Welcome to my web log. See the first post for an introduction. See the archive page for all posts, and comments for a feed of comments only. (There is an english language feed if you don't want to see Finnish.)
All content outside of comments is copyrighted by Lars Wirzenius, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. Comments are copyrighted by their authors.
There will be a gathering of Debian people to celebrate the release of jessie this Saturday in Helsinki. For details, see the wiki page. Welcome, everyone.
The Debian Project Leader electsions are going on. This is the yearly election for the leader, where members of the project vote for a new leader for a year. The debate this year seemed to me to be quite quiet, and voting activity seems to not be very high, either. Pity. Many years ago, the election period used to be quite energetic, bringing up some quite good viewpoints.
There seems to also not have been the usual repeat of the voting announcement, not sure what's going there. There's time until next Tuesday midnight (in the UTC time zone) to vote. Below are links to the vote page (with instructions for voting) and the (corrected) initial announcment.
I voted for Neil as my top candidate. I think he's got the best background and personality for being the leader of this project of ours.
It is with great pleasure and satisfaction that I release version 4.1 of Obnam, my backup program. This version includes a radically innovative approaches to data compression and de-duplication, as well as some other changes and bug fixes.
Major user-visible changes:
Obnam now recognises most common image types, and de-duplicates them by substituting a standard picture of a cat or a baby. Statistical research has shown that almost all pictures are of either cats of babies, and most people can't tell cats or babies apart. If you have other kinds of pictures, use the
--naughty-picturesoption to disable this new feature.
Obnam now compresses data by finding a sequence in the value of pi (3.14159...) that matches the data, and stores the offset into pi and the length of the data. This means almost all data can be stored using two BIGNUM integers, plus some computation time to compute the value of pi with necessary precision. The extreme compression level is deemed worth the somewhat slower speed. To disable this new feature, use the
Obnam now uses one-time pad encryption in the repository. It is a form of encryption that is guaranteed to be unbreakable. Given the large amounts of data Obnam users have, the infinitely long value of the mathematical constant e is used as the encryption pad, since it would be bad security practice to use a pad that's shorter than the data being encrypted. To disable this new feature and use the old style encryption using GnuPG, use
Minor user-visible changes:
There is a new subcommand
obnam resize-disk, which resizes the filesystem on which the backup repository resides. In this version, it works on LVM logical volumes and RAID-0, RAID-5, and RAID-6 drive arrays using
mdadm. The subcommand optionally arranges more space by deleting live data files and reducing corresponding LV sizes to make more space for backups. If live data is deleted, the backup generations containing the data is tagged as un-removeable so it's not lost. In the future, the subcommand may get support for purchasing more disk space from popular online storage providers.
To reduce unnecessary bloat, the
obnam restoresubcommand has been removed. It was considered unnecessary, since nobody ever reported any problems with it.
Obnam now has a new repository option,
--swap-in-repository, which starts a daemon process that holds all backup data in memory. Once the process grows enough, this will result in most of the data to be written to the swap partition. This makes excellent use of the excessively large swap partitions on many Linux systems. This feature does not work on Windows.
obnam donatecommand to send the Obnam developers some money now again works with Bitcoin. There was a bug that broke Obnam's built-in Bitcoin mining software from working.
obnam helpcommand again speaks the user's preferred language (
LC_MESSAGESlocale setting), rather than Finnish, despite pressure from the Finnish government's office for language export.
I have just released version 1.9 of Obnam, my backup program. See the website at http://obnam.org for details. The new version is available from git (see http://git.liw.fi) and as Debian packages from http://code.liw.fi/debian. Due to the freeze of Debian for the jessie release, I've not uploaded this version to Debian yet (not experimental and not backports).
This is the first Obnam release since May 13, 2014, 313 days ago. That's a long time. I make no excuses: Obnam is a hobby project, which I work on when I have the time and energy. The past year has been very /interesting/ year for me, in all sorts of stressful ways: I've changed jobs, moved to another country, and dealt with the loss of a close relative. Because of this, I've not been able to spend as much time on Obnam as I'd like.
The NEWS file extract below gives the highlights of what has happened to Obnam during this time. There's been a lot of things, actually.
My plans for Obnam next are mainly centered around performance. This will require developing a new repository format, to allow things that are not possible with the current format. For example, the current format stores each data chunk in its own file in the repository, and that is quite wasteful when live data files (and therefore their chunks) are quite small.
As preparation for this work, the silly-looking "simple" format has been added, mostly to make sure the internal code infrastructure is ready to support multiple repository formats in the same Obnam version.
Those interested in discussing ways to make Obnam fast should join the obnam-dev mailing list.
Version 1.9, released 2015-03-22
James Vasile changed Obnam so it can backup an individual file, instead of an entire directory.
