Posts from 2005–2010 temporarily unavailable.

At the Debian Policy BoF at DebConf17, Solveig suggested that we could post summaries of recent activity in policy bugs to Planet Debian, as a kind of call for participation. Russ Allbery had written a script to generate such a summary some time ago, but it couldn’t handle the usertags the policy team uses to progress bugs through the policy changes process. Today I enhanced the script to handle usertags and I’m pleased to be able to post a summary of our bugs.

Consensus has been reached and help is needed to write a patch

#172436 BROWSER and sensible-browser standardization

#273093 document interactions of multiple clashing package diversions

#299007 Transitioning perms of /usr/local

#314808 Web applications should use /usr/share/package, not /usr/share/doc/…

#425523 Describe error unwind when unpacking a package fails

#452393 Clarify difference between required and important priorities

#476810 Please clarify 12.5, “Copyright information”

#484673 file permissions for files potentially including credential informa…

#491318 init scripts “should” support start/stop/restart/force-reload - why…

#556015 Clarify requirements for linked doc directories

#568313 Suggestion: forbid the use of dpkg-statoverride when uid and gid ar…

#578597 Recommend usage of dpkg-buildflags to initialize CFLAGS and al.

#582109 document triggers where appropriate

#587279 Clarify restrictions on main to non-free dependencies

#587991 perl-policy: /etc/perl missing from Module Path

#592610 Clarify when Conflicts + Replaces et al are appropriate

#613046 please update example in 4.9.1 (debian/rules and DEB_BUILD_OPTIONS)

#614807 Please document autobuilder-imposed build-dependency alternative re…

#616462 clarify wording of parenthetical in section 2.2.1

#628515 recommending verbose build logs

#661928 recipe for determining shlib package name

#664257 document Architecture name definitions

#682347 mark ‘editor’ virtual package name as obsolete

#683222 say explicitly that debian/changelog is required in source packages

#685506 copyright-format: new Files-Excluded field

#685746 debian-policy Consider clarifying the use of recommends

#688251 Built-Using description too aggressive

#757760 please document build profiles

#759316 Document the use of /etc/default for cron jobs

#761219 document versioned Provides

#767839 Linking documentation of arch:any package to arch:all

#770440 policy should mention systemd timers

#773557 Avoid unsafe RPATH/RUNPATH

#780725 PATH used for building is not specified

#793499 The Installed-Size algorithm is out-of-date

#810381 Update wording of 5.6.26 VCS-* fields to recommend encryption

#823256 Update maintscript arguments with dpkg >= 1.18.5

#833401 virtual packages: dbus-session-bus, dbus-default-session-bus

#835451 Building as root should be discouraged

#838777 Policy 11.8.4 for x-window-manager needs update for freedesktop menus

#845715 Please document that packages are not allowed to write outside thei…

#853779 Clarify requirements about update-rc.d and invoke-rc.d usage in mai…

Wording proposed, awaiting review from anyone and/or seconds by DDs

#542288 Versions for native packages, NMU’s, and binary only uploads

#582109 document triggers where appropriate

#630174 forbid installation into /lib64

#645696 [copyright-format] clearer definitions and more consistent License:…

#648271 11.8.3 “Packages providing a terminal emulator” says xterm passes -…

#649530 [copyright-format] clearer definitions and more consistent License:…

#662998 stripping static libraries

#732445 debian-policy should encourage verification of upstream cryptograph…

#737796 copyright-format: support Files: paragraph with both abbreviated na…

#756835 Extension of the syntax of the Packages-List field.

#786470 [copyright-format] Add an optional “License-Grant” field

#835451 Building as root should be discouraged

#844431 Packages should be reproducible

#845255 Include best practices for packaging database applications

#850729 Documenting special version number suffixes

Merged for the next release

#587279 Clarify restrictions on main to non-free dependencies

#616462 clarify wording of parenthetical in section 2.2.1

#732445 debian-policy should encourage verification of upstream cryptograph…

#844431 Packages should be reproducible

Posted Sat 19 Aug 2017 21:44:11 UTC Tags:

According to Daniel Pocock’s talk at DebConf17’s Open Day, hearing a ping from your messaging or e-mail app or seeing a visual notification of a new unread message has an equivalent effect on your ability to concentrate as

  • a 10 point drop in your IQ; or

  • drinking a glass of wine.

