28 May 2020

feedPlanet Debian

Antoine Beaupré: Upgrading my home server uplink

For more than a few decades now (!), I've been running my own server. First it was just my old Pentium 1 squatting on university networks, but eventually grew into a real server somewhere at the dawn of the millenia. Apart from the university days, the server was mostly hosted over ADSL links, first a handful of megabits, up to the current 25 Mbps down, 6 Mbps up that the Bell Canada network seems to allow to its resellers (currently Teksavvy Internet, or TSI).

Why change?

Obviously, this speed is showing its age, and especially in this age of Pandemia where everyone is on videoconferencing all the time. But it's also inconvenient when I need to upload large files on the network. I also host a variety of services on this network, and I always worry that any idiot can (rather trivially) DoS my server, so I often feel I should pack a little more punch at home (although I have no illusions about my capacity of resisting any sort of DoS attack at home of course).

Also, the idea of having gigabit links at home brings back the idea of the original internet, that everyone on the internet is a "peer". "Client" and "servers" are just a technical distinction and everyone should be able to run a server.


So I'm shopping for a replacement. The requirements are:

  1. higher speed than 25/6, preferably 100mbps down, 30mbps up, or more. ideally 1gbps symmetric.

  2. static or near-static IP address: I run a DNS server with its IP in the glue records (although the latter could possibly be relaxed). ideally a /29 or more.

  3. all ports open: I run an SMTP server (incoming and outgoing) along with a webserver and other experiments. ideally, no firewall or policy should be blocking me from hosting stuff, unless there's an attack or security issue, obviously.

  4. clean IP address: the SMTP server needs to have a good reputation, so the IP address should not be in a "residential space" pool.

  5. IPv6 support: TSI offers IPv6 support, but it is buggy (I frequently have to restart the IPv6 interface on the router because the delegated block stops routing, and they haven't been able to figure out the problem). ideally, a /56.

  6. less than 100$/mth, ideally close to the current 60$/mth I pay.

(All amounts in $CAD.)


I wrote a similar message asking three major ISPs in my city for those services, including business service if necessary:

I have not contacted those providers:

I might have forgotten some, let me know if you're in the area and have a good recommendation. I'll update this post with findings as they come in.

Keep in mind that I am in a major Canadian city, less than a kilometer from a major telco exchange site, so it's not like I'm in a rural community. This should just work.


First answer from TSI was "we do not provide 30mbps upload on residential services", even though they seem to have that package on their website. They confirmed that they "don't have a option more than 10 mbps upload."


No response yet.


No response yet.

28 May 2020 5:40pm GMT

Bits from Debian: New Debian Developers and Maintainers (March and April 2020)

The following contributors got their Debian Developer accounts in the last two months:

The following contributors were added as Debian Maintainers in the last two months:


28 May 2020 4:30pm GMT

Elana Hashman: Presenter mode in LibreOffice Impress without an external display

I typically use LibreOffice Impress for my talks, much to some folks' surprise. Yes, you can make slides look okay with free software! But there's one annoying caveat that has bothered me for ages.

Impress makes it nearly impossible to enter presenter mode with a single display, while also displaying slides. I have never understood this limitation, but it's existed for a minimum of seven years.

I've tried all sorts of workarounds over the years, including a macro that forces LibreOffice into presenter mode, which I never was able to figure out how to reverse once I ran it...

This has previously been an annoyance but never posed a big problem, because when push came to shove I could leave my house and use an external monitor or screen when presenting at meetups. But now, everything's virtual, I'm in lockdown indefinitely, and I don't have another display available at home. And about 8 hours before speaking at a meetup today, I realized I didn't have a way to share my slides while seeing my speaker notes. Uh oh.

So I got this stupid idea.

...why don't I just placate LibreOffice with a FAKE display?

Virtual displays with xrandr

My GPU had this capability innately, it turns out, if I could just whisper the right incantations to unlock its secrets:

ehashman@red-dot:~$ cat /usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d/20-intel.conf 
Section "Device"
    Identifier "intelgpu0"
    Driver "intel"
    Option "VirtualHeads" "1"

After restarting X to allow this newly created config to take effect, I now could see two new virtual displays available for use:

ehashman@red-dot:~$ xrandr
Screen 0: minimum 8 x 8, current 3840 x 1080, maximum 32767 x 32767
eDP1 connected primary 1920x1080+0+0 (normal left inverted right x axis y axis) 310mm x 170mm
   1920x1080     60.01*+  59.93  
   640x360       59.84    59.32    60.00  
DP1 disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
DP2 disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
HDMI1 disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
HDMI2 disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
VIRTUAL1 disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)
VIRTUAL2 disconnected (normal left inverted right x axis y axis)

Nice. Now, to actually use it:

ehashman@red-dot:~$ xrandr --addmode VIRTUAL1 1920x1080
ehashman@red-dot:~$ xrandr --output VIRTUAL1 --mode 1920x1080 --right-of eDP1

And indeed, after running these commands, I found myself with a virtual display, very happy to black hole all my windows, available to the imaginary right of my laptop screen.

This allowed me to mash that "Present" button in LibreOffice and get my presenter notes on my laptop display, while putting my actual slides in a virtual time-out that I could still screenshare!

Wouldn't it be nice if LibreOffice just fixed the actual bug? 🤷

Well, actually...

I must forgive myself for my stage panic. The talk ended up going great, and the immediate problem was solved. But it turns out this bug has been addressed upstream! It's just... not well-documented.

A couple years ago, there was a forum post on ask.libreoffice.org that featured this exact question, and a solution was provided!

Yes, use Open Expert Configuration via Tools > Options > LibreOffice > Advanced. Search for StartAlways. You should get a node org.openoffice.Office.PresenterScreen with line Presenter. Double-click that line to toggle the boolean value to true.

I tested this out locally and... yeah that works. But it turns out the bug from 2013 had not been updated with this solution until just a few months ago.

There are very limited search results for this configuration property. I wish this was much better documented. But so it goes with free software; here's a hack and a real solution as we all try to improve things :)

28 May 2020 1:15am GMT

27 May 2020

feedPlanet Debian

Kees Cook: security things in Linux v5.5

Previously: v5.4.

