1. My free software activities, march 2016
  2. Debian Long Term Support (LTS)
    1. Frontdesk
    2. Updates to NSS and Xen
  3. Other free software work
    1. Android
    2. IRC projects
    3. Syncthing
    4. Battery stats
    5. Playlist, git-annex and MPD in Python
    6. Useful snippets
    7. Other projects

Debian Long Term Support (LTS)

This is my 4th month working on Debian LTS, started by Raphael Hertzog at Freexian. I spent half of the month away on a vacation so little work was done, especially since I tried to tackle rather large uploads like NSS and Xen. I also worked on the frontdesk shift last week.

Frontdesk

That work mainly consisted of figuring out how to best help the security team with the last uploads to the Wheezy release. For those who don't know, Debian 7 Wheezy, or "oldstable", is going to be unsupported by the security team starting end of april, and the Debian 6 Squeeze (the previous LTS) is now unsupported. The PGP signatures on the archived release have started yielding expiration errors which can be ignored but that are really a strong reminder that it is really time to upgrade.

So the LTS team is now working towards backporting a few security issues from squeeze to wheezy, and this is what I focused on during triage work. I have identified the following high priority packages I will work on after I complete my work on the Xen and NSS packages (detailed below):

Updates to NSS and Xen

I have spent a lot of time testing and building packages for NSS and Xen. To be fair, Brian May did most of the work on the Xen packages, and I merely did some work to test the packages on Koumbit's infrastructure, something which I will continue doing in the next month.

For NSS, wheezy and jessie are in this weird state where patches were provided to the security team all the way back in November yet were never tested. Since then, yet more issues came up and I worked hard to review and port patches for those new security issues to wheezy.

I'll followup on both packages in the following month.

Other free software work

Android

TL;DR: there's an even longer version of this with the step-by-step procedures and that I will update as time goes on in my wiki.

I somehow inherited an Android phone recently, on a loan from a friend because the phone broke one too many times and she got a new one from her provider. This phone is a HTC One S "Ville", which is fairly old, but good enough to play with and give me a mobile computing platform to listen to podcasts, play music, access maps and create GPS traces.

I was previously doing this with my N900, but that device is really showing its age: very little development is happening on it, the SDK is closed source and the device itself is fairly big, compared to the "Ville". Plus, the SIM card actually works on the Ville so, even though I do not have an actual contract with a cell phone provider (too expensive, too invasive on my privacy), I can still make emergency phone calls (911)!

Plus, since there is good wifi on the machine, I can use it to connect to the phone system with the built-in SIP client, send text messages through SMS (thanks to VoIP.ms SMS support) or Jabber. I have also played around with LibreSignal, the free software replacement for Signal, which uses proprietary google services. Yes, the VoIP.ms SMS app also uses GCM, but hopefully that can be fixed. (While I was writing this, another Debian Developer wrote a good review of Signal so I am happy to skip that step. Go read that.)

See also my apps list for a more complete list of the apps I have installed on the phone. I welcome recommendations on cool free software apps I should use!

I have replaced the stock firmware on the phone with Cyanogenmod 12.1, which was a fairly painful experience, partly because of the difficult ambiance on the #cyanogenmod channel on Freenode, where I had extreme experiences: a brave soul helped me through the first flashing process for around 2 hours, nicely holding my hand at every step. Other times, I have seen flames and obtuse comments from people being vulgar, brutal, obnoxious, if not sometimes downright homophobic and sexist from other users. It is clearly a community that needs to fix their attitude.

I have documented everything I could in details in this wiki page, in case others want to resuscitate their old phones, but also because I ended up reinstalling the freaking phone about 4 times, and was getting tired of forgetting how to do it every time.

I am somewhat fascinated by Android: here is the Linux-based device that should save us all from the proprietary Apple nightmares of fenced in gardens and censorship. Yet, public Android downloads are hidden behind license agreements, even though the code itself is free, which has led fellow Debian developers to work on making libre rebuilds of Androids to workaround this insanity. But worse: all phones are basically proprietary devices down to the core. You need custom firmware to be loaded on the machine for it to boot at all, from the bootloader all the way down to the GSM baseband and Wifi drivers. It is a minefield of closed source software, and trying to run free software on there is a bit of a delusion, especially since the baseband has so much power over the phone.

Still, I think it is really interesting to run free software on those machines, and help people that are stuck with cell phones get familiar with software freedom. It seems especially important to me to make Android developers aware of software freedom considering how many apps are available for free yet on which it is not possible to contribute significantly because the source code is not published at all, or published only on the Google Store, instead of the more open and public F-Droid repository which publishes only free software.