James Vasile added the
--includeoption to Obnam, allowing one to include files that would otherwise be excluded (see
Carlo Teubner changed
obnam fsckto remove unused chunks, if the
--fsck-rm-unusedsettings are used. He also made it not check for unused chunks when it's useless to do so, because of various
--fsck-skipsettings are used.
A start of a French translation of the manual by pedrito2.
Ian Cambell provided a new Obnam command,
obnam kdirstat, which makes the KDE
k4dirstatutility be able to show graphically which parts of a backup generation use most space.
Lars Wirzenius added the
simplerepository format, which is for demonstration only. It is much too simplistic to be used for real.
The manual page and
obnam --helpare now clearer that the
--rootsetting and command line arguments to
obnam backupcan be SFTP URLs. Thanks to Simone Piccardi for reporting the issue.
David Fries filled in the displayed file permission mode bits.
Grammar and typo fixes for the obnam.1 manual page, from Jean Jordaan.
Tom Chiverton suggested a clarification to the manual page for "obnam mount" to say that each generation is a subdirectory.
David Fries changed restore to set the group ownership if possible even when not root. No warnings are issued if the attempt fails.
Jan Niggemann added a little to the German translation of the Obnam manual.
Lars Wirzenius added the path to the error message about a missing chunk (R43272X).
Lars Wirzenius made the message at the end of a backup report more statistics about transfers during the backup.
The Obnam SFTP plugin would loop infinitely if it lost the connection to the SSH server while creating a temporary file. Itamar Turner-Trauring provided a fix for this.
Will Dyson fixed a bug about locking while removing checkpoint generations.
Michel Alexandre Salim fixed a Python 2.6 compatibility problem in the unit tests (use of
assertRaisesas a context manager).
Lars Kruse fixed a bug with backing up of overlapping backup roots (e.g., / and /boot), given a test case by Adrien Clerc.
Thomas Eschenbacher fixed a bug in the format 6 repository code that would crash when there is an obscure problem and a B-tree code can't be found in the tree.
Tom Chiverton pointed out that the manual page was using "obnam restore" instead of "obnam mount" in an example for "obnam mount".
The yarn test suite now runs FUSE tests (
obnam mount) when
fusermountis available, rather than checking for membership in the group
fuse. The latter is a Debianism (fixed in Debian
Thomas Waldmann noticed that
obnam verifydidn't notice that a file had new data, when the modification time was the same. Obnam now notices this.
Thomas Waldmann fixed many typos and minor bugs in the source code.
Laurence Perkins reported that the Tahoe-LAFS SFTP server returned some
statfields as None. Fixed to change those to be 0 instead.
Lars Wirzenius fixed double-downloading of chunks during restores.
Each software tool exists to solve some problem. For each problem, there are many possible solutions. Even when different programs basically do the same thing, they can have quite different shapes.
As an example, this morning I was wondering if it would be possible
for me to use
notmuch to index my entire mail archive. For that, I
needed to convert a number of mbox folders to Maildir format. That's a
resonably easy problem, given access to suitable programming
libraries, but there's an existing tool for that, called
Unfortunately, it has the wrong shape for my needs.
mb2md doesn't just convert one mbox to one maildir. It's designed to
for a mail admin converting all server-side mbox folders for a user
into a corresponding structure of Maildir folders. This seems to be
necessary when switching IMAP servers. That's a fairly specialised
problem, and the program has been written to make it easy for a mail
admin to do that.
What I need is part of the problem solved by
mb2md and indeed it can
do just that part. However, the overall shape of
mb2md is such that
my part is hard to do. The incantation is quite unintuitive and
requires careful reading of the documentation.
The shape of a solution matters.
mb2md could easily have been
written in a way that provides a simple tool for the single folder
conversion, and then a more complex tool for the mail admin's more
complicated problem. This would have resulted in a much more general
tool, and that would make it easier for more people to use it without
Mail folder format conversions are a fairly esoteric thing to do. However, the lack of generality is a frequent issue with how programs are designed. It is easy to fall into the trap of writing a highly specialised tool, instead of taking a step back and making a more general purpose tool. The specialised tool will help a small number of people. The general tool will help many people.
Examples of this are fairly common. Debian has a set of tools for making Debian live CDs; they are not quite able to make a bootable hard disk image as well (thus, vmdebootstrap). There's programs for computing cyclomatic complexity, which produce HTML reports, rather than something that can be processed by other programs without too much effort. There's tools for managing address books that are limited to specific cultures, e.g., by hardcoding assumptions of what a person's name looks like (thus, clab).
One of my favourite examples is
xargs, which by default does the
wrong thing by assuming its input is whitespace delimited. Any
whitespace, not just newlines. Any sensible use requires adding the
-0 option, which makes
xargs that much more tedious to use.