I got a bit behind on this blog post series! Let's get caught up. Here are a bunch of security things I found interesting in the Linux kernel v5.5 release:

restrict perf_event_open() from LSM
Given the recurring flaws in the perf subsystem, there has been a strong desire to be able to entirely disable the interface. While the kernel.perf_event_paranoid sysctl knob has existed for a while, attempts to extend its control to "block all perf_event_open() calls" have failed in the past. Distribution kernels have carried the rejected sysctl patch for many years, but now Joel Fernandes has implemented a solution that was deemed acceptable: instead of extending the sysctl, add LSM hooks so that LSMs (e.g. SELinux, Apparmor, etc) can make these choices as part of their overall system policy.

generic fast full refcount_t
Will Deacon took the recent refcount_t hardening work for both x86 and arm64 and distilled the implementations into a single architecture-agnostic C version. The result was almost as fast as the x86 assembly version, but it covered more cases (e.g. increment-from-zero), and is now available by default for all architectures. (There is no longer any Kconfig associated with refcount_t; the use of the primitive provides full coverage.)

linker script cleanup for exception tables
When Rick Edgecombe presented his work on building Execute-Only memory under a hypervisor, he noted a region of memory that the kernel was attempting to read directly (instead of execute). He rearranged things for his x86-only patch series to work around the issue. Since I'd just been working in this area, I realized the root cause of this problem was the location of the exception table (which is strictly a lookup table and is never executed) and built a fix for the issue and applied it to all architectures, since it turns out the exception tables for almost all architectures are just a data table. Hopefully this will help clear the path for more Execute-Only memory work on all architectures. In the process of this, I also updated the section fill bytes on x86 to be a trap (0xCC, int3), instead of a NOP instruction so functions would need to be targeted more precisely by attacks.

KASLR for 32-bit PowerPC
Joining many other architectures, Jason Yan added kernel text base-address offset randomization (KASLR) to 32-bit PowerPC.

seccomp for RISC-V
After a bit of long road, David Abdurachmanov has added seccomp support to the RISC-V architecture. The series uncovered some more corner cases in the seccomp self tests code, which is always nice since then we get to make it more robust for the future!

seccomp USER_NOTIF continuation
When the seccomp SECCOMP_RET_USER_NOTIF interface was added, it seemed like it would only be used in very limited conditions, so the idea of needing to handle "normal" requests didn't seem very onerous. However, since then, it has become clear that the overhead of a monitor process needing to perform lots of "normal" open() calls on behalf of the monitored process started to look more and more slow and fragile. To deal with this, it became clear that there needed to be a way for the USER_NOTIF interface to indicate that seccomp should just continue as normal and allow the syscall without any special handling. Christian Brauner implemented SECCOMP_USER_NOTIF_FLAG_CONTINUE to get this done. It comes with a bit of a disclaimer due to the chance that monitors may use it in places where ToCToU is a risk, and for possible conflicts with SECCOMP_RET_TRACE. But overall, this is a net win for container monitoring tools.

Some EFI systems provide a Random Number Generator interface, which is useful for gaining some entropy in the kernel during very early boot. The arm64 boot stub has been using this for a while now, but Dominik Brodowski has now added support for x86 to do the same. This entropy is useful for kernel subsystems performing very earlier initialization whre random numbers are needed (like randomizing aspects of the SLUB memory allocator).

As has been enabled on many other architectures, Dmitry Korotin got MIPS building with CONFIG_FORTIFY_SOURCE, so compile-time (and some run-time) buffer overflows during calls to the memcpy() and strcpy() families of functions will be detected.

limit copy_{to,from}_user() size to INT_MAX
As done for VFS, vsnprintf(), and strscpy(), I went ahead and limited the size of copy_to_user() and copy_from_user() calls to INT_MAX in order to catch any weird overflows in size calculations.

That's it for v5.5! Let me know if there's anything else that I should call out here. Next up: Linux v5.6.

© 2020, Kees Cook. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.
Creative Commons License

27 May 2020 8:04pm GMT

Russ Allbery: Review: Middlegame

Review: Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire

Publisher: Tor
Copyright: May 2019
ISBN: 1-250-19551-9
Format: Kindle
Pages: 528

Roger and Dodger are cuckoo children, alchemical constructs created by other alchemical constructs masquerading as humans. They are halves of the primal force of the universe, the Doctrine of Ethos (which is not what the Doctrine of Ethos is, but that is one of my lesser problems with this book), divided into language and math and kept separate to properly mature. In this case, separate means being adopted by families on opposite coasts of the United States, ignorant of each other's existence and closely monitored by agents Reed controls. None of that prevents Roger and Dodger from becoming each other's invisible friends at the age of seven, effortlessly communicating psychically even though they've never met.

That could have been the start of an enjoyable story that hearkened back to an earlier age of science fiction: the secret science experiments discover that they have more power than their creators expected, form a clandestine alliance, and fight back against the people who are trying to control them. I have fond memories of Escape to Witch Mountain and would have happily read that book.

Unfortunately, that isn't the story McGuire wanted to tell. The story she told involves ripping Roger and Dodger apart, breaking Dodger, and turning Roger into an abusive asshole.

Whooboy, where to start. This book made me very angry, in a way that I would not have been if it didn't contain the bones of a much better novel. Four of them, to be precise: four other books that would have felt less gratuitously cruel and less apparently oblivious to just how bad Roger's behavior is.

There are some things to like. One of them is that the structure of this book is clever. I can't tell you how it's clever because the structure doesn't become clear until more than halfway through and it completely changes the story in a way that would be a massive spoiler. But it's an interesting spin on an old idea, one that gave Roger and Dodger a type of agency in the story that has far-ranging implications. I enjoyed thinking about it.

That leads me to another element I liked: Erin. She makes only fleeting appearances until well into the story, but I thought she competed with Dodger for being the best character of the book. The second of the better novels I saw in the bones of Middlegame was the same story told from Erin's perspective. I found myself guessing at her motives and paying close attention to hints that led to a story with a much different emotional tone. Viewing the ending of the book through her eyes instead of Roger and Dodger's puts it in a different, more complicated, and more thought-provoking light.

Unfortunately, she's not McGuire's protagonist. She instead is one of the monsters of this book, which leads to my first, although not my strongest, complaint. It felt like McGuire was trying too hard to write horror, packing Middlegame with the visuals of horror movies without the underlying structure required to make them effective. I'm not a fan of horror personally, so to some extent I'm grateful that the horrific elements were ineffective, but it makes for some frustratingly bad writing.

