1. February 2019 report: LTS, HTML mail, new phone and new job
  2. Debian Long Term Support (LTS)
    1. Website work
    2. Python GPG concerns
    3. Golang concerns
    4. Libarchive updates
    5. Netmask updates
    6. Libreoffice
    7. Enigmail
  3. Other free software work
    1. Debian work before the freeze
    2. New phone
    3. Mailing list experiments
    4. Emailing HTML in Notmuch
    5. Using dtach instead of screen for my IRC bouncer
    6. Other work

Debian Long Term Support (LTS)

This is my monthly Debian LTS report.

This is my final LTS report. I have found other work and will unfortunately not be able to continue working on the LTS project in the foreseeable future. I will continue my volunteer work on Debian and might even contribute to LTS in my normal job, but not directly part of the LTS team.

It is too bad because that team is doing essential work, and needs more help. Security is, at best, lacking everywhere and I do not believe the current approach of "minimal viable product, move fast, then break things" is sustainable. The people working on Linux distributions and also the LTS people are doing hard, dirty work of maintaining free software in the long term. It's thankless but I believe it's one of the most important jobs out there right now. And I suspect there will be only more of it as time goes by.

Legacy systems are not going anywhere: this is the next generation's "y2k bug": old, forgotten software no one understands or cares to work with that suddenly break or have a critical vulnerability that needs patching. Moving faster will not help us fix this problem: it only piles up more crap to deal with for real systems running in production.

The survival of humans and other species on planet Earth in my view can only be guaranteed via a timely transition towards a stationary state, a world economy without growth.

-- Peter Custers

Website work

I again worked on the website this month, doing one more mass import (MR 53) which was finally merged by Holger Levsen, after I fixed an issue with PGP signatures showing up on the website.

I also polished the misnamed "audit" script that checks for missing announcements on the website and published it as MR 1 on the "cron" project of the webmaster team. It's still a "work in progress" because it is still too noisy: there are a few DLAs missing already and we haven't published the latest DLAs on the website.

The remaining work here is to automate the import of new announcements on the website (bug #859123). I've done what is hopefully the last mass import and updated the workflow in the wiki.

Finally, I have also done a bit of cleanup on the website that was necessary after the mass import which also required rewrite rules at the server level. Hopefully, I will have this fairly well wrapped up for whoever picks this up next.

Python GPG concerns

Following a new vulnerability (CVE-2019-6690) disclosed in the python-gnupg library, I have expressed concerns at the security reliability of the project in future updates, referring to wider issues identified by isis lovecroft in this post.

I suggested we should simply drop security support for the project, citing it didn't have many reverse dependencies. But it seems that wasn't practical and the response was that it was actually possible to keep on maintaining it an such an update was issued for jessie.

Golang concerns

Similarly, I have expressed more concerns about the maintenance of Golang packages following the disclosure of a vulnerability (CVE-2019-6486) regarding elliptic curve implementations in the core Golang libraries. An update (DLA-1664-1) was issued for the core, but because Golang is statically compiled, I was worried the update wasn't sufficient: we also needed to upload updates for any build dependency using the affected code as well.

Holger asked the golang team for help and i also asked on irc. Apparently, all the non-dev packages (with some exceptions) were binNMU'd in stretch but the process needs to be clarified.

I also wondered if this maintenance problem could be resolved in the long term by switching to dynamic linking. Ubuntu tried to switch to dynamic linking but abandoned the effort, so it seems Golang will be quite difficult to maintain for security updates in the foreseeable future.

Libarchive updates

I have reproduced the problem described in CVE-2019-1000020 and CVE-2019-1000019 in jessie. I published a fix as DLA-1668-1. I had to build the update without sbuild's overlay system (in a tar chroot) otherwise the cpio tests fail.

