Planet LUV

July 31, 2018

LUVLUV August 2018 Workshop: Dual-Booting Windows 10 & Ubuntu

Aug 25 2018 12:30
Aug 25 2018 16:30
Aug 25 2018 12:30
Aug 25 2018 16:30
Location: 
Infoxchange, 33 Elizabeth St. Richmond

UPDATE: Rescheduled due to a conflict on the original date - please note new date!

The meeting will be held at Infoxchange, 33 Elizabeth St. Richmond 3121.  Late arrivals please call (0421) 775 358 for access to the venue.

LUV would like to acknowledge Infoxchange for the venue.

Linux Users of Victoria is a subcommittee of Linux Australia.

August 25, 2018 - 12:30

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LUVLUV August 2018 Main Meeting: PF on OpenBSD and fail2ban

Aug 7 2018 19:00
Aug 7 2018 21:00
Aug 7 2018 19:00
Aug 7 2018 21:00
Location: 
Kathleen Syme Library, 251 Faraday Street Carlton VIC 3053

PLEASE NOTE CHANGED START TIME

7:00 PM to 9:00 PM Tuesday, August 7, 2018
Training Room, Kathleen Syme Library, 251 Faraday Street Carlton VIC 3053

Speakers:

Many of us like to go for dinner nearby after the meeting, typically at Trotters Bistro in Lygon St.  Please let us know if you'd like to join us!

Linux Users of Victoria is a subcommittee of Linux Australia.

August 7, 2018 - 19:00

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July 23, 2018

etbePasswords Used by Daemons

There’s a lot of advice about how to create and manage user passwords, and some of it is even good. But there doesn’t seem to be much advice about passwords for daemons, scripts, and other system processes.

I’m writing this post with some rough ideas about the topic, please let me know if you have any better ideas. Also I’m considering passwords and keys in a fairly broad sense, a private key for a HTTPS certificate has more in common with a password to access another server than most other data that a server might use. This also applies to SSH host secret keys, keys that are in ssh authorized_keys files, and other services too.

Passwords in Memory

When SSL support for Apache was first released the standard practice was to have the SSL private key encrypted and require the sysadmin enter a password to start the daemon. This practice has mostly gone away, I would hope that would be due to people realising that it offers little value but it’s more likely that it’s just because it’s really annoying and doesn’t scale for cloud deployments.

If there was a benefit to having the password only in RAM (IE no readable file on disk) then there are options such as granting read access to the private key file only during startup. I have seen a web page recommending running “chmod 0” on the private key file after the daemon starts up.

I don’t believe that there is a real benefit to having a password only existing in RAM. Many exploits target the address space of the server process, Heartbleed is one well known bug that is still shipping in new products today which reads server memory for encryption keys. If you run a program that is vulnerable to Heartbleed then it’s SSL private key (and probably a lot of other application data) are vulnerable to attackers regardless of whether you needed to enter a password at daemon startup.

If you have an application or daemon that might need a password at any time then there’s usually no way of securely storing that password such that a compromise of that application or daemon can’t get the password. In theory you could have a proxy for the service in question which runs as a different user and manages the passwords.

Password Lifecycle

Ideally you would be able to replace passwords at any time. Any time a password is suspected to have been leaked then it should be replaced. That requires that you know where the password is used (both which applications and which configuration files used by those applications) and that you are able to change all programs that use it in a reasonable amount of time.

The first thing to do to achieve this is to have one password per application not one per use. For example if you have a database storing accounts used for a mail server then you would be tempted to have an outbound mail server such as Postfix and an IMAP server such as Dovecot both use the same password to access the database. The correct thing to do is to have one database account for the Dovecot and another for Postfix so if you need to change the password for one of them you don’t need to change passwords in two locations and restart two daemons at the same time. Another good option is to have Postfix talk to Dovecot for authenticating outbound mail, that means you only have a single configuration location for storing the password and also means that a security flaw in Postfix (or more likely a misconfiguration) couldn’t give access to the database server.

Passwords Used By Web Services

It’s very common to run web sites on Apache backed by database servers, so common that the acronym LAMP is widely used for Linux, Apache, Mysql, and PHP. In a typical LAMP installation you have multiple web sites running as the same user which by default can read each other’s configuration files. There are some solutions to this.

There is an Apache module mod_apparmor to use the Apparmor security system [1]. This allows changing to a specified Apparmor “hat” based on the URI or a specified hat for the virtual server. Each Apparmor hat is granted access to different files and therefore files that contain passwords for MySQL (or any other service) can be restricted on a per vhost basis. This only works with the prefork MPM.