For example, one of the longest horror scenes in the book features Erin, and should be a defining moment for the character. Unfortunately, it's so heavy on visuals and so focused on what McGuire wants the reader to be thinking that it doesn't show any of the psychology underlying Erin's decisions. The camera is pointed the wrong way; all the interesting storytelling work, moral complexity, and world-building darkness is happening in the character we don't get to see. And, on top of that, McGuire overuses foreshadowing so much that it robs the scene of suspense and terror. Again, I'm partly grateful, since I don't read books for suspense and terror, but it means the scene does only a fraction of the work it could.

This problem of trying too hard extends to the writing. McGuire has a bit of a tendency in all of her books to overdo the descriptions, but is usually saved by narrative momentum. Unfortunately, that's not true here, and her prose often seems overwrought. She also resorts to this style of description, which never fails to irritate me:

The thought has barely formed when a different shape looms over him, grinning widely enough to show every tooth in its head. They are even, white, and perfect, and yet he somehow can't stop himself from thinking there's something wrong with them, that they're mismatched, that this assortment of teeth was never meant to share a single jaw, a single terrible smile.

This isn't effective. This is telling the reader how they're supposed to feel about the thing you're describing, without doing the work of writing a description that makes them feel that way. (Also, you may see what I mean by overwrought.)

That leads me to my next complaint: the villains.

My problem is not so much with Leigh, who I thought was an adequate monster, if a bit single-note. There's some thought and depth behind her arguments with Reed, a few hints of her own motives that were more convincing for not being fully shown. The descriptions of how dangerous she is were reasonably effective. She's a good villain for this type of dark fantasy story where the world is dangerous and full of terrors (and reminded me of some of the villains from McGuire's October Daye series).

Reed, though, is a storytelling train wreck. The Big Bad of the novel is the least interesting character in it. He is a stuffed tailcoat full of malicious incompetence who is only dangerous because the author proclaims him to be. It only adds insult to injury that he kills off a far more nuanced and creative villain before the novel starts, replacing her ambiguous goals with Snidely Whiplash mustache-twirling. The reader has to suffer through extended scenes focused on him as he brags, monologues, and obsesses over his eventual victory without an ounce of nuance or subtlety.

Worse is the dynamic between him and Leigh, which is only one symptom of the problem with Middlegame that made me the most angry: the degree to this book oozes patriarchy. Every man in this book, including the supposed hero, orders around the women, who are forced in various ways to obey. This is the most obvious between Leigh and Reed, but it's the most toxic, if generally more subtle, between Roger and Dodger.

Dodger is great. I had absolutely no trouble identifying with and rooting for her as a character. The nasty things that McGuire does to her over the course of the book (and wow does that never let up) made me like her more when she tenaciously refuses to give up. Dodger is the math component of the Doctrine of Ethos, and early in the book I thought McGuire handled that well, particularly given how difficult it is to write a preternatural genius. Towards the end of this book, her math sadly turns into a very non-mathematical magic (more on this in a moment), but her character holds all the way through. It felt like she carved her personality out of this story through sheer force of will and clung to it despite the plot. I wanted to rescue her from this novel and put her into a better book, such as the one in which her college friends (who are great; McGuire is very good at female friendships when she writes them) stage an intervention, kick a few people out of her life, and convince her to trust them.

Unfortunately, Dodger is, by authorial fiat, half of a bound pair, and the other half of that pair is Roger, who is the sort of nice guy everyone likes and thinks is sweet and charming until he turns into an emotional trap door right when you need him the most and dumps you into the ocean to drown. And then somehow makes you do all the work of helping him feel better about his betrayal.

The most egregious (and most patriarchal) thing Roger does in this book is late in the book and a fairly substantial spoiler, so I can't rant about that properly. But even before that, Roger keeps doing the the same damn emotional abandonment trick, and the book is heavily invested into justifying it and making excuses for him. Excuses that, I should note, are not made for Dodger; her failings are due to her mistakes and weaknesses, whereas Roger's are natural reactions to outside forces. I got very, very tired of this, and I'm upset by how little awareness the narrative voice showed for how dysfunctional and abusive this relationship is. The solution is always for Dodger to reunite with Roger; it's built into the structure of the story.

I have a weakness for the soul-bound pair, in part from reading a lot of Mercedes Lackey at an impressionable age, but one of the dangerous pitfalls of the concept is that the characters then have to have an almost flawless relationship. If not, it can turn abusive very quickly, since the characters by definition cannot leave each other. It's essentially coercive, so as soon as the relationship shows a dark side, the author needs to be extremely careful. McGuire was not.

There is an attempted partial patch, late in the book, for the patriarchal structure. One of the characters complains about it, and another says that the gender of the language and math pairs is random and went either way in other pairs. Given that both of the pairs that we meet in this story have the same male-dominant gender dynamic, what I took from this is that McGuire realized there was a problem but wasn't able to fix it. (I'm also reminded of David R. Henry's old line that it's never a good sign when the characters start complaining about the plot.)

The structural problems are all the more frustrating because I think there were ways out of them. Roger is supposedly the embodiment of language, not that you'd be able to tell from most scenes in this novel. For reasons that I do not understand, McGuire expressed that as a love of words: lexicography, translation, and synonyms. This makes no sense to me. Those are some of the more structured and rules-based (and hence mathematical) parts of language. If Roger had instead been focused on stories - collecting them, telling them, and understanding why and how they're told - he would have had a clearer contrast with Dodger. More importantly, it would have solved the plot problem that McGuire solved with a nasty bit of patriarchy. So much could have been done with Dodger building a structure of math around Roger's story-based expansion of the possible, and it would have grounded Dodger's mathematics in something more interesting than symbolic magic. To me, it's such an obvious lost opportunity.

I'm still upset about this book. McGuire does a lovely bit of world-building with Asphodel Baker, what little we see of her. I found the hidden alchemical war against her work by L. Frank Baum delightful, and enjoyed every excerpt from the fictional Over the Woodward Wall scattered throughout Middlegame. But a problem with inventing a fictional book to excerpt in a real novel is that the reader may decide that the fictional book sounds a lot better than the book they're reading, and start wishing they could just read that book instead. That was certainly the case for me. I'm sad that Over the Woodward Wall doesn't exist, and am mostly infuriated by Middlegame.

