Posts for March 2009

2009-03-01: Spring

Spring willow

March, the point at which it starts feeling like spring. It's warmer now and quite a bit wetter. Today I got to do grocery shopping in the rain (thankfully light). Hopefully it will rain quite a bit more (and somewhere else; having it rain around here doesn't do much for the drought, since it just runs into the Bay).

I'm still working on time management and emotional state control, with varying degrees of effectiveness. Last week was difficult due to a major work writing assignment that was mentally exhausting, but I think it went reasonably well. The assignment is continuing, but I think I've finished the hardest parts of it. Once that's done, I'm going to make even more of an effort to cut back on work hours and take more time to do other things.

I have a lot of work I still need to do on the software I maintain. All of my AFS scripts need new releases, sometimes with significant changes in infrastructure. I need to figure out a good way of managing those releases and providing Debian packages, probably based on the work that we did internal to Stanford. I need to finish my personal repository, and I'm close to finishing releases of my general package infrastructure. That should be followed shortly by releases of kstart and remctl, hopefully followed shorly by wallet and WebAuth.

It's all a bit overwhelming, but I'm working on maintaining a to-do list, working from it, and doing the next action rather than worrying too much about the total amount of work. As long as I keep taking well-defined steps forward, it will all get done.

Today was mostly a life-maintenance day instead of an accomplishment day, full of things like grocery shopping, catching up a bit on reading, and doing my GTD weekly review. I did also do a little bit of Lintian work (although at the cost of staying up later and not following my best schedule). I'd rather keep working on that, but it's time for exercise, reading, bed, and then back to work on strategy documents.

2009-03-02: According to plan

End of parking lot

It was the sign that made me want to take this picture. I also put up another picture of the tree I featured yesterday.

Today was a good day. I got a few things done, but more importantly, it was the first day in a while that went according to plan. I slept in a little late, so my schedule isn't perfectly aligned, but it's much closer than I have been managing.

Now to maintain that for a while.

2009-03-05: Personal Debian repository

I've been working for a while on a new reprepro-based personal Debian repository, replacing the old one that was managed by debarchiver. I was going to hold off on switching until I uploaded every package that was in the old repository, but then I realized that was kind of silly and some of those packages need more attention. So I finally did the cutover today.

For details on my personal repository, see my Debian packages page. The new repository is signed with a different key, not my personal key, so that I can automatically sign package uploads. You will now want to install the eyrie-keyring package from the repository or follow the alternative instructions on that page to import the key. The packages in that repository are mostly software I developed that's not of sufficient general interest to upload or packages that aren't up to Debian quality standards for one reason or another.

I love reprepro. debarchiver did very well for me for quite a while, and I'm happy to have used it, but reprepro is just very nice. It's great to be able to use package pools and do automatic propagation of new uploads into multiple repositories, too.

Now I just need to find time to do more software releases.

2009-03-08: Lintian 2.2.7

This release had more annoying globalish changes than any release that I remember recently. There were lots of little changes across all files, lots of internal reorganization, and lots of tweaks and little changes to match behavior changes elsewhere in the infrastructure. It's all movement towards a more maintainable code base, but it's not as much fun as fixing lots of bugs.

This release should fix the occasional problems that people saw with checking source packages (sorry about that, my fault) and somewhat faster performance due to a bunch of work by Raphael Geissert. It also incorporates changes from debhelper 7.2.3, including removing the requirement that one call install-docs and update-menus in maintainer scripts. That work is now handled by triggers (except for menu-methods files).

This was supposed to be the Policy 3.8.1 release, but I ran out of time today. I'm still hoping to get to that very soon (before 2.2.7 propagates into testing), but there were enough important fixes in this that I didn't want to delay it further.

I'm running into a bit of a problem with Lintian at the moment. It's a lot of fun, and we're making a ton of progress, but it's taking me roughly a day a week to really keep up with the incoming bugs and patch submissions and do a proper job of merging them (which is more than just applying them). This really isn't sustainable. I have a bunch of other things that I want to do, both inside Debian and outside, and I'm going to have to reduce the amount of time that I'm spending on Lintian soon. I hate to do that, since it's great to stay this up-to-date and see this high pace of change, but things may start backing up a bit in the near future.