So I did contribute. This month, I am happy to announce that I contributed to the following free software projects on Android:

I have also reviewed the literature surrounding Telegram, a popular messaging app rival to Signal and Whatsapp. Oddly enough, my contributions to Wikipedia on that subject were promptly reverted which made me bring up the subject on the page's Talk page. This lead to an interesting response from the article's main editors which at least added that the "its security features have been contested by security researchers and cryptography experts".

Considering the history of Telegram, I would keep people away from it and direct people to use Signal instead, even though Signal has similar metadata issues, mostly because Telegram's lack of response to the security issues that were outlined by fellow security researchers. Both systems suffer from a lack of federation as well, which is a shame in this era of increasing centralization.

I am not sure I will put much more work in developing for Android for now. It seems like a fairly hostile platform to work on, and unless I have specific pain points I want to fix, it feels so much better to work on my own stuff in Debian.

Which brings me to my usual plethora of free software projects I got stuck in this month.

IRC projects

irssi-plugin-otr had a bunch of idiotic bugs lying around, and I had a patch that I hadn't submitted upstream from the Debian package, which needed a rebuild because the irssi version changed, which is a major annoyance. The version in sid is now a snapshot because upstream needs to make a new release but at least it should fix things for my friends running unstable and testing. Hopefully those silly uploads won't be necessary in the future.

That's for the client side. On the server side, I have worked on updating the Atheme-services package to the latest version, which actually failed because the upstream libmowgli is missing release tags, which means the Debian package for it is not up-to-date either. Still, it is nice to have a somewhat newer version, even though it is not the latest and some bugs were fixed.

I have also looked at making atheme reproducible but was surprised at the hostility of the upstream. In the end, it looks like they are still interested in patches, but they will be a little harder to deploy than for Charybdis, so this could take some time. Hopefully I will find time in the coming weeks to test the new atheme services daemon on the IRC network I operate.

Syncthing

I have also re-discovered Syncthing, a file synchronization software. Amazingly, I was having trouble transferring a single file between two phones. I couldn't use Bluetooth (not sure why), the "Wifi sharing" app was available only on one phone (and is proprietary, and has a limit of 4MB files), and everything else requires an account, the cloud, or cabling.

So. Just heading to f-droid, install syncthing, flash a few qr-codes around and voilà: files are copied over! Pretty amazing: the files were actually copied over the local network, using IPv6 link-local addresses, encryption and the DHT. Which is a real geeky way of saying it's completely fast, secure and fast.

Now, I found a few usability issues, so much that I wrote a whole usability story for the developers, which were really appreciative of my review. Some of the issues were already fixed, others were pretty minor. Syncthing has a great community, and it seems like a great project I encourage everyone to get familiar with.

Battery stats

The battery-status project I mentionned previously has been merged with the battery-stats project (yes, the names are almost the same, which is confusing) and so I had to do some work to fix my Python graph script, which was accepted upstream and will be part of Debian officially from now on, which is cool. The previous package was unofficial. I have also noticed that my battery has a significantly than when I wrote the script. Whereas it was basically full back then, it seems now it has lost almost 15% of its capacity in about 6 months. According to the calculations of the script:

this battery will reach end of life (5%) in 935 days, 19:07:58.336480, on 2018-10-23 12:06:07.270290

Which is, to be fair, a good life: it will somewhat work for about three more years.

Playlist, git-annex and MPD in Python

On top of my previously mentioned photos-import script, I have worked on two more small programs. One is called get-playlist and is an extension to git-annex to easily copy to the local git-annex repository all files present in a given M3U playlist. This is useful for me because my phone cannot possibly fit my whole MP3 collection, and I use playlists in GMPC to tag certain files, particularly the Favorites list which is populated by the "star" button in the UI.

I had a lot of fun writing this script. I started using elpy as an IDE in Emacs. (Notice how Emacs got a new webpage, which is a huge improvement was had been basically unchanged since the original version, now almost 20 years old, and probably written by RMS himself.) I wonder how I managed to stay away from Elpy for so long, as it glues together key components of Emacs in an elegant and functional bundle:

In short, it's amazing and makes everything so much easier to work with that I wrote another script. The first program wouldn't work very well because some songs in the playlists had been moved, so I made another program, this time to repair playlists which refer to missing files. The script is simply called fix-playlists, and can operate transparently on multiple playlists. It has a bunch of heuristics to find files and uses a MPD server as a directory to search into. It can edit files in place or just act as a filter.

Useful snippets

Writing so many scripts, so often, I figured I needed to stop wasting time always writing the same boilerplate stuff on top of every file, so I started publishing Yasnippet-compatible file snippets, in my snippets repository. For example, this report is based on the humble lts snippet. I also have a base license snippet which slaps the AGPLv3 license on top of a Python file.

But the most interesting snippet, for me, is this simple script snippet which is a basic scaffolding for a commandline script that includes argument processing, logging and filtering of files, something which I was always copy-pasting around.

Other projects

And finally, a list of interesting issues en vrac:

Created . Edited .