Furthermore, I've often found that the more general tool is simpler. It's functional specification is simpler; it's implementation is simpler, and has fewer special cases; it's user experience is simpler. That's not always true, but often it is.
Sometimes the general solution shape is not worth it. But it's always worth considering whether it might be.
One of the parts of the Unix culture I really like is the preference for general tools that are easy to combine together.
It Will Never Work in Theory is a web site that blogs, though slowly, of important research and findings about software development. It's one of the most interesting sites I've found recently, possibly for a long time.
I disagree with the term "software engineering" to describe the software development that happens today. I don't think it's accurate, and indeed I think the concept's too much of a fantasy for the term to be used seriously about practicing developers do. For software development to be an engineering discipline, it needs a strong foundation based on actual research. In short, we need to know what works, what doesn't work, and preferably why in both cases. We don't have much of that.
This website is one example of how that's now changing, and that's good. As a practicing software developer, I want to know, for example, whether code review actually helps improve software quality, the speed of software development, and the total cost of a software project, and also under what the limits of code review are, how it should be done well, and what kind of review doesn't work. Once I know that, I can decide whether and how to do reviews in my development teams.
The software development field is full of anecdotal evidence about these things. It's also full of people who've done something once, and then want to sell books, seminars, and lectures about it. That's not been working too well: it makes research be mostly about fads, and that's no way to build a strong foundation.
Now I just need the time to read everything, and the brain to understand big words.
Meet Alfred. Alfred is a Debian user. He has a laptop with Debian and a desktop environment running on it. Alfred does a lot of impotant things on his computer: his hobby is to photograph his cat, and also he works for a non-governmental organisation that investigates and reports on human rights violations. His job involves a lot of travel to many parts of the world, and he needs to handle a lot of very sensitive information. His laptop uses full-disk encryption, and it's generally speaking very well secured against the various security threats that are due to his job.
He is worried about losing important data. He's not too worried that the sensitive information he has will leak if his laptop is stolen, but it might be impossible to re-create the data if the laptop is gone. If he interviews a whistleblower for a slave-trading corporation, and his laptop is stolen after that, it might be impossible to ever meet with the whistleblower again.
Alfred wants backups of his data. He gets a USB thumb drive, and plugs it in. The laptop has never seen the drive before, so it asks Alfred if the drive should be used for backups. Alfred says yes.
The laptop formats the thumb drive, again with full-disk encryption, and then runs a backup. The backup automatically picks up all the files from Alfred's home directory, and some system confguration files that may be necessary as well. (Read: /home and /etc.) Files that are usually not very precious, such as web browser caches, are automatically excluded.
Later, when Alfred wants to update the backup, he plugs in the same drive again. The system recognises the drive, and runs the backup. While the backup is running, Alfred has an indicator in his desktop status bar. If Alfred leaves the drive plugged in, and changes anything in his home directory, that gets immediately backed up to the backup drive. Until the changes have been backed up, the indicator stays on Alfred's status bar.
This isn't good enough, however. Alfred needs to carry the USB drive with him, and if he's mugged, he might lose both the laptop and the backup drive. Therefore, the system administrator at Alfred's NGO, Janet, sets up an account on an online backup server, and e-mails Alfred a configuration file, which Alfred drops into the backup system's configuration tool.
From then on, whenever Alfred's laptop is online, and can see the backup server (identified by an SSH host key), any changes Alfred makes are backed up as soon as possible. For the next interview, as soon as the interview is finished and Alfred closes the laptop lid to suspend it, the backup has already finished, both to the online server and the USB thumb drive.
Alfred is now happy, and no longer fears for the safety of his data.
Janet, however, is still a little worried, because the online backup server is an attractive target for attacks. She asks Alfred to configure the backup service on the laptop to encrypt and digitally sign the backups, and sends the master backup public key with the request. Janet keeps the corresponding private key in a secure location.
Alfred goes into the configuration dialog, ticks the right box, and drops in the server public key. The backup software generates a new public key for the laptop to use for encrypting the backups, and Alfred e-mails that to Janet, using PGP encrypted and signed e-mail. He also puts the laptop backup encryption keys on a couple of USB thumb drives, which he stores in safe places (in his sock drawer and coffee jar, but don't tell anyone that).
Alfred's online backups are now encrypted with public keys so that both Alfred and Janet can decrypt them, but only they can do that. The backups are digitally signed so that if the server is hacked, the backups can't be altered without it being detectable.
Some time passes.
Alfred needs to go to speak to the general assembly of the Cat Conference, about how awesome his cat is. This requires him to travel to the US, and he's worried that the US authorities will confiscate his laptop and try to get at his work files that way. He deletes all his work files, ssh keys, and other files that aren't necessary to show his cat pictures at the conference.