As usual, thank you very much to Adam D. Barratt and Raphael Geissert for all of their work, without which this release wouldn't have been possible.

2009-03-09: INN 2.5.0rc1

I'm pleased to announce the availability of the first 2.5.0 release candidate. As usual, Julien √ČLIE did the hard work of preparing the release. This will be the first new major release of INN in over five years.

You can get the release candidate from the testing directory for as long as it's still a release candidate. As soon as it becomes the final release, it will move to the regular directory.

There are lots and lots of changes; see the NEWS file for all of the details. Some major highlights are significantly improved support for the current NNTP standards, including SASL support, and major improvements in the cleanliness and IPv6 support of the network layer.

Please test and report any problems to inn-workers.

INN 2.4.6 will also be released as soon as ISC updates their web pages to reflect the new release.

2009-03-10: INN 2.4.6

INN 2.4.6 has been released. You can get the latest version from This is a bug fix release with no major new features, although there is an improved version of docheckgroups included. It contains updates to support newer releases of Perl, fixes for Perl filtering hooks, a few NNTP protocol fixes, and lots of various bug fixes.

Many thanks to Julien √ČLIE, who did nearly all of the work.

You can see the release notes and the rest of the documentation on my INN pages.

2009-03-11: Earmarks

A brief political note.

The normal federal government budget process allocates money to various branches of the executive, which then follow their own internal procedures to decide how to allocate that money. An earmark is an allocation of money by Congress directly to a specific project, bypassing the executive. That's all.

If you say that you oppose all earmarks, you're therefore either saying that you oppose Congressional allocation of federal government funds instead of executive-branch allocation of funds, and hence saying that you trust Obama's administration more than Congress, or you're saying that you oppose all government spending (in which case you should be honest about that). And, more basically, spending does not become wasteful simply by how the money is allocated. Either the project should be funded or not, and that will continue to be the case whether Congress allocates the money directly or the executive branch allocates it.

If you advocate eradication of earmarks, what you are in practice advocating is a naked power grab by the executive branch, bypassing the Congressional power of the purse. There's a reason why Obama isn't doing that, and instead is proposing a much more nuanced review process that recognizes that earmarks aren't necessarily bad projects.

You may also want to keep in mind that if you're getting your information about earmark projects from the news media, you are judging them entirely on the basis of sound-bite, short-phrase explanations of often-complex projects. By doing that, you risk doing what Jindal did and looking like a complete idiot when you oppose volcano monitoring in Washington State, something that's as clearly and obviously a proper government role in public safety as anything I can imagine.

2009-03-11: backport 1.19

I finally got a chance to overhaul my backporting helper script to add support for lenny. The new version bases the default chroot basepath on the target distribution, chooses the right version suffix for based on the distribution, and tweaks a few other things. One should be able to use it for both stable and oldstable backports, although I've not tested it all that thoroughly yet.

The default target is now lenny. There are, as yet, no transforms applied for lenny backports, but I'll be adding them as I run into necessary changes for the packages that I backport.

You can get the latest version from my scripts page.

2009-03-11: Policy 3.8.1 and Lintian 2.2.8

I've just uploaded Policy with the first batch of post-lenny changes. There isn't anything that earth-shattering in this set, but I'm hoping that we'll be able to get a lot more done during the squeeze release cycle. Policy has well over a hundred open bugs, quite a few of which we should be able to resolve.

I also uploaded Lintian 2.2.8, which is synchronized against Policy 3.8.1 and also reverts some changes around install-menu due to a reverted change in debhelper 7.2.5, and fixes diagnosis of diversions. The last few versions of Lintian have all been a little bit buggy due mostly to the current pace of change. Hopefully this version will have fewer unexpected problems.

Here is the summary of normative Policy changes, taken from upgrading-checklist.txt.gz in the debian-policy package.

2009-03-20: Spring!