There is also an Apache module mpm-itk which runs each vhost under a specified UID and GID [2]. This also allows protecting sites on the same server from each other. The ITK MPM is also based on the prefork MPM.

I’ve been thinking of writing a SE Linux MPM for Apache to do similar things. It would have to be based on prefork too. Maybe a change to mpm-itk to support SE Linux context as well as UID and GID.

Managing It All

Once the passwords are separated such that each service runs with minimum privileges you need to track and manage it all. At the simplest that needs a document listing where all of the passwords are used and how to change them. If you use a configuration management tool then that could manage the passwords. Here’s a list of tools to manage service passwords in tools like Ansible [3].

July 05, 2018

Dave HallMigrating AWS System Manager Parameter Store Secrets to a new Namespace

When starting with a new tool it is common to jump in start doing things. Over time you learn how to do things better. Amazon's AWS System Manager (SSM) Parameter Store was like that for me. I started off polluting the global namespace with all my secrets. Over time I learned to use paths to create namespaces. This helps a lot when it comes to managing access.

Recently I've been using Parameter Store a lot. During this time I have been reminded that naming things is hard. This lead to me needing to change some paths in SSM Parameter Store. Unfortunately AWS doesn't allow you to rename param store keys, you have to create new ones.

There was no way I was going to manually copy and paste all those secrets. Python (3.6) to the rescue! I wrote a script to copy the values to the new namespace. While I was at it I migrated them to use a new KMS key for encryption.

Grab the code from my gist, make it executable, pip install boto3 if you need to, then run it like so:

copy-ssm-ps-path.py source-tree-name target-tree-name new-kms-uuid

The script assumes all parameters are encrypted. The same key is used for all parameters. boto3 expects AWS credentials need to be in ~/.aws or environment variables.

Once everything is verified, you can use a modified version of the script that calls ssm.delete_parameter() or do it via the console.

I hope this saves someone some time.

June 22, 2018

LUVLUV July 2018 Workshop: Beginners guide to Docker

Jul 21 2018 12:30
Jul 21 2018 16:30
Jul 21 2018 12:30
Jul 21 2018 16:30
Location: 
Infoxchange, 33 Elizabeth St. Richmond

Docker is the currently the "kewl" way to both manage development environments and deploy applications at extreme scale.
However it has new terminology, and a different architecture compared to using virtual machines (the technology Docker is most frequently compared with), so it can be confusing at first.

The meeting will be held at Infoxchange, 33 Elizabeth St. Richmond 3121.  Late arrivals please call (0421) 775 358 for access to the venue.

LUV would like to acknowledge Infoxchange for the venue.

Linux Users of Victoria is a subcommittee of Linux Australia.

July 21, 2018 - 12:30

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LUVLUV July 2018 Main Meeting: Google Home Mini and Makerbot

Jul 3 2018 18:30
Jul 3 2018 20:30
Jul 3 2018 18:30
Jul 3 2018 20:30
Location: 
Kathleen Syme Library, 251 Faraday Street Carlton VIC 3053

PLEASE NOTE NEW LOCATION

6:30 PM to 8:30 PM Tuesday, July 3, 2018
Training Room, Kathleen Syme Library, 251 Faraday Street Carlton VIC 3053

Speakers:

Many of us like to go for dinner nearby after the meeting, typically at Trotters Bistro in Lygon St.  Please let us know if you'd like to join us!

Linux Users of Victoria is a subcommittee of Linux Australia.

July 3, 2018 - 18:30

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June 18, 2018

etbeCooperative Learning

This post is about my latest idea for learning about computers. I posted it to my local LUG mailing list and received no responses. But I still think it’s a great idea and that I just need to find the right way to launch it.

I think it would be good to try cooperative learning about Computer Science online. The idea is that everyone would join an IRC channel at a suitable time with virtual machine software configured and try out new FOSS software at the same time and exchange ideas about it via IRC. It would be fairly informal and people could come and go as they wish, the session would probably go for about 4 hours but if people want to go on longer then no-one would stop them.

I’ve got some under-utilised KVM servers that I could use to provide test VMs for network software, my original idea was to use those for members of my local LUG. But that doesn’t scale well. If a larger group people are to be involved they would have to run their own virtual machines, use physical hardware, or use trial accounts from VM companies.