This effect is probably at least somewhat mitigated by reading the message, but that is a context switch, and we all know what those do to your concentration. So if you want to get anything done, be sure to turn off notifications.

Posted Fri 18 Aug 2017 17:37:53 UTC Tags:

In addition to my personal reflections on DebCamp/DebConf17, here is a brief summary of the activities that I had a hand in co-ordinating.

I won’t discuss here many other small items of work and valuable conversations that I had during the two weeks; hopefully the fruits of these will show themselves in my uploads to the archive over the next year.

Debian Policy sprint & BoF

  • released version 4.0.1.0 of the Policy Manual

  • figured out documenting reproducibility in policy. Formulating the wording turned out to be easier than I had expected

  • approx. ten years after they were first published, incorporated marga’s maintscript flowcharts into policy proper

  • converted policy from docbook to rST built with the Sphinx toolchain. Many, many thanks to Hideki Yamane and David Bremner for helping Russ and I get this merged to our master branch

  • triage of every single bug against policy, and mass closure of inactive bugs, bringing the total down from more than 200 to around 125

  • conversations with Technical Committee members about how the two teams can help each other’s work (mainly us helping them to help us!)

  • conversations about how we handle disagreement and plans to streamline our overly complex BTS usertags (watch this space)

  • very useful input from policy consumers about how the upgrading checklist is formatted, and how we can recruit more people to get patches written

Debian Emacs Team meeting/sprint

  • plans to finally drop our emacsXY binary packages, and just have a single version of Emacs in the archive, so that we no longer have to deal with bugs due to someone still having emacs21 installed (David’s idea; Rob’s implementation; Sean’s mostly-helpful comments)

  • other plans to simplify and otherwise improve the Debian Emacsen policy

  • finally finished off the work needed to RM emacs24—nine months later—including a lot of NMUs

  • mentoring a junior team member

Unfortunately we didn’t make any significant progress towards converting all addons to use dh_elpa, as the work is not that much fun. Might be worth a more focused sprint next year.

Report on team website

Git for Debian packaging BoF & follow-up conversations

The BoF was far more about dgit than I had wanted; however, I think that this was mostly because people had questions about dgit, rather than any unintended lecturing by me.

I believe that several people came away from DebConf thinking that starting to use dgit would improve Debian for themselves and for users of their packages.

Posted Thu 17 Aug 2017 22:21:33 UTC Tags:
This year’s group photo (by Aigars Mahinovs). I really like the tagline

On Sunday night I got back from Montréal, where I attended both DebCamp17 and DebConf17. It was a wonderful two weeks. All I really did was work on Debian for roughly eight hours per day, interspersed with getting to know both people I’ve been working with since I first began contributing to Debian in late 2015, and people I didn’t yet know. But this was all I really needed to be doing. There was no need to engage in distracting myself.

I enjoyed the first week more. There were sufficiently few people present that you could know at least all of their faces, and interesting-sounding talks didn’t interrupt making progress on one’s own work or unblocking other people’s work. In the second week it was great to meet people who were only present for the second week, but it felt more like regular Debian, in that I was often waiting on other people or they were waiting on me.

While I spent one morning actually writing fresh code, and I did a fair amount of pure packaging work, the majority of my time was poured into (i) Debian Policy; (ii) discussions within the Emacs team; and (iii) discussions about dgit. This was as I expected. During DebConf, it’s not that useful to seclude oneself and sufficiently reacquaint oneself with a codebase that one can start producing patches, because that can be done anywhere in the world, without everyone else around. It’s far more useful to bring different people together to get projects unblocked. I did some of that for my own work, and also tried to help other people’s, including those who weren’t able to attend the conference.