Flowering cherries

I'm lame and haven't gone out and taken pictures of the beautiful flowering trees near my apartment (and I unfortunately can't capture the smell), so here's a picture of flowering cherry trees from last year in Chemainus, British Columbia. I also posted another picture of a private garden.

I've not been writing much here this month, and hardly posting any photographs at all. There are a few reasons for that, but mostly it's because all of my brain has gone into writing strategy documents for work, and the bit of free time I've had had gone into re-establishing a reading habit and playing some video games. I also let my schedule get a bit out of control, which made for some late nights and then cramped days. Last weekend, I ended up not having the energy to do much of anything, which didn't help.

I think I'm now starting to pull out of that. I've gotten to bed at midnight the last couple of nights and at reasonably good times most of this week. I've been waking up around 9:00 or 9:30, which means I'm recovering from a sleep deficit, but which is in the right ballpark. Now I just need to stick with that schedule and get used to it, and then I should have more control over my schedule.

The tricky part will be some early Saturday morning AFS work for the next few weeks, but I can normally work around that.

This weekend, I have to do taxes, but hopefully I can get that over with on Saturday and still get a few other things done. Sunday is tentatively reserved for playing video games at the moment.

Hopefully, if all goes according to plan, I'll be able to catch up on pending software releases soon.

2009-03-21: More spring!

Under cherry trees

I love flowering cherries, so you get more pictures of them. I also posted a closeup of the blossoms.

Taxes are all done (a few hours ago, in fact). Now I get to decide what I want to do with the rest of the day. Probably, I'll see if I can knock a few things off my to-do list (although the current stuff is only at 56, which is fairly good for me). Maybe this evening I'll feel inspired to write another book review, which would be good as I'm four behind at the moment.

I seem unlikely again this year to average seven books a month, which has been my rough target. This month, I blame that on Quicksilver, which is not exactly fast reading. And given that Anathem was nominated for the Hugo, Stephenson is likely to destroy my average for the year. I should count his books as three or four books or something for the purpose of my inner drive. But more generally, the extra time playing video games had to come out of somewhere, and it seems currently to be mostly coming out of reading.

2009-03-22: Almost 2009 pictures

Hydrangea leaf

I almost have pictures from this year for a change. I even took some today, but I didn't get out of the apartment to take pictures until after 18:00, so it was a bit dark for the best pictures. I also once again kept putting off taking pictures of the beautiful flowering trees until we got a storm that blew off a bunch of the petals. You would think I would learn.

So you get a picture of a hydrangea leaf from 2008 instead.

Hopefully tomorrow I'll have a chance to do something about the pictures I took today and post one of those, and also hopefully I'll take some new pictures around here during the day in better light.

This was one of the most successful weekends in a while. Yesterday, I got my taxes done and then spend the rest of the way working on my test suite driver that I use for all my C packages. I have one major chunk of work left to do on it and then I think it's ready for an initial release; I just have to incorporate all of that work into my other packages, starting with my general utility package. I may do some of that work during next week.

Today, I restarted Fallout 3 with a different approach to the game, and that was extremely successful. I'm very happy with the results, even if I didn't handle a fight very well and got killed, losing a little bit of exploration. I'm really not a first-person shooter player, which is going to continue to be an obstacle, but the game is just so rich that it's totally worth playing anyway.

Good weekend, and a weekend that fit my plans for how to arrange my life. Next step: do that through the next week.

2009-03-23: Less lame spring

Spring flowers

Today I went out and took a few more pictures, which were better during the light of the morning than the pictures I took late yesterday. Here's one of the better ones. I'll update the page once I have identification of the tree (I'm horrible at that, but know people who are very good at it).

This was a great day. I got started on things early and stayed fairly productive through the whole day, not wasting much time reading e-mail or poking around on the web. As a result, I'm mostly done with the lbdns upgrade work. A similar day tomorrow should finish it off apart from the scheduling of the upgrades and doing the actual system switches.

