Device Enabled" 8 0

To re-enable it, we have to run this:

xinput set-int-prop 11 "Device Enabled" 8 1

This can easily be automated using the output from the ACPI lid state:

grep -q closed /proc/acpi/button/lid/LID/state
xinput set-int-prop 11 "Device Enabled" 8 $?

With a closed lid, it will echo 0 to disable the touchpad, and when the lid opens, it will echo 1 to enable the touchpad.

 

All that’s left to do now is creating an ACPI event to automatically run these commands upon opening and closing the lid.

First, run sudo nano /etc/acpi/events/lm_lid and paste this into it:

event=button/lid.*
action=/etc/acpi/lid.sh

Then, create the actual script. Keep in mind that the ACPI daemon runs as root, so in order for it to access the user’s X session, we’ll have to use some sorcery regarding .Xauthority files, which I admittedly had to look up as well.

Run sudo nano /etc/acpi/lid.sh and paste this into it:

export XAUTHORITY=`ls -1 /home/*/.Xauthority | head -n 1`
export DISPLAY=":`ls -1 /tmp/.X11-unix/ | sed -e s/^X//g | head -n 1`"

grep -q closed /proc/acpi/button/lid/LID/state
xinput set-int-prop 11 "Device Enabled" 8 $?

Finally, make the script executable by running sudo chmod +x /etc/acpi/lid.sh and restart the ACPI daemon:

sudo service acpid restart 

 

Now, using an SSH session, you can check whether the script works. Log in to the machine and try this:

export DISPLAY=:0.0

xinput --watch-props 11

When the lid is opened, you should see something like this:

Device 'FSPPS/2 Sentelic FingerSensingPad':
    Device Enabled (135):    1

When you close the lid, this should happen:

Property 'Device Enabled' changed.
    Device Enabled (135):    0

Friday, 09 January 2015

Visual languages: functional programming in the era of jab and smoosh

Jelle Hermsen » English | 18:22, Friday, 09 January 2015

Today I gave a talk on visual programming languages at NL-FP day 2015. It was the first FP-day I visited and it felt a bit like coming home for me, I already look forward to next year when it’s held on January 8th in Utrecht!

Here you find the text of my talk:

I will skip my introduction on why in fifty years our modern day practice of
computer programming by typing may seem as old-fashioned as using keypunch
machines.

More than 50 years ago, at MIT, Ivan Sutherland developed Sketchpad:
the first program with a graphical user interface. He used the experimental
transistor-based TX-2 computer, which had a nine inch CRT screen and a light
pen. Sutherland used this light pen to allow users to draw directly on
the display, something which had not been done before. He created the necessary
software to allow you to draw primitive objects that can later be recalled,
rotated, scaled and moved. These drawings could be saved on magnetic tape, so
you could edit them at a later time. Sketchpad was truly ground breaking
because it allowed you to directly interact with the system, without having to
type, and it also allowed non-experts to use the a computers.

Sketchpad was used for computer aided design, but you could also use it to
create programs by drawing flow charts. You could draw boxes, containing the
statements, transferring the results along one way or another, allowing the
user to program the computer without first having to transcribe everything onto
punch cards or paper tape.

Ivan Sutherlands work was very important for the future of GUI’s, Computer
Aided Design and Visual Languages. In 1988 he received the Turing Award for
everything he did for computer science.

In the years after his thesis on Sketchpad the work on Visual Languages was
continued by many others. His older brother Bert, for example, wrote a
thesis on a new pictorial language. Influenced by the work on Sketchpad he
created a system on the TX-2 in which the user could draw procedures using
symbols that depict operations. It featured a system for debugging and in his
thesis he elaborately described the flow of data inside these procedures,
making his system one of the first graphical dataflow programming frameworks,
an approach using directed graphs which would be used often hereafter.

Bert Sutherland mentions in his thesis that the specification of graphical
procedures has been a neglected field, and most accomplishments have been in
the field of graphical data. More research was conducted the following years,
but the development in visual languages was hampered by the fact that there
wasn’t a widely used pointing device. This changed when the Macintosh brought
about the widespread adoption of the mouse in the mid eighties. This also
caused the first commercial VPL’s like Prograph to appear, which did
not target computer scientists, or educational purposes, but were meant to make
programming easier, by supplying the user with high level building blocks.

But still, visual languages were almost non existent in the landscape of
programming. There was, however, a certain optimism that this would soon
change. In a 1990 paper in the Journal of Visual Languages and Computing
titled “Exploring the general purpose alternative“, the authors Glinert,
Kopachet en Mcintyre said the following: “The goal is nothing less than to
expand the programmer’s workspace to a multi-modal, animated,   3-D
environment. We predict that this objective will in fact be attained before the
turn of the century.

