1. Debian Long Term Support (LTS)
  2. LWN publications
  3. Free software work

New years are strange things: for most arbitrary reasons, around January 1st we reset a bunch of stuff, change calendars and forget about work for a while. This is also when I forget to do my monthly report and then procrastinate until I figure out I might as well do a year report while I'm at it, and then do nothing at all for a while.

So this is my humble attempt at fixing this, about a month late. I'll try to cover December as well, but since not much has happened then, I figured I could also review the last year and think back on the trends there. Oh, and you'll get chocolate cookies of course. Hang on to your eyeballs, this won't hurt a bit.

Debian Long Term Support (LTS)

Those of you used to reading those reports might be tempted to skip this part, but wait! I actually don't have much to report here and instead you will find an incredibly insightful and relevant rant.

So I didn't actually do any LTS work in December. I actually reduced my available hours to focus on writing (more on that later). Overall, I ended up working about 11 hours per month on LTS in 2017. That is less than the 16-20 hours I was available during that time. Part of that is me regularly procrastinating, but another part is that finding work to do is sometimes difficult. The "easy" tasks often get picked and dispatched quickly, so the stuff that remains, when you're not constantly looking, is often very difficult packages.

I especially remember the pain of working on libreoffice, the KRACK update, more tiff, GraphicsMagick and ImageMagick vulnerabilities than I care to remember, and, ugh, Ruby... Masochists (also known as "security researchers") can find the details of those excruciating experiments in debian-lts for the monthly reports.

I don't want to sound like an old idiot, but I must admit, after working on LTS for two years, that working on patching old software for security bugs is hard work, and not particularly pleasant on top of it. You're basically always dealing with other people's garbage: badly written code that hasn't been touched in years, sometimes decades, that no one wants to take care of.

Yet someone needs to take care of it. A large part of the technical community considers Linux distributions in general, and LTS releases in particular, as "too old to care for". As if our elders, once they passed a certain age, should just be rolled out to the nearest dumpster or just left rotting on the curb. I suspect most people don't realize that Debian "stable" (stretch) was released less than a year ago, and "oldstable" (jessie) is a little over two years old. LTS (wheezy), our oldest supported release, is only four years old now, and will become unsupported this summer, on its fifth year anniversary. Five years may seem like a long time in computing but really, there's a whole universe out there and five years is absolutely nothing in the range of changes I'm interested in: politics, society and the environment range much beyond that shortsightedness.

To put things in perspective, some people I know still run their office on an Apple II, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. That is "old". And the fact that the damn thing still works should command respect and admiration, more than contempt. In comparison, the phone I have, an LG G3, is running an unpatched, vulnerable version of Android because it cannot be updated, because it's locked out of the telcos networks, because it was found in a taxi and reported "lost or stolen" (same thing, right?). And DRM protections in the bootloader keep me from doing the right thing and unbricking this device.

We should build devices that last decades. Instead we fill junkyards with tons and tons of precious computing devices that have more precious metals than most people carry as jewelry. We are wasting generations of programmers, hardware engineers, human robots and precious, rare metals on speculative, useless devices that are destroying our society. Working on supporting LTS is a small part in trying to fix the problem, but right now I can't help but think we have a problem upstream, in the way we build those tools in the first place. It's just depressing to be at the receiving end of the billions of lines of code that get created every year. Hopefully, the death of Moore's law could change that, but I'm afraid it's going to take another generation before programmers figure out how far away from their roots they have strayed. Maybe too long to keep ourselves from a civilization collapse.

LWN publications

With that gloomy conclusion, let's switch gears and talk about something happier. So as I mentioned, in December, I reduced my LTS hours and focused instead on finishing my coverage of KubeCon Austin for LWN.net. Three articles have already been published on the blog here:

... and two more articles, about Prometheus, are currently published as exclusives by LWN:

I was surprised to see that the container runtimes article got such traction. It wasn't the most important debate in the whole conference, but there were some amazingly juicy bits, some of which we didn't even cover because. Those were... uh... rather controversial and we want the community to stay sane. Or saner, if that word can be applied at all to the container community at this point.

I ended up publishing 16 articles at LWN this year. I'm really happy about that: I just love writing and even if it's in English (my native language is French), it's still better than rambling on my own like I do here. My editors allow me to publish well polished articles, and I am hugely grateful for the privilege. Each article takes about 13 hours to write, on average. I'm less happy about that: I wish delivery was more streamlined and I spare you the miserable story of last minute major changes I sent in some recent articles, to which I again apologize profusely to my editors.