The general idea would be for two broad categories of sessions, ones where an expert provides a training session (assigning tasks to students and providing suggestions when they get stuck) and ones where the coordinator has no particular expertise and everyone just learns together (like “let’s all download a random BSD Unix and see how it compares to Linux”).

As this would be IRC based there would be no impediment for people from other regions being involved apart from the fact that it might start at 1AM their time (IE 6PM in the east coast of Australia is 1AM on the west coast of the US). For most people the best times for such education would be evenings on week nights which greatly limits the geographic spread.

While the aims of this would mostly be things that relate to Linux, I would be happy to coordinate a session on ReactOS as well. I’m thinking of running training sessions on etbemon, DNS, Postfix, BTRFS, ZFS, and SE Linux.

I’m thinking of coordinating learning sessions about DragonflyBSD (particularly HAMMER2), ReactOS, Haiku, and Ceph. If people are interested in DragonflyBSD then we should do that one first as in a week or so I’ll probably have learned what I want to learn and moved on (but not become enough of an expert to run a training session).

One of the benefits of this idea is to help in motivation. If you are on your own playing with something new like a different Unix OS in a VM you will be tempted to take a break and watch YouTube or something when you get stuck. If there are a dozen other people also working on it then you will have help in solving problems and an incentive to keep at it while help is available.

So the issues to be discussed are:

  1. What communication method to use? IRC? What server?
  2. What time/date for the first session?
  3. What topic for the first session? DragonflyBSD?
  4. How do we announce recurring meetings? A mailing list?
  5. What else should we setup to facilitate training? A wiki for notes?

Finally while I list things I’m interested in learning and teaching this isn’t just about me. If this becomes successful then I expect that there will be some topics that don’t interest me and some sessions at times when I am have other things to do (like work). I’m sure people can have fun without me. If anyone has already established something like this then I’d be happy to join that instead of starting my own, my aim is not to run another hobbyist/professional group but to learn things and teach things.

There is a Wikipedia page about Cooperative Learning. While that’s interesting I don’t think it has much relevance on what I’m trying to do. The Wikipedia article has some good information on the benefits of cooperative education and situations where it doesn’t work well. My idea is to have a self-selecting people who choose it because of their own personal goals in terms of fun and learning. So it doesn’t have to work for everyone, just for enough people to have a good group.

June 12, 2018

Julien GoodwinCustom uBlox GPSDO board

For the next part of my ongoing project I needed to test the GPS reciever I'm using, a uBlox LEA-M8F (M8 series chip, LEA form factor, and with frequency outputs). Since the native 30.72MHz oscillator is useless for me I'm using an external TCVCXO (temperature compensated, voltage controlled oscillator) for now, with the DAC & reference needed to discipline the oscillator based on GPS. If uBlox would sell me the frequency version of the chip on its own that would be ideal, but they don't sell to small customers.

Here's a (rather modified) board sitting on top of an Efratom FRK rubidium standard that I'm going to mount to make a (temporary) home standard (that deserves a post of its own). To give a sense of scale the silver connector at the top of the board is a micro-USB socket.



Although a very simple board I had a mess of problems once again, both in construction and in component selection.

Unlike the PoE board from the previous post I didn't have this board manufactured. This was for two main reasons, first, the uBlox module isn't available from Digikey, so I'd still need to mount it by hand. The second, to fit all the components this board has a much greater area, and since the assembly house I use charges by board area (regardless of the number or density of components) this would have cost several hundred dollars. In the end, this might actually have been the sensible way to go.

By chance I'd picked up a new soldering iron at the same time these boards arrived, a Hakko FX-951 knock-off and gave it a try. Whilst probably an improvement over my old Hakko FX-888 it's not a great iron, especially with the knife tip it came with, and certainly nowhere near as nice to use as the JBC CD-B (I think that's the model) we have in the office lab. It is good enough that I'm probably going to buy a genuine Hakko FM-203 with an FM-2032 precision tool for the second port.

The big problem I had hand-soldering the boards was bridges on several of the components. Not just the tiny (0.65mm pitch, actually the *second largest* of eight packages for that chip) SC70 footprint of the PPS buffer, but also the much more generous 1.1mm pitch of the uBlox module. Luckily solder wick fixed most cases, plus one where I pulled the buffer and soldered a new one more carefully.