The conference goes fine, and when Alfred comes back home, he gets the USB thumb drive that contains his backup encryption key. He plugs it in, tells the backup configuration software to import it. Alfred can then open his backups on the online backup server in his file browser, and can restore back his files by copying them with drag and drop.
However, the next day Alfred's cat, upset at how much he travels, pees on the laptop. It is ruined. Everything is lost.
Alfred gets a new laptop from Janet, and installs Debian on it. During installation, Alfred gives the installer the USB backup drive, and the installer restores all of Alfred's own files, and also restores system configuration. After a little while, Alfred has a newly installed laptop with all his usual software and all of his files.
This is a summary of a vision for backups being a service in a default Debian install in the future. It is currently just a vision, and nobody is currently working on making it reality. Would you like to work on this for the release after jessie?
(No cats were harmed in the production of this vision.)
Kudos to Matthew for taking a stance. It has, not surprisingly, provoked a lot of comments and feedback, most of it unpleasant.
If I did anything that was directly related to Intel, I'd join him, but I do very, very little architecture dependent stuff anymore.
I will, however, say this: Even if the "gamergate" were actually about good journalism and ethics (and it's clear it isn't), if your reaction to a differing opinion is abuse, harrassment, and other kinds of psychological violence, you're not making anything better, you're making it all worse.
Reasonable people can handle disagreement without any kind of violence.
45 today. I should stop being childish, but I don't wanna.
I don't really like any of the ticketing systems I've ever needed to use, whether they've been used as bug tracking systems, user support issue management systems, or something else. Some are not too bad. I currently rely most on debbugs and ikiwiki.
debbugs is the Debian bug tracking system. See https://www.debian.org/Bugs/ for an entry point. It's mostly mail based, with a read-only web interface. You report a bug by sending an email to submission address, and (preferably) include a few magic "pseudo-headers" at the top of your message body ot identify the package and version. There's tools to make this easier, but mostly it's just about sending an e-mail. All replies are via e-mails as well. Effectively, each bug becomes is own little dedicated mailing list.
This is important. A ticket, whether it is a bug report or a support request, is all about the discussion. "Hey I have this problem..." followed by "Have you tried..." and so forth. Anything that makes that discussion easier and faster to have is better.
It is my very strong opinion, and long experience, that the best way to have such a discussion is over e-mail. A lot of modern ticketing systems are web based. They might have an e-mail mode, perhaps read-only, but that's mostly an afterthought. It's a thing bolted onto the side of the system because people like me whinge otherwise.
I like e-mail for this for several reasons.
E-mail is push, not pull. I don't need to go look at a web page to be notified that something's happened.
E-mail requires no extra usernames and passwords to manage. I don't need to create a new account every time I encounter a new ticketing system instance.
E-mail makes it very easy to respond. I can just reply to a message. I don't need to go to a web site, log in, and find a reply button.
I already have archives of my e-mail, so referring to old messages (or finding them) is easy and quick. (Mutt, offlineimap, and notmuch is my particular set of choices. But I'm not locked to them, and you can use whatever you like, too.)
E-mail is a very rich format. Discussions are inherently threaded, and various character sets, languages, attachments, and other such things just work.
For these reasons, I strongly prefer ticketing systems in which e-mails are the primary form of discussions, and e-mail is a first class citizen. I don't mind if there's other ways to participate in the discussion, but if I have to use something else than e-mail, I tend not to be happy.
I use ikiwiki to provide a distributed, shared notebook on bugs. It's a bit cumbersome, and doesn't work well for discussions.
I think we can improve on the way debbugs works, however. I've been thinking about ticketing systems for Obnam (my backup program), since it gaining enough users that it's getting hard to keep track of discussions with just an e-mail client.
Here's what I want:
Obnam users do not need to care about there being a ticketing system. They report a problem by e-mailing the support mailing list, and they keep the list in cc when conducting the discussion. This is very similar to debbugs, with the distinction that there's no ticket numbers that must be kept in the replies.
The support staff (that's me, but hopefully others as well) have access to the ticketing system, which automatically sorts incoming messages into tickets. Tickets have sufficient metadata that it's possible to track which ones have been dealt with, or still need work, and perhaps other things. Each ticket contain a Maildir with all the e-mails belonging to that ticket.
The ticketing system is distributed. I need to be able to work on tickets offline, and to synchronise instances between different computers. Just like git. It's not enough to have an offline mode (e.g., queuing e-mails on my laptop for sending to debbugs when I'm back online).
There is a reasonably powerful search engine that can quickly find the relevant tickets, and messages, based on various criteria.
I will eventually have this. I'm not saying I'm working on this, since I don't have enough free time to do that, but there's a git repository, and some code, and it imports e-mails automatically now.
Some day there may even be a web interface.
(This has been a teaser.)
For more, see the archive.