Obviously this hasn’t happened. But what did happen in the years after this
paper? We got some great VPLs like Scratch and Alice. Truly
magnificent tools if you want to teach your child to program without pre-mature
exposure to stuff like object orientation, pointers or monads. If you
want to create your own audio effects pipeline, or a funky 80′s revival style
synthesizer, or a midi step sequencer you can save yourself a whole lot of
frustration and wire up all your needs in Pure Data or Max/MSP, which is (trust
me
) way better than rolling you rown in <fill in your favorite functional
programming language>
, even if you pull in the best available libraries from
hackage or the likes.

There are many, many visual domain specific languages. You want to
process your lab data? You want to control a robot? You
want to build a visual effect chain for your newest Youtube animation?
You want a language that keeps itself simple and stupid enough so even your
livelong <stuck in middle management, not having a clue> boss can use it?

These domain specific needs can be checked without a hitch, but when you look
at the popularity of general purpose VPLs they a far cry from even Visual
Basic? Sure there are some broad-purpose VPL’s. Microsoft has made one,
MIT has one. There’s an open source tool called “Programming without
coding
“, and there are others, but none of these are considered to be a serious
programming environments that could be used by a professional. General purpose
VPLs same to be stuck inside specific domains, research and education.

And there are a couple of good reasons for this. First of all, VPL’s, albeit
being developed early, came late to the real party after the first waves of
personal computers hit the market. It took quite a while for computers to be
outfitted with a mouse. This left little room for the graphical alternatives.
But there were also serious issues with visual languages itself.

Take for example scalability. A hello world program might look nice and dandy
, but when you want to make a complex program you will need to be able
to tidy up your act by putting everything neatly into separate parts. In
imperative and functional languages we have pretty much fixed the problem of
scalability, by putting our code in different modules, or classes, or using
namespaces and packages…etc. In visual languages this is more difficult to
achieve. The tendrils of your system are out in the open, and more in your face
than in a written language. If you don’t mitigate this then the cross-program
dependencies you have rear their ugly heads and turn your program into
spaghetti, which visualised looks pretty gruesome.

Then there is the problem of expressiveness. With program languages there often
seems to be a trade-off between ease of use and expressiveness. The more dummy
proof a language, the more pain and sweat it will take to get some serious work
done. Anybody who has done stuff in the Commodore 64 supplied Basic , or
in Java before it supported anonymous classes and generics should know what I
mean. When you look at the many available VPL’s then you will notice that most
of them have settled for ease of use, which is of course fine of you’re into
creating toy projects or sticking to one domain, but in this specific case of
wanting VPL’s to take over the world and converting all programmers in pinching
swiping gurus of the touch screen, this simply won’t suffice.

The last obvious problem has to do with culture. Programmer culture tends to
move slow. It took Java 20 years to get lambda expressions. Something
which has been a great idea ever since Alonzo Church introduced the
Lambda-calculus in the 1930’s and proven to work extremely well in practice
since the implementation of the first Lisp in the 50’s. So advancements in
programming languages propagate slowly, we tend to stick to old languages for a
long time. Sometimes there’s good reason for this, when we prefer stability
above everything else. I guess that’s the reason why there are still poor sods
out there maintaining decades old Fortran codebases.

But besides the languages there’s also a certain conservatism surrounding the
tools with which we write our code. I for example am an avid user of the
VIM-editor and when I’m working in my tiling window manager with terminals
plastering my screen, I almost never need to reach for the mouse. Geeks like me
will need a very good reason to actually pick up that cabled clicky thingy that
lies next to my keyboard when I can instead keep the fingers on the keys.

But still. I think there’s great merit in visual languages. The cultural issues
I mentioned can be solved with time, the other issues by adopting the right
constructs from computer science research and functional programming.
Scalability can be solved, and has been solved, by choosing correct ways to
create modules. Expressiveness can be added by taking cues from homoiconic
languages like lisp that transform beautifully to the graphical space, and
adding higher order functions, purity, laziness.

We, humanoids, are visual animals. To make sense of how an algorithm
works I visualize it. When I try to make sense of a large code project I use
it’s file and directory structure, modules and packages as a visual frame of
reference. If we visualize a project correctly, abstracting away the details
when we don’t need them, and providing an easy way to dive into the nitty
gritty bits when we want, we can find ourselves in a place where it can be
easier to reason about our code and more importantly explain this reasoning to
others. So the scalability issue could in fact be turned upside down and
changed into a strength if we take the right interface designing path of
modular touchy swipey goodness. Something we might need actual interface
designers for. And like they do we would need to break out of the computer
screen and look at the smelly beast sipping red bull in front of it. We would
need to find out which different mental models programmers use, and how we can
transpose those to visual elements. And we will need to figure out the
cognitive dimensions of those visual elements so we can trace out a path for
improvement.