With components, once again I made several errors:
  • I ended up buying the wrong USB connectors for the footprint I chose (the same thing happened with the first run of USB-C modules I did in 2016), and while I could bodge them into use easily enough there wasn't enough mechanical retention so I ended up ripping one connector off the board. I ordered some correct ones, but because I wasn't able to wick all solder off the pads they don't attach as strongly as they should, and whilst less fragile, are hardly what I'd call solid.
  • The surface mount GPS antenna (Taoglas AP.10H.01 visible in this tweet) I used was 11dB higher gain than the antenna I'd tested with the devkit, I never managed to get it to lock while connected to the board, although once on a cable it did work ok. To allow easier testing, in the end I removed the antenna and bodged on an SMA connector for easy testing.
  • When selecting the buffer I accidentally chose one with an open-drain output, I'd meant to use one with a push-pull output. This took quite a silly long time for me to realise what mistake I'd made. Compounding this, the buffer is on the 1PPS line, which only strobes while locked to GPS, however my apartment is a concrete box, with what GPS signal I can get inside only available in my bedroom, and my oscilloscope is in my lab, so I couldn't demonstrate the issue live, and had to inject test signals. Luckily a push-pull is available in the same footprint, and a quick hot-air aided swap later (once parts arrived from Digikey) it was fixed.

Lessons learnt:
  • Yes I can solder down to ~0.5mm pitch, but not reliably.
  • More test points on dev boards, particularly all voltage rails, and notable signals not otherwise exposed.
  • Flux is magic, you probably aren't using enough.

Although I've confirmed all basic functions of the board work, including GPS locking, PPS (quick video of the PPS signal LED), and frequency output, I've still not yet tested the native serial ports and frequency stability from the oscillator. Living in an urban canyon makes such testing a pain.

Eventually I might also test moving the oscillator, DAC & reference into a mini oven to see if a custom OCXO would be any better, if small & well insulated enough the power cost of an oven shouldn't be a problem.

Also as you'll see if you look at the tweets, I really should have posted this almost a month ago, however I finished fixing the board just before heading off to California for a work trip, and whilst I meant to write this post during the trip, it's not until I've been back for more than a week that I've gotten to it. I find it extremely easy to let myself be distracted from side projects, particularly since I'm in a busy period at $ORK at the moment.

June 06, 2018

etbeBTRFS and SE Linux

I’ve had problems with systems running SE Linux on BTRFS losing the XATTRs used for storing the SE Linux file labels after a power outage.

Here is the link to the patch that fixes this [1]. Thanks to Hans van Kranenburg and Holger Hoffstätte for the information about this patch which was already included in kernel 4.16.11. That was uploaded to Debian on the 27th of May and got into testing about the time that my message about this issue got to the SE Linux list (which was a couple of days before I sent it to the BTRFS developers).

The kernel from Debian/Stable still has the issue. So using a testing kernel might be a good option to deal with this problem at the moment.

Below is the information on reproducing this problem. It may be useful for people who want to reproduce similar problems. Also all sysadmins should know about “reboot -nffd”, if something really goes wrong with your kernel you may need to do that immediately to prevent corrupted data being written to your disks.

The command “reboot -nffd” (kernel reboot without flushing kernel buffers or writing status) when run on a BTRFS system with SE Linux will often result in /var/log/audit/audit.log being unlabeled. It also results in some systemd-journald files like /var/log/journal/c195779d29154ed8bcb4e8444c4a1728/system.journal being unlabeled but that is rarer. I think that the same
problem afflicts both systemd-journald and auditd but it’s a race condition that on my systems (both production and test) is more likely to affect auditd.

root@stretch:/# xattr -l /var/log/audit/audit.log 
security.selinux: 
0000   73 79 73 74 65 6D 5F 75 3A 6F 62 6A 65 63 74 5F    system_u:object_ 
0010   72 3A 61 75 64 69 74 64 5F 6C 6F 67 5F 74 3A 73    r:auditd_log_t:s 
0020   30 00                                              0.

SE Linux uses the xattr “security.selinux”, you can see what it’s doing with xattr(1) but generally using “ls -Z” is easiest.

If this issue just affected “reboot -nffd” then a solution might be to just not run that command. However this affects systems after a power outage.

I have reproduced this bug with kernel 4.9.0-6-amd64 (the latest security update for Debian/Stretch which is the latest supported release of Debian). I have also reproduced it in an identical manner with kernel 4.16.0-1-amd64 (the latest from Debian/Unstable). For testing I reproduced this with a 4G filesystem in a VM, but in production it has happened on BTRFS RAID-1 arrays, both SSD and HDD.