2009-03-24: Urban geometry

Abandoned geometry

I'm not sure why I like this picture so much, but I do. Maybe it's the mix of colors and basic shapes, which create a layering of shape within shape.

This is turning out to be a great week for productivity. As expected, one more solid day of work was enough to finish off the lbdns work. I have both new servers up now and available for testing and I've scheduled the production upgrade. Tonight, I started revising tracker since we're upgrading our license server to Debian and have already finished overhauling the build system and updating the coding style to match my current packaging. Tomorrow, I'll release a 1.1 version of that and do the (very simple) Debian packaging of the server.

We'll see if this lasts through the week. I expect it won't, but I've built up an excess of hours, so I can take it easy towards the end of the week and maybe play some more Fallout 3.

2009-03-25: tracker 1.1

tracker (not to be confused with the GNOME project by the same name which came along later) is a very small program used to track usage of programs at Stanford, primarily licensed software. It consists of a client program that sends a UDP packet to the tracking server containing the username and then runs the actual program, and a server which listens for those UDP packets and prints log lines to standard output. We use it as a lightweight way of gathering usage statistics for any piece of software we provide centrally whose existence we need to justify for some reason.

The previous release (of 1.0) was in 2003 and it's been working happily ever since. It didn't need a new release, but since I needed to package it for Debian for the migration of our license server, I gave it a cleanup and update to match my current coding and documentation standards. I also fixed a long-standing bug that would cause it to not work on systems with a 64-bit int.

You can get the latest version from the tracker distribution page.

2009-03-25: Even more spring

Cherry blossoms

Have more cherry blossom pictures.

Today wasn't as productive, but it wasn't bad. I happened to wake up early (around 07:00) and decided to stay up, so I'm shifting my schedule a bit earlier. The work that I was hoping to do at 06:00 on Saturday I now have to do at 04:00, so the earlier I can shift my schedule before then, the less the shock will be.

One of the drawbacks of being very productive right now around a ton of upgrade work is that I now have a bunch of upgrades queued up, all of which need to be done after hours. I'm going to be working every Saturday from now until the beginning of May except for the two weekends that I get off as part of my vacation. But when I'm done, all of the servers for which I'm primarily responsible will be in Puppet and most of them will be running Debian lenny.

2009-03-31: Catching tasks


I fell out of the habit of doing this daily when I was adjusting my schedule for a 4am wakeup on Saturday. That turned out to be a bad idea. I think I would have done better if I'd just not tried to adjust my schedule at all and just woken up and then gone back to sleep. I ended up not being able to sleep Friday until nearly normal time and did basically that anyway, but with the mood drawbacks of shifting schedules. (The network work went great, though.)

I can shift about three hours fairly easily. More than that, and I struggle with jet-lag-like problems. I find this very frustrating, since it means I'm getting less flexible. When I was in college, I used to yank my sleep schedule all over the place without a care, including doing 28-hour days for one quarter. I don't think this is a skill that's actually useful to me any more, but I don't like losing capabilities that I had.

The weekend was great, although partly hurt by a couple of killer headaches (muscle-strain headaches, since they were positional). But this week has been great so far. I've put in well over eight hours both today and yesterday, which means I have free time for later in the week, and I'm knocking lots of random stuff off my to-do list. Today in particular, I got several things that I'd correctly put on my to-do list when they came up that, under my previous systems, I would have forgotten about entirely. That's the inspiration for the picture.

The one thing that I'm feeling a bit wry about at the moment is that this will be my worst month for writing reviews since I started doing them regularly. Ah well. I'm trying not to beat myself up over things like that; it will get done when it gets done, and it's something I'm doing for fun. And in retrospect, it makes sense: I've been spending this month doing very intense writing for work, which drains that part of my creativity and makes it hard to come home and write even more.

I have been reading, even though there isn't the public evidence of it, and have three books and three magazines queued up waiting for me to write reviews. One of those books is Quicksilver, which I think is more than adequate as an explanation for why I read only four books this month. Reviews will hopefully show up early next month, but I'm very intentionally not going to push myself to write one tonight. Instead, tonight I get to start a new book.

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