Dodger and Erin deserved to live in a better book.

Should you want to read this anyway (and I do know people who liked it), serious content warning for self-harm.

Rating: 4 out of 10

27 May 2020 3:27am GMT

26 May 2020

feedPlanet Debian

Russell Coker: Cruises and Covid19

Problems With Cruises

GQ has an insightful and detailed article about Covid19 and the Diamond Princess [1], I recommend reading it.

FastCompany has a brief article about bookings for cruises in August [2]. There have been many negative comments about this online.

The first thing to note is that the cancellation policies on those cruises are more lenient than usual and the prices are lower. So it's not unreasonable for someone to put down a deposit on a half price holiday in the hope that Covid19 goes away (as so many prominent people have been saying it will) in the knowledge that they will get it refunded if things don't work out. Of course if the cruise line goes bankrupt then no-one will get a refund, but I think people are expecting that won't happen.

The GQ article highlights some serious problems with the way cruise ships operate. They have staff crammed in to small cabins and the working areas allow transmission of disease. These problems can be alleviated, they could allocate more space to staff quarters and have more capable air conditioning systems to put in more fresh air. During the life of a cruise ship significant changes are often made, replacing engines with newer more efficient models, changing the size of various rooms for entertainment, installing new waterslides, and many other changes are routinely made. Changing the staff only areas to have better ventilation and more separate space (maybe capsule-hotel style cabins with fresh air piped in) would not be a difficult change. It would take some money and some dry-dock time which would be a significant expense for cruise companies.

Cruises Are Great

People like social environments, they want to have situations where there are as many people as possible without it becoming impossible to move. Cruise ships are carefully designed for the flow of passengers. Both the layout of the ship and the schedule of events are carefully planned to avoid excessive crowds. In terms of meeting the requirement of having as many people as possible in a small area without being unable to move cruise ships are probably ideal.

Because there is a large number of people in a restricted space there are economies of scale on a cruise ship that aren't available anywhere else. For example the main items on the menu are made in a production line process, this can only be done when you have hundreds of people sitting down to order at the same time.

The same applies to all forms of entertainment on board, they plan the events based on statistical knowledge of what people want to attend. This makes it more economical to run than land based entertainment where people can decide to go elsewhere. On a ship a certain portion of the passengers will see whatever show is presented each night, regardless of whether it's singing, dancing, or magic.

One major advantage of cruises is that they are all inclusive. If you are on a regular holiday would you pay to see a singing or dancing show? Probably not, but if it's included then you might as well do it - and it will be pretty good. This benefit is really appreciated by people taking kids on holidays, if kids do things like refuse to attend a performance that you were going to see or reject food once it's served then it won't cost any extra.

People Who Criticise Cruises

For the people who sneer at cruises, do you like going to bars? Do you like going to restaurants? Live music shows? Visiting foreign beaches? A cruise gets you all that and more for a discount price.

If Groupon had a deal that gave you a cheap hotel stay with all meals included, free non-alcoholic drinks at bars, day long entertainment for kids at the kids clubs, and two live performances every evening how many of the people who reject cruises would buy it? A typical cruise is just like a Groupon deal for non-stop entertainment from 8AM to 11PM.

Will Cruises Restart?

The entertainment options that cruises offer are greatly desired by many people. Most cruises are aimed at budget travellers, the price is cheaper than a hotel in a major city. Such cruises greatly depend on economies of scale, if they can't get the ships filled then they would need to raise prices (thus decreasing demand) to try to make a profit. I think that some older cruise ships will be scrapped in the near future and some of the newer ships will be sold to cruise lines that cater to cheap travel (IE P&O may scrap some ships and some of the older Princess ships may be transferred to them). Overall I predict a decrease in the number of middle-class cruise ships.

For the expensive cruises (where the cheapest cabins cost over $1000US per person per night) I don't expect any real changes, maybe they will have fewer passengers and higher prices to allow more social distancing or something.

I am certain that cruises will start again, but it's too early to predict when. Going on a cruise is about as safe as going to a concert or a major sporting event. No-one is predicting that sporting stadiums will be closed forever or live concerts will be cancelled forever, so really no-one should expect that cruises will be cancelled forever. Whether companies that own ships or stadiums go bankrupt in the mean time is yet to be determined.

One thing that's been happening for years is themed cruises. A group can book out an entire ship or part of a ship for a themed cruise. I expect this to become much more popular when cruises start again as it will make it easier to fill ships. In the past it seems that cruise lines let companies book their ships for events but didn't take much of an active role in the process. I think that the management of cruise lines will look to aggressively market themed cruises to anyone who might help, for starters they could reach out to every 80s and 90s pop group - those fans are all old enough to be interested in themed cruises and the musicians won't be asking for too much money.


Humans are social creatures. People want to attend events with many other people. Covid 19 won't be the last pandemic, and it may not even be eradicated in the near future. The possibility of having a society where no-one leaves home unless they are in a hazmat suit has been explored in science fiction, but I don't think that's a plausible scenario for the near future and I don't think that it's something that will be caused by Covid 19.

Related posts:

  1. Cruises It seems that in theory cruises can make for quite...
  2. A Computer Conference on a Cruise Ship After LCA [1] there was a discussion about possible locations...
  3. My First Cruise A few weeks ago I went on my first cruise,...

26 May 2020 1:32pm GMT

Christian Kastner: Curved Monitor

It's been two weeks since I purchased my first curved monitor. Switching away from a flat panel proved to be a novel and unusual experience - so much, in fact, that within the first five minutes, I already wanted to return it. Nevertheless, I gave it a try, and I'm glad I did, because not only did I eventually get over the initially perceived issues, I'm now extremely satisfied with it.

Shifted Perspective

My sole motivation for the switch was that I had become irritated (to a probably irrational degree) by reading and writing text in whatever window tile was on the left side of my desktop. Even though my previous monitor wasn't a particularly large one with 24", the shift in perspective on the far side of that window always made me feel as if I were reading something to the side of me, rather than in front of me - even if I turned to face it directly.

It was time to try out a curved monitor.


Purchasing something like a monitor is always a pain; there's just so much choice. I would have preferred something with an IPS panel, 4K resolution, and either a 27" or 32" size, and would compromise for a VA panel and WQHD resolution. On geizhals.at, an Austrian price comparison site, ~50 monitors satisfied those criteria. Further limiting the list to reputable brands and reasonable prices still left me with more than two dozen options.