In my ordinary life, taking a step back from the methods by which I protect my PGP keys and other personal data, I can appear to myself as a paranoid extremist, or some kind of data hoarder. It was comforting to find at DebConf plenty of people who go way further than me: multiple user accounts on their laptop, with separate X servers, for tasks of different security levels; PGP keys on smartcards; refusal to sign my PGP key based on government-issued ID alone; use of Qubes OS. One thing that did surprise me was to find myself in a minority for using the GNOME desktop; I had previously assumed that most people deep in Debian development didn’t bother with tiling window managers. Turns out they are enthusiastic to talk about the trade-offs between window managers while riding the subway train back to our accommodation at midnight—who knew such people existed? I was pleased to find them. One evening, I received a tag-teamed live tutorial in using i3’s core keybindings, and the next morning GNOME seemed deeply inelegant. The insinuation began, but I was immediately embroiled in inner struggle over the fact that i3 is a very popular tiling window manager, so it wouldn’t be very cool if I were to start using it. This difficulty was compounded when I learned that the Haskell team lead still uses xmonad. The struggle continues.

I hope that I’ve been influenced by the highly non-judgemental and tolerant attitudes of the attendees of the conference. While most people at the conference were pretty ordinary—aside from wanting to talk about the details of Debian packaging and processes!—there were several people who rather visibly rejected social norms about how to present themselves. Around these people there was nothing of the usual tension. Further, in contrast with my environment as a graduate student, everyone was extremely relaxed about how everyone was spending their time. People drinking beer in the evenings were sitting at tables where other people were continuing to silently work on Debian. It is nice to have my experience in Montréal as a reference to check my own judgemental tendencies.

I came away with a lot more than a new MUA: a certainty that I want to try to get to next year’s conference; friends; a real life community behind what was hitherto mostly a hobby; a long list of tasks and the belief that I can accomplish them; a list of PGP fingerprints to sign; a new perspective on the arguments that occur on Debian mailing lists; an awareness of the risk of unconsciously manipulating other community members into getting work done.

With regard to the MUA, I should say that I did not waste a lot of DebConf time messing with its configuration. I had actually worked out a notmuch configuration some months ago, but couldn’t use it because I couldn’t figure out how to incorporate my old mail archives into its index. Fortunately notmuch’s maintainer is also on the Emacs team … he was able to confirm that the crazy solution I’d come up with was not likely to break notmuch’s operating assumptions, and so I was able to spend about half an hour copying and pasting the configuration and scripts I’d previously developed into my homedir, and then start using notmuch for the remainder of the conference. The main reason for wanting to use notmuch was to handle Debian mailing list volume more effectively than I’m able to with mutt, so I was very happy to have the opportunity to pester David with newbie questions.

Many, many thanks to all the volunteers whose efforts made DebCamp17 and DebConf17 possible.

Posted Thu 17 Aug 2017 21:50:51 UTC Tags:

Here’s what I’m planning to work on – please get in touch if you want to get involved with any of these items. In rough order of priority/likelihood of completion:

  • Debian Policy sprint

  • conversations about using git for Debian packaging, especially with regard to dgit

    • writing up or following up on feature requests
  • Emacs team sprint

    • talking to maintainers about transitioning their packages to use dh-elpa
  • submitting and revising patch series to dgit

  • writing a test suite for git-remote-gcrypt

Posted Sat 22 Jul 2017 21:38:07 UTC

Hey Sega, Why the Hell is There No Skies of Arcadia Sequel? | USgamer

There was still plenty of world left to be explored, if it came to that …

I don’t understand this remark – there really wasn’t much left. They’d have to make changes in order to squash more in, as I’ve found when trying to convert the world of Arcadia to D&D.

Posted Mon 05 Jun 2017 11:26:10 UTC

Since arriving back in the UK I’ve found myself appreciating Sheffield, and indeed British life more generally, far more than I expected, and far more than I have on any previous return, during the time I’ve been working and now studying abroad.

On Sunday, John Prescott came to give a speech to those of us campaigning for Labour, before we set to work. A heckler came over and shouted at Prescott: how could he vote for Labour with Corbyn in charge? Prescott did not break his stride, shouting something in response to the man and then returning to his speech, and someone went to the man and said, “he came here to speak to us, please don’t interrupt, come over here and let’s talk about Corbyn.” And the man did. Real democracy on a street corner, where people are able to fully express themselves without watching their words, or being told they’re being uncivil, and without any hint of police or security (note, for those outside the UK reading this post, that John Prescott was the Deputy Prime Minister for 8 years – he arrived in a squat people carrier).