#!/bin/bash 
set -e 
COUNT=$(ps aux|grep [s]bin/auditd|wc -l) 
date 
if [ "$COUNT" = "1" ]; then 
 echo "all good" 
else 
 echo "failed" 
 exit 1 
fi

Firstly the above is the script /usr/local/sbin/testit, I test for auditd running because it aborts if the context on it’s log file is wrong. When SE Linux is in enforcing mode an incorrect/missing label on the audit.log file causes auditd to abort.

root@stretch:~# ls -liZ /var/log/audit/audit.log 
37952 -rw-------. 1 root root system_u:object_r:auditd_log_t:s0 4385230 Jun  1 
12:23 /var/log/audit/audit.log

Above is before I do the tests.

while ssh stretch /usr/local/sbin/testit ; do 
 ssh stretch "reboot -nffd" > /dev/null 2>&1 & 
 sleep 20 
done

Above is the shell code I run to do the tests. Note that the VM in question runs on SSD storage which is why it can consistently boot in less than 20 seconds.

Fri  1 Jun 12:26:13 UTC 2018 
all good 
Fri  1 Jun 12:26:33 UTC 2018 
failed

Above is the output from the shell code in question. After the first reboot it fails. The probability of failure on my test system is greater than 50%.

root@stretch:~# ls -liZ /var/log/audit/audit.log  
37952 -rw-------. 1 root root system_u:object_r:unlabeled_t:s0 4396803 Jun  1 12:26 /var/log/audit/audit.log

Now the result. Note that the Inode has not changed. I could understand a newly created file missing an xattr, but this is an existing file which shouldn’t have had it’s xattr changed. But somehow it gets corrupted.

The first possibility I considered was that SE Linux code might be at fault. I asked on the SE Linux mailing list (I haven’t been involved in SE Linux kernel code for about 15 years) and was informed that this isn’t likely at
all. There have been no problems like this reported with other filesystems.

April 28, 2018

Julien GoodwinPoE termination board

For my next big project I'm planning on making it run using power over ethernet. Back in March I designed a quick circuit using the TI TPS2376-H PoE termination chip, and an LMR16020 switching regulator to drop the ~48v coming in down to 5v. There's also a second stage low-noise linear regulator (ST LDL1117S33R) to further drop it down to 3.3v, but as it turns out the main chip I'm using does its own 5->3.3v conversion already.

Because I was lazy, and the pricing was reasonable I got these boards manufactured by pcb.ng who I'd used for the USB-C termination boards I did a while back.

Here's the board running a Raspberry Pi 3B+, as it turns out I got lucky and my board is set up for the same input as the 3B+ supplies.



One really big warning, this is a non-isolated supply, which, in general, is a bad idea for PoE. For my specific use case there'll be no exposed connectors or metal, so this should be safe, but if you want to use PoE in general I'd suggest using some of the isolated convertors that are available with integrated PoE termination.

For this series I'm going to try and also make some notes on the mistakes I've made with these boards to help others, for this board:
  • I failed to add any test pins, given this was the first try I really should have, being able to inject power just before the switching convertor was helpful while debugging, but I had to solder wires to the input cap to do that.
  • Similarly, I should have had a 5v output pin, for now I've just been shorting the two diodes I had near the output which were intended to let me switch input power between two feeds.
  • The last, and the only actual problem with the circuit was that when selecting which exact parts to use I optimised by choosing the same diode for both input protection & switching, however this was a mistake, as the switcher needed a Schottky diode, and one with better ratings in other ways than the input diode. With the incorrect diode the board actually worked fine under low loads, but would quickly go into thermal shutdown if asked to supply more than about 1W. With the diode swapped to a correctly rated one it now supplies 10W just fine.
  • While debugging the previous I also noticed that the thermal pads on both main chips weren't well connected through. It seems the combination of via-in-thermal-pad (even tented), along with Kicad's normal reduction in paste in those large pads, plus my manufacturer's use of a fairly thin application of paste all contributed to this. Next time I'll probably avoid via-in-pad.


Coming soon will be a post about the GPS board, but I'm still testing bits of that board out, plus waiting for some missing parts (somehow not only did I fail to order 10k resistors, I didn't already have some in stock).

March 16, 2018

etbeRacism in the Office

Today I was at an office party and the conversation turned to race, specifically the incidence of unarmed Afro-American men and boys who are shot by police. Apparently the idea that white people (even in other countries) might treat non-white people badly offends some people, so we had a man try to explain that Afro-Americans commit more crime and therefore are more likely to get shot. This part of the discussion isn’t even noteworthy, it’s the sort of thing that happens all the time.