Without going into the details why (I was just glad to be done with it), I eventually settled for an MSI Optix MAG271CQR, a 27" WQHD monitor with a VA panel.

Once the new monitor arrived, I removed the old monitor from my VESA desk mount, installed the new one, booted, and gave it a try.

Within the first five minutes of use, I made three key observations:

  1. My shifted perspective issue on the sides was solved (great!), and

  2. I had gained quite a bit of screen real estate (great!), but …

  3. Because of the curvature, the bottom task bar now looked bent (Oh Noes).

Now, point (3) might not sound like that big of an issue, but when you're willing to change your monitor just because vim looks kind of weird to you when it's window is on the left side of the desktop, then a bent-looking task bar is a deal-breaker. I decided that I had to return it.

However, that meant: removing it, re-boxing it, shipping it back, etc. Tedious work. As it was already mounted and connected, a friend encouraged me to give it a day or two anyway, just in case.

That turned out to be great advice. I would never have expected this, but I got over the bent-looking task bar issue pretty fast. The pleasure of a corrected perspective on either side (everything just looks "right" now) more than makes up for the bent-looking tar bar at the bottom; I don't even notice it anymore. And the added screen real estate is a bonus I hadn't planned for.

The MAG271CQR targets the gaming demographic, and thus comes loaded with various features. My new favorite is "Reader Mode", which has an effect quite similar to "Night Mode" on mobile devices (reduced brightness, blue light filter). My eyes barely tire anymore, even after a long day's use. It also has a Picture-in-Picture mode for a second input which I haven't tried yet, but should come in handy for SBCs and the like.

26 May 2020 11:09am GMT

Russ Allbery: Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow

Publisher: Redhook
Copyright: September 2019
ISBN: 0-316-42198-7
Format: Kindle
Pages: 373

In 1901, at the age of seven, January found a Door. It was barely more than a frame in a ruined house in a field in Kentucky, but she wrote a story about opening it, and then did.

Once there was a brave and temeraryous (sp?) girl who found a Door. It was a magic Door that's why it has a capital D. She opened the Door.

The Door led to a bluff over the sea and above a city, a place very far from Kentucky, and she almost stayed, but she came back through the Door when her guardian, Mr. Locke, called. The adventure cost her a diary, several lectures, days of being locked in her room, and the remnants of her strained relationship with her father. When she went back, the frame of the Door was burned to the ground.

That was the end of Doors for January for some time, and the continuation of a difficult childhood. She was cared for by her father's employer as a sort of exotic pet, dutifully attempting to obey, grateful for Mr. Locke's protection, and convinced that he was occasionally sneaking her presents through a box in the Pharaoh Room out of some hidden kindness. Her father appeared rarely, said little, and refused to take her with him. Three things helped: the grocery boy who smuggled her stories, an intimidating black woman sent by her father to replace her nurse, and her dog.

Once upon a time there was a good girl who met a bad dog, and they became the very best of friends. She and her dog were inseparable from that day forward.

I will give you a minor spoiler that I would have preferred to have had, since it would have saved me some unwarranted worry and some mental yelling at the author: The above story strains but holds.

January's adventure truly starts the day before her seventeenth birthday, when she finds a book titled The Ten Thousand Doors in the box in the Pharaoh Room.

As you may have guessed from the title, The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a portal fantasy, but it's the sort of portal fantasy that is more concerned with the portal itself than the world on the other side of it. (Hello to all of you out there who, like me, have vivid memories of the Wood between the Worlds.) It's a book about traveling and restlessness and the possibility of escape, about the ability to return home again, and about the sort of people who want to close those doors because the possibility of change created by people moving around freely threatens the world they have carefully constructed.

Structurally, the central part of the book is told by interleaving chapters of January's tale with chapters from The Ten Thousand Doors. That book within a book starts with the framing of a scholarly treatment but quickly becomes a biography of a woman: Adelaide Lee Larson, a half-wild farm girl who met her true love at the threshold of a Door and then spent much of her life looking for him.

I am not a very observant reader for plot details, particularly for books that I'm enjoying. I read books primarily for the emotional beats and the story structure, and often miss rather obvious story clues. (I'm hopeless at guessing the outcomes of mysteries.) Therefore, when I say that there are many things January is unaware of that are obvious to the reader, that's saying a lot. Even more clues were apparent when I skimmed the first chapter again, and a more observant reader would probably have seen them on the first read. Right down to Mr. Locke's name, Harrow is not very subtle about the moral shape of this world.

That can make the early chapters of the book frustrating. January is being emotionally (and later physically) abused by the people who have power in her life, but she's very deeply trapped by false loyalty and lack of external context. Winning free of that is much of the story of the book, and at times it has the unpleasantness of watching someone make excuses for her abuser. At other times it has the unpleasantness of watching someone be abused. But this is the place where I thought the nested story structure worked marvelously. January escapes into the story of The Ten Thousand Doors at the worst moments of her life, and the reader escapes with her. Harrow uses the desire to switch scenes back to the more adventurous and positive story to construct and reinforce the emotional structure of the book. For me, it worked extremely well.

It helps that the ending is glorious. The payoff is worth all the discomfort and tension-building in the first half of the book. Both The Ten Thousand Doors and the surrounding narrative reach deeply satisfying conclusions, ones that are entangled but separate in just the ways that they need to be. January's abilities, actions, and decisions at the end of the book were just the outcome that I needed but didn't entirely guess in advance. I could barely put down the last quarter of this story and loved every moment of the conclusion.

This is the sort of book that can be hard to describe in a review because its merits don't rest on an original twist or easily-summarized idea. The elements here are all elements found in other books: portal fantasy, the importance of story-telling, coming of age, found family, irrepressible and indomitable characters, and the battle of the primal freedom of travel and discovery and belief against the structural forces that keep rulers in place. The merits of this book are in the small details: the way that January's stories are sparse and rare and sometimes breathtaking, the handling of tattoos, the construction of other worlds with a few deft strokes, and the way Harrow embraces the emotional divergence between January's life and Adelaide's to help the reader synchronize the emotional structure of their reading experience with January's.