Netmask updates

This one was minimal: a patch was sent by the maintainer so I only wrote and sent DLA 1665-1. Interestingly, I didn't have access to the .changes file which made writing the DLA a little harder, as my workflow normally involves calling gen-DLA --save with the .changes file which autopopulates a template. I learned that .changes files are normally archived on coccia.debian.org (specifically in /srv/ftp-master.debian.org/queue/done/), but not in the case of security uploads.

Libreoffice

I once again tried to tackle an issue (CVE-2018-16858) with Libreoffice. The last time I tried to work on LibreOffice, the test suite was failing and the linker was crashing after hours of compilation and I never got anywhere. But that was wheezy, so I figured jessie might be in better shape.

I quickly got into trouble with sbuild: I ran out of space on both / and /home so I moved all my photos to external drive (!). The patch ended up being trivial. I could reproduce with a simple proof of concept, but could not quite get code execution going. It might just be I haven't found the right Python module to load, so I assumed the code was vulnerable and, given the patch was simple, it was worth doing an update.

The build ended up taking close to nine hours and 35GiB of disk space. I published DLA-1669-1 as a result.

I also opened a bug report against dput-ng against dput-ng because it still doesn't warn users about uploads to security-master the same way dput does.

Enigmail

Finally, Enigmail was finally taken off the official support list in jessie when the debian-security-support proposed update was approved.

Other free software work

Since I was going to start that new job in March, I figured I would try to take some time off before work starts. I therefore mostly tried to wrap things up and didn't do as much volunteer work as I usually do. I'm unsure I'll be able to do as much volunteer work now that I start a full time job either, so this might possibly be my last report for a while.

Debian work before the freeze

I uploaded new versions of bitlbee-mastodon (1.4.1-1), sopel (6.6.3-1 and 6.6.3-2) and dateparser (0.7.1-1). I've also sponsored new uploads of smokeping and tuptime.

I also uploaded convertdate to NEW as it was a (missing but optional) dependency of dateparser. Unfortunately, it didn't make it through NEW in time for the freeze so dateparser won't be totally fixed in buster.

I also made two new releases of feed2exec, my programmable feed reader, to fix date parsing on broken feeds, add a JSON output plugin, and fix an issue with the ikiwiki_recentchanges plugin.

New phone

I got tired and bought a new phone. Even though I have almost a dozen old phones in a plastic box here, most of them are basically unusable:

I managed to salvage the old htc-one-s I had. It's still a little buggy (it crashes randomly) and a little slow, but generally works and I really like how small it is. It's going to be hard to go back to a bigger format.

I bought fairphone2 (FP2). It was pricey, and it's crazy because they might come up with the FP3 this year, but I was sick of trying to cross-reference specification tables and LineageOS download pages. The FP2 just works with an "open" Android version (and LOS) out of the box. But more importantly, the FP project tries to avoid major human rights issues in the source of components and the production of the device, something that's way too often overlooked. Many minerals involved in the fabrication of modern electronics come from conflict zones or involve horrible (child) labour conditions. Fixing those issues should be our priority, maybe even before hardware or software freedom.

Even without addressing completely those issues, the fact that it scored a perfect 10 in iFixit's reparability score is amazing. It seems parts are difficult to find, even in Europe. The phone doesn't ship to the Americas from the original website, which makes it difficult to buy, but some shops do ship to Canada, like Ecosto.

So we'll see how that goes. I will, as usual, document my experiences in the wiki, in fairphone2.

Mailing list experiments

As part of my calendar project, I figured I would keep my "readers" informed of my progress this year and send them an update every month or so. I was inspired by this post as I said last week: I can't stop thinking about it.

So I kept working on Mailman 3. Unfortunately, only a single of my proposed patches was merged. Many of them are "work in progress" (WIP) of course, but I was hoping to get more feedback on the proposals, especially the no notification workflow. Such a workflow delegates the sending of confirmation mails to the caller, which enables them to send more complex email than the straitjacket the templating system forces you into: you could then control every part of the email, not just the body and subject, but also content type, attachments and so on. That didn't seem to get traction: some informal comments I received said this wasn't the right fix for the invite problem, but then no one is working on fixing the invite problem either, so I wonder where that is going to go.