I and another man pointed out that crime is correlated with poverty and racism causes non-white people to be disproportionately poor. We also pointed out that US police seem capable of arresting proven violent white criminals without shooting them (he cited arrests of Mafia members I cited mass murderers like the one who shot up the cinema). This part of the discussion isn’t particularly noteworthy either. Usually when someone tries explaining some racist ideas and gets firm disagreement they back down. But not this time.

The next step was the issue of whether black people are inherently violent. He cited all of Africa as evidence. There’s a meme that you shouldn’t accuse someone of being racist, it’s apparently very offensive. I find racism very offensive and speak the truth about it. So all the following discussion was peppered with him complaining about how offended he was and me not caring (stop saying racist things if you don’t want me to call you racist).

Next was an appeal to “statistics” and “facts”. He said that he was only citing statistics and facts, clearly not understanding that saying “Africans are violent” is not a statistic. I told him to get his phone and Google for some statistics as he hadn’t cited any. I thought that might make him just go away, it was clear that we were long past the possibility of agreeing on these issues. I don’t go to parties seeking out such arguments, in fact I’d rather avoid such people altogether if possible.

So he found an article about recent immigrants from Somalia in Melbourne (not about the US or Africa, the previous topics of discussion). We are having ongoing discussions in Australia about violent crime, mainly due to conservatives who want to break international agreements regarding the treatment of refugees. For the record I support stronger jail sentences for violent crime, but this is an idea that is not well accepted by conservatives presumably because the vast majority of violent criminals are white (due to the vast majority of the Australian population being white).

His next claim was that Africans are genetically violent due to DNA changes from violence in the past. He specifically said that if someone was a witness to violence it would change their DNA to make them and their children more violent. He also specifically said that this was due to thousands of years of violence in Africa (he mentioned two thousand and three thousand years on different occasions). I pointed out that European history has plenty of violence that is well documented and also that DNA just doesn’t work the way he thinks it does.

Of course he tried to shout me down about the issue of DNA, telling me that he studied Psychology at a university in London and knows how DNA works, demanding to know my qualifications, and asserting that any scientist would support him. I don’t have a medical degree, but I have spent quite a lot of time attending lectures on medical research including from researchers who deliberately change DNA to study how this changes the biological processes of the organism in question.

I offered him the opportunity to star in a Youtube video about this, I’d record everything he wants to say about DNA. But he regarded that offer as an attempt to “shame” him because of his “controversial” views. It was a strange and sudden change from “any scientist will support me” to “it’s controversial”. Unfortunately he didn’t give up on his attempts to convince me that he wasn’t racist and that black people are lesser.

The next odd thing was when he asked me “what do you call them” (black people), “do you call them Afro-Americans when they are here”. I explained that if an American of African ancestry visits Australia then you would call them Afro-American, otherwise not. It’s strange that someone goes from being so certain of so many things to not knowing the basics. In retrospect I should have asked whether he was aware that there are black people who aren’t African.

Then I sought opinions from other people at the party regarding DNA modifications. While I didn’t expect to immediately convince him of the error of his ways it should at least demonstrate that I’m not the one who’s in a minority regarding this issue. As expected there was no support for the ideas of DNA modifying. During that discussion I mentioned radiation as a cause of DNA changes. He then came up with the idea that radiation from someone’s mouth when they shout at you could change your DNA. This was the subject of some jokes, one man said something like “my parents shouted at me a lot but didn’t make me a mutant”.

The other people had some sensible things to say, pointing out that psychological trauma changes the way people raise children and can have multi-generational effects. But the idea of events 3000 years ago having such effects was ridiculed.

By this time people were starting to leave. A heated discussion of racism tends to kill the party atmosphere. There might be some people who think I should have just avoided the discussion to keep the party going (really I didn’t want it and tried to end it). But I’m not going to allow a racist to think that I agree with them, and if having a party requires any form of agreement to racism then it’s not a party I care about.

As I was getting ready to leave the man said that he thought he didn’t explain things well because he was tipsy. I disagree, I think he explained some things very well. When someone goes to such extraordinary lengths to criticise all black people after a discussion of white cops killing unarmed black people I think it shows their character. But I did offer some friendly advice, “don’t drink with people you work with or for or any other people you want to impress”, I suggested that maybe quitting alcohol altogether is the right thing to do if this is what it causes. But he still thought it was wrong of me to call him racist, and I still don’t care. Alcohol doesn’t make anyone suddenly think that black people are inherently dangerous (even when unarmed) and therefore deserving of being shot by police (disregarding the fact that police can take members of the Mafia alive). But it does make people less inhibited about sharing such views even when it’s clear that they don’t have an accepting audience.