She writes a door of blood and silver. The door opens just for her.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is up against a very strong slate for both the Nebula and the Hugo this year, and I suspect it may be edged out by other books, although I wouldn't be unhappy if it won. (It probably has a better shot at the Nebula than the Hugo.) But I will be stunned if Harrow doesn't walk away with the Mythopoeic Award. This seems like exactly the type of book that award was created for.

This is an excellent book, one of the best I've read so far this year. Highly recommended.

Rating: 9 out of 10

26 May 2020 3:49am GMT

Norbert Preining: Multi-device and RAID1 with btrfs

I have been using btrfs, a modern modern copy on write filesystem for Linux, since many years now. But only recently I realized how amateurish my usage has been. Over the last day I switched to multiple devices and threw in a RAID1 level at the same time.

For the last years, I have been using btrfs in a completely naive way, simply creating new filesystems, mounting them, moving data over, linking the directories into my home dir, etc etc. It all became a huge mess over time. I have heard of "multi-device support", but always thought that this is for the big players in the data centers - not realizing that it works trivially on your home system, too. Thanks to an article by Mark McBride I learned how to better use it!

Btrfs has an impressive list of features, and is often compared to (Open)ZFS (btw, they domain openzfs.org has a botched SSL certificate .. umpf, my trust disappears even more) due to the high level of data security. I have been playing around with the idea to use ZFS for quite some time, but first of all it requires compiling extra modules all the time, because ZFS cannot be included in the kernel source. And much more, I realized that ZFS is simply too inflexible with respect to disks of different sizes in a storage pool.

Btrfs on the other hand allows adding and removing devices to the "filesystem" on a running system. I just added a 2TB disk to my rig, and called:

btrfs device add /dev/sdh1 /

and with that alone, my root filesystem grew immediately. At the end I have consolidated data from 4 extra SSDs into this new "filesystem" spanning multiple disks, and got rid of all the links and loops.

For good measure, and since I had enough space left, I also switched to RAID1 for this filesystem. This again, surprisingly, works on a running system!

btrfs balance start -dconvert=raid1 -mconvert=raid1 /

Here, both data and metadata are mirrored on the devices. With 6TB of total disk space, the balancing operation took quite some time, about 6h in my case, but finished without a hiccup.

After all that, the filesystem now looks like this:

$ sudo btrfs fi show /
Label: none  uuid: XXXXXX
        Total devices 5 FS bytes used 2.19TiB
        devid    1 size 899.01GiB used 490.03GiB path /dev/sdb3
        devid    2 size 489.05GiB used 207.00GiB path /dev/sdd1
        devid    3 size 1.82TiB used 1.54TiB path /dev/sde1
        devid    4 size 931.51GiB used 649.00GiB path /dev/sdf1
        devid    5 size 1.82TiB used 1.54TiB path /dev/sdc1

and using btrfs fi usage / I can get detailed information about the device usage and status.

Stumbling blocks

You wouldn't expect such a deep rebuilding of the intestines of a system to go without a few bumps, and indeed, there are a few:

First of all, update-grub is broken when device names are used. If you have GRUB_DISABLE_LINUX_UUID=true, so that actual device nodes are used in grub.cfg, the generated entries are broken because they list all the devices. This comes from the fact that grub-mkconfig uses grub-probe --target=device / to determine the root device, and this returns in our case:

# grub-probe --target=device /

and thus the grub config file contains entries like:

menuentry 'Debian GNU/Linux ...' ... {
  linux /boot/vmlinuz-5.7.0-rc7 root=/dev/sdb3
/dev/sdc1 ro <other options>

This is of course an invalid entry, but fortunately grub still boots, but ignores the rest of the command line options.

So I decided to turn back to using UUID for the root entry, which should be better supported. But alas, what happened, I couldn't even boot anymore. Grub gave me very cryptic messages like cannot find UUID device and dropping you into the grub rescue shell, then having the grub rescue shell being unable to read any filesystem at all (not even FAT or ext2!). The most cryptic one was grub header bytenr is not equal node addr, where even Google gave up on it.

At the end I booted into a rescue image (you always have something like SystemRescueCD on an USB stick next to you during these operations, right?), mounted the filesystem manually, and reinstalled grub, which fixed the problem, and now the grub config file contains only the UUID for root.

I don't blame btrfs for that, this is more like we are, after sooo many years, we still don't have a good boot system 🙁

All in all, a very smooth transition, and at least for some time I don't have to worry about which partition has still some space left.

Thanks btrfs and Open Source!

26 May 2020 1:01am GMT

25 May 2020

feedPlanet Debian

Elana Hashman: Beef and broccoli

Beef and broccoli is one of my favourite easy weeknight meals. It's savoury, it's satisfying, it's mercifully quick, and so, so delicious.

The recipe here is based on this one but with a few simplifications and modifications. The ingredients are basically the same, but the technique is a little different. Oh, and I include some fermented black beans because they're yummy :3

Made 🥩 and 🥦 pic.twitter.com/cSpyA3hzP6

- e. hashman (@ehashdn) April 21, 2020

🥩 and 🥦

Serves 3. Active time: 20-30m. Total time: 30m.


For the marinade:

For the sauce:

For the rice:


  1. Begin by preparing the rice: combine rice, water, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let it rest.
  2. Mix the marinade in a bowl large enough to hold the meat.
  3. Thinly slice the beef. Place slices in the marinade bowl and toss to evenly coat.
  4. Start heating a wok or similar pan on medium-high to high heat. This will ensure you get a good sear.
  5. Prep the garlic, black beans, and broccoli. If you use frozen broccoli, you can save some time here :)
  6. Combine the ingredients for the sauce and mix well to ensure the corn starch doesn't form any lumps.
  7. By this point the beef should have been marinating for about 10-15m. Add a tablespoon of neutral cooking oil (like canola or soy) to the meat, give it one more toss to ensure it's thoroughly coated, then add a layer of meat to the dry pan. You may need to sear in batches. On high heat, cooking will take 1-2 minutes per side, ensuring each is nicely browned. Once the strips are cooked, remove from the pan and set aside.
  8. While the beef is cooking, steam the broccoli until it's almost (but not quite) cooked through. I typically do this by putting it in a large bowl, adding 2 tbsp water, covering it and microwaving: 3 minutes on high if frozen, 1½ minutes on high if fresh, pausing halfway through to stir.
  9. Once all the beef is cooked and set aside, spray the pan or add oil to coat and add the garlic and black bean (if using). Stir and cook for 30-60 seconds until fragrant.
  10. When the garlic is ready, give the sauce a quick stir and add it to the pan, using it to deglaze. Once there are no more bits stuck to the bottom and the sauce is thick to your liking, add the broccoli and beef to the pan. Mix until thoroughly coated in sauce and heated through. Taste and adjust seasoning (salt, pepper, soy, etc.) if necessary.
  11. Fluff the rice and serve. Enjoy!

