1. My free software activities, October 2016
  2. Debian Long Term Support (LTS)
  3. Other free software work
    1. Monkeysign
    2. Funding free software work
    3. Open Street Map editing
    4. Bounties
    5. Other work

Debian Long Term Support (LTS)

This is my 7th month working on Debian LTS, started by Raphael Hertzog at Freexian, after a long pause during the summer.

I have worked on the following packages and CVEs:

I have also helped review work on the following packages:

The work on ImageMagick and GraphicsMagick was particularly intriguing. Looking at the source of those programs makes me wonder why were are still using them at all: it's a tangled mess of C code that is bound to bring up more and more vulnerabilities, time after time. It seems there's always an "Magick" vulnerability waiting to be fixed out there... I somehow hoped that the fork would bring more stability and reliability, but it seems they are suffering from similar issues because, fundamentally, they haven't rewritten ImageMagick...

It looks this is something that affects all image programs. The review I have done on the tiff suite give me the same shivering sensation as reviewing the "Magick" code. It feels like all image libraries are poorly implemented and then bound to be exploited somehow... Nevertheless, if I had to use a library of the sort in my software, I would stay away from the "Magick" forks and try something like imlib2 first...

Finally, I also did some minor work on the user and developer LTS documentation and some triage work on samba, xen and libass. I also looked at the dreaded CVE-2016-7117 vulnerability in the Linux kernel to verify its impact on wheezy users. I also looked at implementing a --lts flag for dch (see bug #762715).

It was difficult to get back to work after such a long pause, but I am happy I was able to contribute a significant number of hours. It's a bit difficult to find work sometimes in LTS-land, even if there's actually always a lot of work to be done. For example, I used to be one of the people doing frontdesk work, but those duties are now assigned until the end of the year, so it's unlikely I will be doing any of that for the forseable future. Similarly, a lot of packages were assigned when I started looking at the available packages. There was an interesting discussion on the internal mailing list regarding unlocking package ownership, because some people had packages locked for weeks, sometimes months, without significant activity. Hopefully that situation will improve after that discussion.

Another interesting discussion I participated in is the question of whether the LTS team should be waiting for unstable to be fixed before publishing fixes in oldstable. It seems the consensus right now is that it shouldn't be mandatory to fix issues in unstable before we fix security isssues in oldstable and stable. After all, security support for testing and unstable is limited. But I was happy to learn that working on brand new patches is part of our mandate as part of the LTS work. I did work on such a patch for tar which ended up being adopted by the original reporter, although upstream ended up implementing our recommendation in a better way.

It's coincidentally the first time since I start working on LTS that I didn't get the number of requested hours, which means that there are more people working on LTS. That is a good thing, but I am worried it may also mean people are more spread out and less capable of focusing for longer periods of time on more difficult problems. It also means that the team is growing faster than the funding, which is unfortunate: now is a good time as any to remind you to see if you can make your company fund the LTS project if you are still running Debian wheezy.

Other free software work

It seems like forever that I did such a report, and while I was on vacation, a lot has happened since the last report.

Monkeysign

I have done extensive work on Monkeysign, trying to bring it kicking and screaming in the new world of GnuPG 2.1. This was the objective of the 2.1 release, which collected about two years of work and patches, including arbitrary MUA support (e.g. Thunderbird), config files support, and a release on PyPI. I have had to release about 4 more releases to try and fix the build chain, ship the test suite with the program and have a primitive preferences panel. The 2.2 release also finally features Tor suport!

I am also happy to have moved more documentation to Read the docs, part of which I mentionned in in a previous article. The git repositories and issues were also moved to a Gitlab instance which will hopefully improve the collaboration workflow, although we still have issues in streamlining the merge request workflow.

All in all, I am happy to be working on Monkeysign, but it has been a frustrating experience. In the last years, I have been maintaining the project largely on my own: although there are about 20 contributors in Monkeysign, I have committed over 90% of the commits in the code. New contributors recently showed up, and I hope this will release some pressure on me being the sole maintainer, but I am not sure how viable the project is.

Funding free software work

More and more, I wonder how to sustain my contributions to free software. As a previous article has shown, I work a lot on the computer, even when I am not on a full-time job. Monkeysign has been a significant time drain in the last months, and I have done this work on a completely volunteer basis. I wouldn't mind so much except that there is a lot of work I do on a volunteer basis. This means that I sometimes must prioritize paid consulting work, at the expense of those volunteer projects. While most of my paid work usually revolves around free sofware, the benefits of paid work are not always immediately obvious, as the primary objective is to deliver to the customer, and the community as a whole is somewhat of a side-effect.

I have watched with interest joeyh's adventures into crowdfunding which seems to be working pretty well for him. Unfortunately, I cannot claim the incredible (and well-deserved) reputation Joey has, and even if I could, I can't live with 500$ a month.

I would love to hear if people would be interested in funding my work in such a way. I am hesitant in launching a crowdfunding campaign because it is difficult to identify what exactly I am working on from one month to the next. Looking back at earlier reports shows that I am all over the place: one month I'll work on a Perl Wiki (Ikiwiki), the next one I'll be hacking at a multimedia home cinema (Kodi). I can hardly think of how to fund those things short of "just give me money to work on anything I feel like", which I can hardly ask for of anyone. Even worse, it feels like the audience here is either friends or colleagues. It would make little sense for me to seek funding from those people: colleagues have the same funding problems I do, and I don't want to empoverish my friends...

So far I have taken the approach of trying to get funding for work I am doing, bit by bit. For example, I have recently been told that LWN actually pays for contributed articles and have started running articles by them before publishing them here. This is looking good: they will publish an article I wrote about the Omnia router I have recently received. I give them exclusive rights on the article for two weeks, but I otherwise retain full ownership over the article and will publish them after the exclusive period here.

Hopefully, I will be able to find more such projects that pays for the work I do on a day to day basis.

Open Street Map editing

I have ramped up my OpenStreetMap contributions, having (temporarily) moved to a different location. There are lots of things to map here: trails, gaz stations and lots of other things are missing from the map. Sometimes the effort looks a bit ridiculous, reminding me of my early days of editing OSM. I have registered to OSM Live, a project to fund OSM editors that, I must admit, doesn't help much with funding my work: with the hundreds of edits I did in October, I received the equivalent of 1.80$CAD in Bitcoins. This may be the lowest hourly salary I have ever received, probably going at a rate of 10¢ per hour!

Still, it's interesting to be able to point people to the project if someone wants to contribute to OSM mappers. But mappers should have no illusions about getting a decent salary from this effort, I am sorry to say.

Bounties

I feel this is similar to the "bounty" model used by the Borg project: I claimed around $80USD in that project for what probably amounts to tens of hours of work, yet another salary that would qualify as "poor".

Another example is a feature I would like to implement in Borg: support for protocols other than SSH. There is currently no bounty on this, but a similar feature, S3 support has one of the largest bounties Borg has ever seen: $225USD. And the claimant for the bounty hasn't actually implemented the feature, instead backing up to S3, the patch (to a third-party tool) actually enables support for Amazon Cloud Drive, a completely different API.

Even at $225, I wouldn't be able to complete any of those features and get a decent salary. As well explained by the Snowdrift reviews, bounties just don't work at all... The ludicrous 10% fee charged by Bountysource made sure I would never do business with them ever again anyways.

Other work

There are probably more things I did recently, but I am having difficulty keeping track of the last 5 months of on and off work, so you will forgive that I am not as exhaustive as I usually am.

Created . Edited .