Unabashed, I tried to provide a french translation which allowed me to send an actual invite fully translated. This was a lot of work for not much benefit, so that was frustrating as well.

In the end, I ended up just with a Bcc list that I keep as an alias in my ~/.mutt/aliases, which notmuch reads thanks to my notmuch-address hack. In the email, I proposed my readers an "opt-out": if they don't write back, they're on the mailing list. It's spammy, but the readers are not just the general public: they are people I know well, that are close to me, and to who I have given a friggin' calendar (at least most of them).

If I find the energy, I'll finish setting up Mailman 3 just the way I like and use it to do the next mailing. But I can't help but think the mailing list is overkill for this now: the mailing with a Bcc list worked without a flaw, as far as I could tell, and it means minimal maintenance. So I'm not sure I'll battle Mailman 3 much longer, which is a shame because I happen to believe it's probably our best bet to keep mailing lists (and therefore probably email itself) alive in the future.

Emailing HTML in Notmuch

I actually had to write content for that email too - just messing around with the mailing list server is one thing, but the whole point is to actually say something. Or, in my case, show something, which is difficult using plain text. So I went crazy and tried to send HTML mail with notmuch. The thread is interesting: I encourage you to read it in full, but I'll quote the first post here for posterity:

I know, I know, HTML email is "evil"[1]. I mostly never ever use it, in fact, I don't remember the last time I consciously sent HTML. Maybe I did so back when I was using Netscape Communicator[2][3], but whatever.

The reason I thought about this again is I have been doing more photography these days and, well, being allergic to social media, I have very few ways of sharing those photographs with families and friends. I have tried creating a gallery website with an RSS feed but I'm sure no one here will be surprised that the uptake is minimal, if non-existent. People expect to have stuff pushed to them, like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Spam does.

So I thought[4] of Email again: the original social network! I figured I would just make a mailing list, and write to my people once in a while to let them new about my new pictures. And while writing the first email, I realized it was pretty silly to not include images, or at least links to images in the email.

I'm sure you can see where this is going. A link in the email: who's going to click that. Who clicks now anyways, with all the tapping[5] going on. So the answer comes naturally: just write frigging HTML email. Don't be a rms^Wreligious zealot and do the right thing, what works basically everywhere[6] (even notmuch!).

So I started Thunderbird and thought "what the heck am I doing! there must be a better way!" After searching for "message mode emacs html email ktxbye", I found some people already thought about this problem and came up with somewhat elegant solutions[7]. I built on that by trying to come up with a pure elisp solution, which goes a little like this:

(defun anarcat/notmuch-html-convert ()
  """create an HTML part from a Markdown body

This will not work if there are *any* attachments of any form, those should be added after."""
  (interactive)
  (save-excursion
    ;; fetch subject, it will be the HTML version title
    (message "building HTML attachment...")
    (message-goto-subject)
    (beginning-of-line)
    (search-forward ":")
    (forward-char)
    (let ((beg (point))) (end-of-line)
         (setq subject (buffer-substring beg (point))))
    (message "determined title is %s..." subject)
    ;; wrap signature in a <pre>
    (message-goto-signature)
    (forward-line -1)
    ;; save and delete signature which requires special formatting
    (setq signature (buffer-substring (point) (point-max)))
    (delete-region (point) (point-max))
    ;; set region to top of body then end of buffer
    (end-of-buffer)
    (message-goto-body)
    (narrow-to-region (point) (mark))
    ;; run markdown on region
    (setq output-buffer-name "*notmuch-markdown-output*")
    (message "running markdown...")
    (markdown output-buffer-name)
    (widen)
    (save-excursion
      (set-buffer output-buffer-name)
      (end-of-buffer)
      ;; add signature formatted as <pre>
      (insert "\n<pre>")
      (insert signature)
      (insert "</pre>\n")
      (markdown-add-xhtml-header-and-footer subject))
    (message "done the dirty work, re-inserting everything...")
    ;; restore signature
    (message-goto-signature)
    (insert signature)
    (message-goto-body)
    (insert "<#multipart type=alternative>\n")
    (end-of-buffer)
    (insert "<#part type=text/html>\n")
    (insert-buffer output-buffer-name)
    (end-of-buffer)
    (insert "<#/multipart>\n")
    (let ((f (buffer-size (get-buffer output-buffer-name))))
      (message "appended HTML part (%s bytes)" f))))