But I am a vegetarian???

Seitan can substitute for the beef relatively easily. Finding a substitute for oyster sauce is a little bit trickier, especially since it's the star ingredient. You can buy vegetarian or vegan oyster sauce (they're usually mushroom-based), but I have no idea how good they taste. You can also try making it at home! If you do, let me know how it turns out?

25 May 2020 11:30pm GMT

Bits from Debian: DebConf20 registration is open!

DebConf20 banner

We are happy to announce that registration for DebConf20 is now open. The event will take place from August 23rd to 29th, 2020 at the University of Haifa, in Israel, and will be preceded by DebCamp, from August 16th to 22nd.

Although the Covid-19 situation is still rather fluid, as of now, Israel seems to be on top of the situation. Days with less than 10 new diagnosed infections are becoming common and businesses and schools are slowly reopening. As such, we are hoping that, at least as far as regulations go, we will be able to hold an in-person conference. There is more (and up to date) information at the conference's FAQ. Which means, barring a second wave, that there is reason to hope that the conference can go forward.

For that, we need your help. We need to know, assuming health regulations permit it, how many people intend to attend. This year probably more than ever before, prompt registration is very important to us. If after months of staying at home you feel that rubbing elbows with fellow Debian Developers is precisely the remedy that will salvage 2020, then we ask that you do register as soon as possible.

Sadly, things are still not clear enough for us to make a final commitment to holding an in-person conference, but knowing how many people intend to attend will be a great help in making that decision. The deadline for deciding on postponing, cancelling or changing the format of the conference is June 8th.

To register for DebConf20, please visit our website and log into the registration system and fill out the form. You can always edit or cancel your registration, but please note that the last day to confirm or cancel is July 26th, 2020 23:59:59 UTC. We cannot guarantee availability of accommodation, food and swag for unconfirmed registrations.

We do suggest that attendees begin making travel arrangements as soon as possible, of course. Please bear in mind that most air carriers allow free cancellations and changes.

Any questions about registrations should be addressed to registration@debconf.org.

Bursary for travel, accomodation and meals

In an effort to widen the diversity of DebConf attendees, the Debian Project allocates a part of the financial resources obtained through sponsorships to pay for bursaries (travel, accommodation, and/or meals) for participants who request this support when they register.

As resources are limited, we will examine the requests and decide who will receive the bursaries. They will be destined:

Giving a talk, organizing an event or helping during DebConf20 is taken into account when deciding upon your bursary, so please mention them in your bursary application.

For more information about bursaries, please visit Applying for a Bursary to DebConf

Attention: deadline to apply for bursaries using the registration form before May 31st, 2019 23:59:59 UTC. This deadline is necessary in order to the organisers to have some time to analyze the requests.

To register for the Conference, either with or without a bursary request, please visit: https://debconf20.debconf.org/register

Participation to DebConf20 is conditional to your respect of our Code of Conduct. We require you to read, understand and abide by this code.

DebConf would not be possible without the generous support of all our sponsors, especially our Platinum Sponsor Lenovo and Gold Sponsors deepin and Matanel Foundation. DebConf20 is still accepting sponsors; if you are interested, or think you know of others who would be willing to help, please get in touch!

25 May 2020 9:30am GMT

Russ Allbery: Review: The Last Emperox

Review: The Last Emperox, by John Scalzi

Series: Interdependency #3
Publisher: Tor
Copyright: April 2020
ISBN: 0-7653-8917-7
Format: Kindle
Pages: 318

This is the conclusion of the Interdependency trilogy, which is a single story told in three books. Start with The Collapsing Empire. You don't want to read this series out of order.

All the pieces and players are in place, the causes and timeline of the collapse of the empire she is accidentally ruling are now clear, and Cardenia Wu-Patrick knows who her friends and enemies are. What she doesn't know is what she can do about it. Her enemies, unfettered Cardenia's ethics or desire to save the general population, have the advantage of clearer and more achievable goals. If they survive and, almost as important, remain in power, who cares what happens to everyone else?

As with The Consuming Fire, the politics may feel a bit too on-the-nose for current events, this time for the way that some powerful people are handling (or not handling) the current pandemic. Also as with The Consuming Fire, Scalzi's fast-moving story, likable characters, banter, and occasional humorous descriptions prevent those similarities from feeling heavy or didactic. This is political wish fulfillment to be sure, but it doesn't try to justify itself or linger too much on its improbabilities. It's a good story about entertaining people trying (mostly) to save the world with a combination of science and political maneuvering.

I picked up The Last Emperox as a palate cleanser after reading Gideon the Ninth, and it provided exactly what I was looking for. That gave me an opportunity to think about what Scalzi does in his writing, why his latest novel was one of my first thoughts for a palate cleanser, and why I react to his writing the way that I do.

Scalzi isn't a writer about whom I have strong opinions. In my review of The Collapsing Empire, I compared his writing to the famous description of Asimov as the "default voice" of science fiction, but that's not quite right. He has a distinct and easily-recognizable style, heavy on banter and light-hearted description. But for me his novels are pleasant, reliable entertainment that I forget shortly after reading them. They don't linger or stand out, even though I enjoy them while I'm reading them.

That's my reaction. Others clearly do not have that reaction, fully engage with his books, and remember them vividly. That indicates to me that there's something his writing is doing that leaves substantial room for difference of personal taste and personal reaction to the story, and the sharp contrast between The Last Emperox and Gideon the Ninth helped me put my finger on part of it. I don't feel like Scalzi's books try to tell me how to feel about the story.