I think that living in the US had made me believe that this kind of engagement with politics was over. Since I value these battles for ideas so highly, it makes me want to leave Arizona sooner rather than later.

In last night’s “Corbyn vs. May”, in which each of the two answered audience questions and were then interviewed by the aggressive Jeremy Paxman – May has refused to engage in a head-to-head debate – we saw Corbyn at his best. I don’t think that there was a clear loser, but there was an opportunity to see that Corbyn is quite capable of oratory. For me, there were two highlights. A small businessman asked Corbyn how he could vote for someone who was raising both corporation tax and the minimum wage. Without showing a grain of disrespect, Corbyn challenged him to reconsider his position on the grounds that we are all better off if everyone is better off. The second highlight was Corbyn’s firm response to Paxman going on and on about why abolishing the monarchy was not in the manifesto, while Corbyn is a known republican: “we’re not going to abolish the monarchy because I’m fighting this election for social justice” (paraphrased). This is the slightly old-fashioned sense of ‘social justice’: truly universal entitlement to health and education, because that is the mark of a civilised nation. What a privilege it is to be able to both campaign and vote for such a man.

I’ve been thinking about the responses we should make to neo-liberals who say that pouring money into health and education for those who can already afford it results in inefficiency and waste, rendering everyone worse off. There are many such people in the Arizona philosophy department.

I do not believe that this economic argument has yet been won by the neo-liberals. A different response, though, is to think about the opportunities for the development of virtue that are lost when we introduce markets. I think that fear is one of the greatest barriers to the development of the virtues. It closes us down. Fundamentally, social justice is about the removal of fear, so that people are able to flourish. The neo-liberals would rather encourage and exploit fear, in all stratas of society (they want themselves to be afraid of being a bit less rich, and respond accordingly).

Posted Tue 30 May 2017 08:51:58 UTC

Most people I know can handle a single coffee per day, sometimes even forgetting to drink it. I never could understand how they did it. Talking about this with a therapist I realised that the problem isn’t necessary the caffeine, it’s my low tolerance of less than razor sharp focus. Most people accept they have slumps in their focus and just work through them. binarybear on reddit

Posted Tue 11 Apr 2017 21:08:43 UTC

Recently I heard a different reason suggested as to why there are fewer and fewer tenure-track jobs in philosophy. University administrators are taking control of the tenure review process; previously departments made decisions and the administrators rubber-stamped them. The result of this is that it is easier to get tenure. This is because university administrators grant tenure based on quantitively-measurable achievements, rather than a qualitative assessment of the candidate qua philosopher. If a department thought that someone shouldn’t get tenure, the administration might turn around and say that they are going to grant it because the candidate has fulfilled such-and-such requirements.

Since it is easier to get tenure, hiring someone at the assistant professor level is much riskier for a philosophy department: they have to assume the candidate will get tenure. So the pre-tenure phase is no longer a probationary period. That is being pushed onto post-docs and graduate students. This results in the intellectual maturity of published work going down.

There are various assumptions in the above that could be questioned, but what’s interesting is that it takes a lot of the blame for the current situation off the shoulders of faculty members (there have been accusations that they are not doing enough). If tenure-track hires are a bigger risk for the quality of the academic philosophers who end up with permanent jobs, it is good that they are averse to that risk.

Posted Mon 03 Apr 2017 01:05:26 UTC

I’ve been playing in a 5e campaign for around two months now. In the past ten days or so I’ve been reading various source books and Internet threads regarding the design of 5th edition. I’d like to draw some comparisons and contrasts between 5th edition, and the 3rd edition family of games (DnD 3.5e and Paizo’s Pathfinder, which may be thought of as 3.75e).