Some Final Notes

I was not looking for an argument or trying to entrap him in any way. I refrained from asking him about other races who have experienced violence in the past, maybe he would have made similar claims about other non-white races and maybe he wouldn’t, I didn’t try to broaden the scope of the dispute.

I am not going to do anything that might be taken as agreement or support of racism unless faced with the threat of violence. He did not threaten me so I wasn’t going to back down from the debate.

I gave him multiple opportunities to leave the debate. When I insisted that he find statistics to support his cause I hoped and expected that he would depart. Instead he came back with a page about the latest racist dog-whistle in Australian politics which had no correlation with anything we had previously discussed.

I think the fact that this debate happened says something about Australian and British culture. This man apparently hadn’t had people push back on such ideas before.

September 24, 2017

Dave HallDrupal Puppies

Over the years Drupal distributions, or distros as they're more affectionately known, have evolved a lot. We started off passing around database dumps. Eventually we moved onto using installations profiles and features to share par-baked sites.

There are some signs that distros aren't working for people using them. Agencies often hack a distro to meet client requirements. This happens because it is often difficult to cleanly extend a distro. A content type might need extra fields or the logic in an alter hook may not be desired. This makes it difficult to maintain sites built on distros. Other times maintainers abandon their distributions. This leaves site owners with an unexpected maintenance burden.

We should recognise how people are using distros and try to cater to them better. My observations suggest there are 2 types of Drupal distributions; starter kits and targeted products.

Targeted products are easier to deal with. Increasingly monetising targeted distro products is done through a SaaS offering. The revenue can funds the ongoing development of the product. This can help ensure the project remains sustainable. There are signs that this is a viable way of building Drupal 8 based products. We should be encouraging companies to embrace a strategy built around open SaaS. Open Social is a great example of this approach. Releasing the distros demonstrates a commitment to the business model. Often the secret sauce isn't in the code, it is the team and services built around the product.

Many Drupal 7 based distros struggled to articulate their use case. It was difficult to know if they were a product, a demo or a community project that you extend. Open Atrium and Commerce Kickstart are examples of distros with an identity crisis. We need to reconceptualise most distros as "starter kits" or as I like to call them "puppies".

Why puppies? Once you take a puppy home it becomes your responsibility. Starter kits should be the same. You should never assume that a starter kit will offer an upgrade path from one release to the next. When you install a starter kit you are responsible for updating the modules yourself. You need to keep track of security releases. If your puppy leaves a mess on the carpet, no one else will clean it up.

Sites build on top of a starter kit should diverge from the original version. This shouldn't only be an expectation, it should be encouraged. Installing a starter kit is the starting point of building a unique fork.

Project pages should clearly state that users are buying a puppy. Prospective puppy owners should know if they're about to take home a little lap dog or one that will grow to the size of a pony that needs daily exercise. Puppy breeders (developers) should not feel compelled to do anything once releasing the puppy. That said, most users would like some documentation.

I know of several agencies and large organisations that are making use of starter kits. Let's support people who are adopting this approach. As a community we should acknowledge that distros aren't working. We should start working out how best to manage the transition to puppies.

September 16, 2017

Dave HallTrying Drupal

While preparing for my DrupalCamp Belgium keynote presentation I looked at how easy it is to get started with various CMS platforms. For my talk I used Contentful, a hosted content as a service CMS platform and contrasted that to the "Try Drupal" experience. Below is the walk through of both.

Let's start with Contentful. I start off by visiting their website.

Contentful homepage

In the top right corner is a blue button encouraging me to "try for free". I hit the link and I'm presented with a sign up form. I can even use Google or GitHub for authentication if I want.

Contentful signup form

While my example site is being installed I am presented with an overview of what I can do once it is finished. It takes around 30 seconds for the site to be installed.

Contentful installer wait

My site is installed and I'm given some guidance about what to do next. There is even an onboarding tour in the bottom right corner that is waving at me.

Contentful dashboard

Overall this took around a minute and required very little thought. I never once found myself thinking come on hurry up.

Now let's see what it is like to try Drupal. I land on d.o. I see a big prominent "Try Drupal" button, so I click that.

Drupal homepage

I am presented with 3 options. I am not sure why I'm being presented options to "Build on Drupal 8 for Free" or to "Get Started Risk-Free", I just want to try Drupal, so I go with Pantheon.