There's a moment in The Last Emperox where Cardenia breaks down crying over an incredibly difficult decision that she's made, one that the readers don't find out about until later. In another book, there would be considerably more emotional build-up to that moment, or at least some deep analysis of it later once the decision is revealed. In this book, it's only a handful of paragraphs and then a few pages of processing later, primarily in dialogue, and less focused on the emotions of the characters than on the forward-looking decisions they've made to deal with those emotions. The emotion itself is subtext. Many other authors would try to pull the reader into those moments and make them feel what the characters are feeling. Scalzi just relates them, and leaves the reader free to feel what they choose to feel.

I don't think this is a flaw (or a merit) in Scalzi's writing; it's just a difference, and exactly the difference that made me reach for this book as an emotional break after a book that got its emotions all over the place. Calling Scalzi's writing emotionally relaxing isn't quite right, but it gives me space to choose to be emotionally relaxed if I want to be. I can pick the level of my engagement. If I want to care about these characters and agonize over their decisions, there's enough information here to mull over and use to recreate their emotional states. If I just want to read a story about some interesting people and not care too much about their hopes and dreams, I can choose to do that instead, and the book won't fight me. That approach lets me sidle up on the things that I care about and think about them at my leisure, or leave them be.

This approach makes Scalzi's books less intense than other novels for me. This is where personal preference comes in. I read books in large part to engage emotionally with the characters, and I therefore appreciate books that do a lot of that work for me. Scalzi makes me do the work myself, and the result is not as effective for me, or as memorable.

I think this may be part of what I and others are picking up on when we say that Scalzi's writing is reminiscent of classic SF from decades earlier. It used to be common for SF to not show any emotional vulnerability in the main characters, and to instead focus on the action plot and the heroics and martial virtues. This is not what Scalzi is doing, to be clear; he has a much better grasp of character and dialogue than most classic SF, adds considerable light-hearted humor, and leaves clear clues and hooks for a wide range of human emotions in the story. But one can read Scalzi in that tone if one wants to, since the emotional hooks do not grab hard at the reader and dig in. By comparison, you cannot read Gideon the Ninth without grappling with the emotions of the characters. The book will not let you.

I think this is part of why Scalzi is so consistent for me. If you do not care deeply about Gideon Nav, you will not get along with Gideon the Ninth, and not everyone will. But several main characters in The Last Emperox (Mance and to some extent Cardenia) did little or nothing for me emotionally, and it didn't matter. I liked Kiva and enjoyed watching her strategically smash her way through social conventions, but it was easy to watch her from a distance and not get too engrossed in her life or her thoughts. The plot trundled along satisfyingly, regardless. That lack of emotional involvement precludes, for me, a book becoming the sort of work that I will rave about and try to press into other people's hands, but it also makes it comfortable and gentle and relaxing in a way that a more emotionally fraught book could not be.

This is a long-winded way to say that this was a satisfying conclusion to a space opera trilogy that I enjoyed reading, will recommend mildly to others, and am already forgetting the details of. If you liked the first two books, this is an appropriate and fun conclusion with a few new twists and a satisfying amount of swearing (mostly, although not entirely, from Kiva). There are a few neat (albeit not horribly original) bits of world-building, a nice nod to and subversion of Asimov, a fair bit of political competency wish fulfillment (which I didn't find particularly believable but also didn't mind being unbelievable), and one enjoyable "oh no she didn't" moment. If you like the thing that Scalzi is doing, you will enjoy this book.

Rating: 8 out of 10

25 May 2020 3:14am GMT

24 May 2020

feedPlanet Debian

Enrico Zini: Music links

Great Big Sea - End Of The World

It's the end of the world as we know it, twice as fast

Smash Mouth - All Star (Melon Cover)
Brett Domino: Bad Romance (Lady Gaga) - Korg Monotron and Kaossilator
J.S. Bach - Crab Canon on a Möbius Strip
Homemade Instruments and PVC Pipe - Rare And Strange Instruments
music archive.org

After Homemade Instruments Week on the facebook page, here is an article with some PVC pipes instruments! Percussion on PVC pipes A classic, long pipes for big bass, easy to tune by changing the length …

Ut queant laxis - Wikipedia
history music archive.org

"Ut queant laxis" or "Hymnus in Ioannem" is a Latin hymn in honor of John the Baptist, written in Horatian Sapphics and traditionally attributed to Paulus Diaconus, the eighth-century Lombard historian. It is famous for its part in the history of musical notation, in particular solmization. The hymn belongs to the tradition of Gregorian chant.

24 May 2020 11:00pm GMT

Dirk Eddelbuettel: #3 T^4: Customizing The Shell

The third video (following the announcement, the shell colors) one as well as last week's shell prompt one, is up in the stil new T^4 series of video lightning talks with tips, tricks, tools, and toys. Today we cover customizing the shell some more.

The slides are here.

This repo at GitHub support the series: use it to open issues for comments, criticism, suggestions, or feedback.

If you like this or other open-source work I do, you can now sponsor me at GitHub. For the first year, GitHub will match your contributions.

This post by Dirk Eddelbuettel originated on his Thinking inside the box blog. Please report excessive re-aggregation in third-party for-profit settings.

24 May 2020 8:51pm GMT

Petter Reinholdtsen: More reliable vlc bittorrent plugin in Debian (version 2.9)

I am very happy to report that a more reliable VLC bittorrent plugin was just uploaded into debian. This fixes a couple of crash bugs in the plugin, hopefully making the VLC experience even better when streaming directly from a bittorrent source. The package is currently in Debian unstable, but should be available in Debian testing in two days. To test it, simply install it like this:

apt install vlc-plugin-bittorrent

After it is installed, you can try to use it to play a file downloaded live via bittorrent like this:

vlc https://archive.org/download/Glass_201703/Glass_201703_archive.torrent

It also support magnet links and local .torrent files.

As usual, if you use Bitcoin and want to show your support of my activities, please send Bitcoin donations to my address 15oWEoG9dUPovwmUL9KWAnYRtNJEkP1u1b.

24 May 2020 3:00pm GMT

Holger Levsen: 20200523-i3statusbar

new i3 statusbar

🔌 96% 🚀 192.168.x.y 🐁 🤹 5+4+1 Qubes (80 avail/5 sys/16 tpl) 💾 77G 🧠 4495M/15596M 🤖 11% 🌡️ 50°C 2955🍥 dos y cuarto 🗺  

- and soon, with Qubes 4.1, it will become this colorful too :)

That depends on whether fonts-symbola and/or fonts-noto-color-emoji are being available.

24 May 2020 1:22pm GMT