The first thing I’d like to discuss is that wizards and clerics are no longer Vancian spellcasters. In rules terms, this is the idea that individual spells are pieces of ammunition. Spellcasters have a list of individual spells stored in their heads, and as they cast spells from that list, they cross off each item. Barring special rules about spontaneously converting prepared spells to healing spells, for clerics, the only way to add items back to the list is to take a night’s rest. Contrast this with spending points from a pool of energy in order to use an ability to cast a fireball. Then the limiting factor on using spells is having enough points in your mana pool, not having further castings of the spell waiting in memory.

One of the design goals of 5th edition was to reduce the dominance of spellcasters at higher levels of play. The article to which I linked in the previous paragraph argues that this rebalancing requires the removal of Vancian magic. The idea, to the extent that I’ve understood it, is that Vancian magic is not an effective restriction on spellcaster power levels, so it is to be replaced with other restrictions—adding new restrictions while retaining the restrictions inherent in Vancian magic would leave spellcasters crippled.

A further reason for removing Vancian magic was to defeat the so-called “five minute adventuring day”. The compat ability of a party that contains higher level Vancian spellcasters drops significantly once they’ve fired off their most powerful combat spells. So adventuring groups would find themselves getting into a fight, and then immediately retreating to fully rest up in order to get their spells back. This removes interesting strategic and roleplaying possibilities involving the careful allocation of resources, and continuing to fight as hit points run low.

There are some other related changes. Spell components are no longer used up when casting a spell. So you can use one piece of bat guano for every fireball your character ever casts, instead of each casting requiring a new piece. Correspondingly, you can use a spell focus, such as a cool wand, instead of a pouch full of material components—since the pouch never runs out, there’s no mechanical change if a wizard uses an arcane focus instead. 0th level spells may now be cast at will (although Pathfinder had this too). And there are decent 0th level attack spells, so a spellcaster need not carry a crossbow or shortbow in order to have something to do on rounds when it would not be optimal to fire off one of their precious spells.

I am very much in favour of these design goals. The five minute adventuring day gets old fast, and I want it to be possible for the party to rely on the cool abilities of non-spellcasters to deal with the challenges they face. However, I am concerned about the flavour changes that result from the removal of Vancian magic. These affect wizards and clerics differently, so I’ll take each case in turn.

Firstly, consider wizards. In third edition, a wizard had to prepare and cast Read Magic (the only spell they could prepare without a spellbook), and then set about working through their spellbook. This involved casting the spells they wanted to prepare, up until the last few triggering words or gestures that would cause the effect of the spell to manifest. They would commit these final parts of the spell to memory. When it came to casting the spell, the wizard would say the final few words and make the required gestures, and bring out relevant material components from their component pouch. The completed spell would be ripped out of their mind, to manifest its effect in the world. We see that the casting of a spell is a highly mentally-draining activity—it rips the spell out of the caster’s memory!—not to be undertaken lightly. Thus it is natural that a wizard would learn to use a crossbow for basic damage-dealing. Magic is not something that comes very naturally to the wizard, to be deployed in combat as readily as the fighter swings their sword. They are not a superhero or video game character, “pew pew”ing their way to victory. This is a very cool starting point upon which to roleplay an academic spellcaster, not really available outside of tabletop games. I see it as a distinction between magical abilities and real magic.

Secondly, consider clerics. Most of the remarks in the previous paragraph apply, suitably reworked to be in terms of requesting certain abilities from the deity to whom the cleric is devoted. Additionally, there is the downgrading of the importance of the cleric’s healing magic in 5th edition. Characters can heal themselves by taking short and long rests. Previously, natural healing was very slow, so a cleric would need to convert all their remaining magic to healing spells at the end of the day, and hope that it was enough to bring the party up to fighting shape. Again, this made the party of adventurers seem less like superheroes or video game characters. Magic had a special, important and unique role, that couldn’t be replaced by the abilities of other classes.

There are some rules in the back of the DMG—“Slow Natural Healing”, “Healing Kit Dependency”, “Lingering Wounds”—which can be used to make healing magic more important. I’m not sure how well they would work without changes to the cleric class.