I'm often at a loss when I need to explain to friends and family what I write about. I often give the example of the password series: I wrote a whole article about just how to pick a passphrase then a review of two geeky password managers and then a review of something that's not quite a password manager and you shouldn't be using. And on top of that, I even wrote an history of those but by that time my editors were sick and tired of passwords and understandably made me go away. At this point, neophytes are just scratching their heads and I remind them of the TL;DR:

  1. choose a proper password with a bunch of words picked at random (really random, check out Diceware!)

  2. use a password manager so you have to remember only one good password

  3. watch out where you type those damn things

I covered two other conferences this year as well: one was the NetDev conference, for which I wrote 4 articles (1, 2, 3, 4). It turned out I couldn't cover NetDev in Korea even though I wanted to, but hopefully that is just "partie remise" as we say in french... I also covered DebConf in Montreal, but that ended up being much harder than I thought: I got involved in networking and volunteered all over the place. By the time the conference started, I was too exhausted to do actually write anything, even though I took notes like crazy and ran around trying to attend everything. I found it's harder to write about topics that are close to home: nothing is new, so you don't get excited as much. I still enjoyed writing about the supposed decline of copyleft, which was based on a talk by FSF executive director John Sullivan, and I ended up writing about offline PGP key storage strategies and cryptographic keycards, after buying a token from friendly gniibe at DebConf.

I also wrote about Alioth moving to Pagure, unknowingly joining up with a long tradition of failed predictions at LWN: a few months later, the tide turned and Debian launched the Alioth replacement as a beta running... GitLab. Go figure - maybe this is the a version of the quantum observer effect) applied to journalism?

Two articles seemed to have been less successful. The GitHub TOS update was less controversial than I expected it would be and didn't seem to have a significant impact, although GitHub did rephrase some bits of their TOS eventually. The ROCA review didn't seem to bring excited crowds either, maybe because no one actually understood anything I was saying (including myself).

Still, 2017 has been a great ride in LWN-land: I'm hoping to publish even more during the next year and encourage people to subscribe to the magazine, as it helps us publish new articles, if you like what you're reading here of course.

Free software work

Last but not least is my free software work. This was just nuts.

New programs

I have written a bunch of completely new programs:

If I count this right (and I'm omitting a bunch of smaller, less general purpose programs), that is six new software projects, just this year. This seems crazy, but that's what the numbers say. I guess I like programming too, which is arguably a form of writing. Talk about contributing to the pile of lines of code...

New maintainerships

I also got more or less deeply involved in various communities:

And those are just the major ones... I have about 100 repositories active on GitHub, most of which are forks of existing repositories, so actual contributions to existing free software projects. Hard numbers for this are annoyingly hard to come by as well, especially in terms of issues vs commits and so on. GitHub says I have made about 600 contributions in the last year, which is an interesting figure as well.

Debian contributions

I also did a bunch of things in the Debian project, apart from my LTS involvement:

What's next?

This year, I'll need to figure out what to do with legacy projects. Gameclock and Monkeysign both need to be ported away from GTK2, which is deprecated. I will probably abandon the GUI in Monkeysign but gameclock will probably need a rewrite of its GUI. This begs the question of how we can maintain software in the longterm if even the graphical interface (even Xorg is going away!) is swept away under our feet all the time. Without this change, both software could have kept on going for another decade without trouble. But now, I need to spend time just to keep those tools from failing to build at all.

Wallabako seems to be doing well on its own, but I'd like to fix the refresh issues that make the reader sometimes unstable: maybe I can write directly to the SQLite database? I tried statically linking sqlite to do some tests about that, but that's apparently impossible and failed.

Feed2exec just works for me. I'm not very proud of the design, but it does its job well. I'll fix bugs and maybe push out a 1.0 release when a long enough delay goes by without any critical issues coming up. So try it out and report back!

As for the other projects, I'm not sure how it's going to go. It's possible that my involvement in paid work means I cannot commit as much to general free software work, but I can't help but just doing those drive-by contributions all the time. There's just too much stuff broken out there to sit by and watch the dumpster fire burn down the whole city.

I'll try to keep doing those reports, of which you can find an archive in monthly-report. Your comments, encouragements, and support make this worth it, so keep those coming!

Happy new year everyone: may it be better than the last, shouldn't be too hard...

PS: Here is the promised chocolate cookie: 🍪 Well, technically, that is a plain cookie, but the only chocolate-related symbol was 🍫 (chocolate bar): modernity is to be expected with technology...

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