For those who can't read elisp for breakfast, this does the following:

  1. parse the current email body as markdown, in a separate buffer
  2. make the current email multipart/alternative
  3. add an HTML part
  4. inject the HTML version in the HTML part

There's some nasty business with formatting the signature correctly by wrapping it in a <pre> that's going on there - I took that from Thunderbird as well.

(For those who do read elisp for breakfast, improvements and comments on the coding style are very welcome.)

The idea is that you write your email normally, but in markdown. When you're done writing that email, you launch the above function (carefully bound to "M-x anarcat/notmuch-html-convert" here) which takes that email and adds an equivalent HTML part to it. You can then even tweak that part to screw around with the raw HTML if you feel depressed or nostalgic.

What do people think? Am I insane? Could this work? Does this belong in notmuch? Or maybe in the tips section? Should I seek therapy? Do you hate markdown? Expand on the relationship between your parents and text editors.

Thanks for any feedback,

A.

PS: the above, naturally, could be adapted to parse the body as RST, asciidoc, texinfo, latex or whatever insanity you think would be more appropriate, I don't care. The idea is the same.

PPS: I remember reading about someone wanting to declare a text/markdown mimetype for email, and remembering it was all backwards and weird and I can't find the reference anymore. If some lazyweb magic person could forward the link to me I would be grateful.

 [1]: one of so many: https://www.georgedillon.com/web/html_email_is_evil_still.shtml
 [2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netscape_Communicator
 [3]: yes my age is showing
 [4]: to be fair, this article encouraged me quite a bit: https://blog.chaddickerson.com/2019/01/09/replacing-facebook/
 [5]: not the bass guitar one, unfortunately
 [6]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTML_email#Adoption
 [7]: https://trey-jackson.blogspot.com/2008/01/emacs-tip-8-markdown.html

I edited the original message to include the latest version of the script, which (unfortunately) lives in my private dotfiles git repository.

In the end, all that effort didn't quite do it: the image links would break in webmail when seen from Chromium. This is apparently intended behaviour: the problem was that I am embedding the username/password of the gallery in the HTTP URL, using in-URL credentials which is apparently "deprecated" even though no standards actually says so. So I ended up generating a full HTML version of the frigging email, complete with a link on top of the email saying "if this email doesn't display properly, click the following".

Now I remember why I dislike HTML email. Yet my readers were quite happy to see the images directly and I suspect most of them wouldn't click through on individual images to see each photo, so I think it's worth the trouble.

And now that I think about it, it feels silly not to post those updates on this blog now. But the gallery is private right now, and I think I'd like to keep it that way: it gives me more freedom to share more intimate pictures with people.

Using dtach instead of screen for my IRC bouncer

I have been using irssi in a screen session for a long time now. Recently I started thinking about simplifying that setup by setting up password-less authentication to the session, but also running it as a separate user. This was especially important to keep possible compromises of the IRC client limited to a sandboxed account instead of my more powerful user.

To further limit the impact of a possible compromise, I also started using dtach instead of GNU screen to handle my irssi session: irssi can still run arbitrary code, but at least you can't just open a new window in screen and need to think a little more about how to do it.

Eventually, I could make a profile in systemd to keep it from forking at all, although I'm not sure irssi could still work in such an environment. The change broke the "auto-away script" which relies on screen's peculiar handling of the socket to signify if the session is attached, so I filed that as a feature request.

Other work

Created . Edited .