I would like to find ways to restore the feel and flavour of Vancian clerics and wizards to 5th edition, without sacrificing the improvements that have been made that let other party members do cool stuff too. I hope it is possible to keep magic cool and unique without making it dominate the game. It would be easy to forbid the use of arcane foci, and say that material component pouches run out if the party do not visit a suitable marketplace often enough. This would not have a significant mechanical effect, and could enhance roleplaying possibilities. I am not sure how I could deal with the other issues I’ve discussed without breaking the game.

The second thing I would like to discuss is bounded accuracy. Under this design principle, the modifiers to dice rolls grow much more slowly. The gain of hit points remains unbounded. Under third edition, it was mechanically impossible for a low-level monster to land a hit on a higher-level adventurer, rendering them totally useless even in overwhelming numbers. With bounded accuracy, it’s always possible for a low-level monster to hit a PC, even if they do insigificant damage. That means that multiple low-level monsters pose a threat.

This change opens up many roleplaying opportunities by keeping low-level character abilities relevant, as well as monster types that can remain involves in stories without giving them implausible new abilities so they don’t fall far behind the PCs. However, I’m a little worried that it might make high level player characters feel a lot less powerful to play. I want to cease a be a fragile adventurer and become a world-changing hero at later levels, rather than forever remain vulnerable to the things that I was vulnerable to at the start of the game. This desire might just be the result of the video games which I played growing up. In the JRPGs I played and in Diablo II, enemies in earlier areas of the map were no threat at all once you’d levelled up by conquering higher-level areas. My concerns about bounded accuracy might just be that it clashes with my own expectations of how fantasy heroes work. A good DM might be able to avoid these worries entirely.

The final thing I’d like to discuss is the various simplifications to the rules of 5th edition, when it is compared with 3rd edition and Pathfinder. Attacks of opportunity are only provoked when leaving a threatened square; you can go ahead and cast a spell when in melee with someone. There is a very short list of skills, and party members are much closer to each other in skills, now that you can’t pump more and more ranks into one or two abilities. Feats as a whole are an optional rule.

At first I was worried about these simplifications. I thought that they might make character building and tactics in combat a lot less fun. However, I am now broadly in favour of all of these changes, for two reasons. Firstly, they make the game so much more accessible, and make it far more viable to play without relying on a computer program to fill in the boxes on your character sheet. In my 5th edition group, two of us have played 3rd edition games, and the other four have never played any tabletop games before. But nobody has any problems figuring out their modifiers because it is always simply your ability bonus or penalty, plus your proficiency bonus if relevant. And advantage and disadvantage is so much more fun than getting an additional plus or minus two. Secondly, these simplifications downplay the importance of the maths, which means it is far less likely to be broken. It is easier to ensure that a smaller core of rules is balanced than it is to keep in check a larger mass of rules, constantly being supplemented by more and more addon books containing more and more feats and prestige classes. That means that players make their characters cool by roleplaying them in interesting ways, not making them cool by coming up with ability combos and synergies in advance of actually sitting down to play. Similarly, DMs can focus on flavouring monsters, rather than writing up longer stat blocks.

I think that this last point reflects what I find most worthwhile about tabletop RPGs. I like characters to encounter cool NPCs and cool situations, and then react in cool ways. I don’t care that much about character creation. (I used to care more about this, but I think it was mainly because of interesting options for magic items, which hasn’t gone away.) The most important thing is exercising group creativity while actually playing the game, rather than players and DMs having to spend a lot of time preparing the maths in advance of playing. Fifth edition enables this by preventing the rules from getting in the way, because they’re broken or overly complex. I think this is why I love Exalted: stunting is vital, and there is social combat. I hope to be able to work out a way to restore Vancian magic, but even without that, on balance, fifth edition seems like a better way to do group storytelling about fantasy heroes. Hopefully I will have an opportunity to DM a 5th edition campaign. I am considering disallowing all homebrew and classes and races from supplemental books. Stick to the well-balanced core rules, and do everything else by means of roleplaying and flavour. This is far less gimmicky, if more work for unimaginative players (such as myself!).

Some further interesting reading:

Posted Mon 13 Mar 2017 23:37:02 UTC