I can list many reasons for trying to create a new VPL that rocks the world,
but one pet peeve of mine are compile-time errors and especially  syntax
errors. Aren’t these the most stupid, time wasting things ever. So I’m typing
all this code and after my IDE doesn’t show any of those curly red thingies I
can safely press Compile, only to be confronted with a load of messages about
all the obvious ways in which I suck, and my program is incorrect. And this is
a totally solved issue, I mean, compile time problems are mostly low hanging
fruit. In the case of Haskell with its nice type system, also to somewhat
higher branches, but still. Why can’t we eliminate these completely? “We can”,
you might say, because I use, Eclipse, or IntelliJ and that IDE happens to be
very smart. WRONG. They stink. Why is it even possible to write something that
is so blatantly wrong, low hanging compiler or lint-checker, fruit? It feels a
bit like driving in a car in which I will have to control the cooling system
manually and when I start the ignition make sure I don’t flood the engine by
quietly murmuring obscenities.

It seems that while the abstraction level of programming languages have
increased, the errors themselves are still stuck in the elevator.
Error-catching wastes more time than ever. Many programmers of dynamic
scripting languages see no problem in actually going through the mind
numbing process of first executing their program in order to check for errors,
and I’m not talking about highly parallel programs that can’t be easily
debugged in another way. Madness!

Anyway, I think that we can create a new visual programming language, by
combining more than fifty years of research with the lessons learned in
functional programming. I have foolishly made a start:

Here’s what we do: We start with a typical boxes and arrows, directed
graph, flowchart kind of language. We add the ability to zoom and hide details
when using a touch screen, and we support laziness, currying, higher order
functions and a module system. We make functions pure by default and add
necessary, but evil side effects by surrounding them with a visual code smell.
Something like monads, but minus the unnecessary but frequent occurring fears
of category theory.

Taking a cue from Lisp it’s a great idea to have one basic data type and using
that for both code and data. One problem in the written world is that
homoiconic languages tend to look like a too many parenthesis in a love
shack, but work pretty well when visualized as graphs.

We can switch between different list representations at will  , or draw
new ones if we like. We can also create symbolic expressions by pointing lists
to functions with arrows. We can make a bigger function with nested functions
by drawing a box around them. We can drag lists around and create
immutable copies if this helps in our evil schemes. You can choose to direct a
partial list for further processing, which helps create  a nice head or
car function.

We can add labels to our functions, or larger encompassing structures.
But since we’re working visually, we could do even better.

I will show you how we can implement a map function.

We need a function and a list for our map function. And it’s nice if the system automatically adds color to them so we can keep them apart.

We can make immutable copies and change the list representation to get the granularity we need.

We’ll also make a copy for the function that you supply to MAP.

We use recursion to call map on the provided function and the tail of the list

We apply the head of the list to the provided function

We concatenate the results

Now, what happens when we give Map an empty list? We will need to check for this, by adding an if statement.

The if statements returns an empty list when you try to apply map to an empty list, otherwise it will return the result of the concatonation.

What if we want to add a side-effect to our map function?

We are launching the missiles as a side-effect and this makes the entire function impure, so our red background propogates to the entire function.

Here you have it, we have made a higher order recursive function that doesn’t like
like complete rubbish. You can travel along the recursive steps if you like by
zooming into the nested map function, enjoying the droste effect, or strange
loop.

Alright, so what now? I’m still figuring out the best way of adding types to
this visual notation. If I want to protect the programmer from silly errors
while he’s trying to make them, I will need a strong type system, and
preferably one that is light and stays out of your way if you want to by using
type inference.

I will make an informal description of this language and follow it up by
describing everything formally in typed lambda calculus. After this I will make
a first browser based implementation, using a simple graph reduction approach.

I will post updates on the progress on on this blog.


While I show you a possible implementaton of quicksort I would like to ask you
to give visual languages a chance in the future. When you find yourself needing
a DSL, or like me you’re toying around with language design, maybe you can pick
a visual language instead of a traditional one. I know it’s a bit harder,
because you will need to make do without lexer and parser generators , but I’m
confident that slowly but surely we are moving in this direction. At first we
might see smarter IDE’s that add graphics to tackle the complexity of large
projects, but I think the touchscreen revolution isn’t stopping, and one day we
might find ourselves developing software by touching, swiping, jabbing and
smooshing.

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