Try Drupal providers

Like with Contentful I'm asked to create an account. Again I have the option of using Google for the sign up or completing a form. This form has more fields than contentful.

Pantheon signup page

I've created my account and I am expecting to be dropped into a demo Drupal site. Instead I am presented with a dashboard. The most prominent call to action is importing a site. I decide to create a new site.

Pantheon dashboard

I have to now think of a name for my site. This is already feeling like a lot of work just to try Drupal. If I was a busy manager I would have probably given up by this point.

Pantheon create site form

When I submit the form I must surely be going to see a Drupal site. No, sorry. I am given the choice of installing WordPress, yes WordPress, Drupal 8 or Drupal 7. Despite being very confused I go with Drupal 8.

Pantheon choose application page

Now my site is deploying. While this happens there is a bunch of items that update above the progress bar. They're all a bit nerdy, but at least I know something is happening. Why is my only option to visit my dashboard again? I want to try Drupal.

Pantheon site installer page

I land on the dashboard. Now I'm really confused. This all looks pretty geeky. I want to try Drupal not deal with code, connection modes and the like. If I stick around I might eventually click "Visit Development site", which doesn't really feel like trying Drupal.

Pantheon site dashboard

Now I'm asked to select a language. OK so Drupal supports multiple languages, that nice. Let's select English so I can finally get to try Drupal.

Drupal installer, language selection

Next I need to chose an installation profile. What is an installation profile? Which one is best for me?

Drupal installer, choose installation profile

Now I need to create an account. About 10 minutes I already created an account. Why do I need to create another one? I also named my site earlier in the process.

Drupal installer, configuration form part 1
Drupal installer, configuration form part 2

Finally I am dropped into a Drupal 8 site. There is nothing to guide me on what to do next.

Drupal site homepage

I am left with a sense that setting up Contentful is super easy and Drupal is a lot of work. For most people wanting to try Drupal they would have abandoned someway through the process. I would love to see the conversion stats for the try Drupal service. It must miniscule.

It is worth noting that Pantheon has the best user experience of the 3 companies. The process with 1&1 just dumps me at a hosting sign up page. How does that let me try Drupal?

Acquia drops onto a page where you select your role, then you're presented with some marketing stuff and a form to request a demo. That is unless you're running an ad blocker, then when you select your role you get an Ajax error.

The Try Drupal program generates revenue for the Drupal Association. This money helps fund development of the project. I'm well aware that the DA needs money. At the same time I wonder if it is worth it. For many people this is the first experience they have using Drupal.

The previous attempt to have simplytest.me added to the try Drupal page ultimately failed due to the financial implications. While this is disappointing I don't think simplytest.me is necessarily the answer either.

There needs to be some minimum standards for the Try Drupal page. One of the key item is the number of clicks to get from d.o to a working demo site. Without this the "Try Drupal" page will drive people away from the project, which isn't the intention.

If you're at DrupalCon Vienna and want to discuss this and other ways to improve the marketing of Drupal, please attend the marketing sprints.

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May 29, 2017

Stewart SmithFedora 25 + Lenovo X1 Carbon 4th Gen + OneLink+ Dock

As of May 29th 2017, if you want to do something crazy like use *both* ports of the OneLink+ dock to use monitors that aren’t 640×480 (but aren’t 4k), you’re going to need a 4.11 kernel, as everything else (for example 4.10.17, which is the latest in Fedora 25 at time of writing) will end you in a world of horrible, horrible pain.

To install, run this:

sudo dnf install \
https://kojipkgs.fedoraproject.org//packages/kernel/4.11.3/200.fc25/x86_64/kernel-4.11.3-200.fc25.x86_64.rpm \
https://kojipkgs.fedoraproject.org//packages/kernel/4.11.3/200.fc25/x86_64/kernel-core-4.11.3-200.fc25.x86_64.rpm \
https://kojipkgs.fedoraproject.org//packages/kernel/4.11.3/200.fc25/x86_64/kernel-cross-headers-4.11.3-200.fc25.x86_64.rpm \
https://kojipkgs.fedoraproject.org//packages/kernel/4.11.3/200.fc25/x86_64/kernel-devel-4.11.3-200.fc25.x86_64.rpm \
https://kojipkgs.fedoraproject.org//packages/kernel/4.11.3/200.fc25/x86_64/kernel-modules-4.11.3-200.fc25.x86_64.rpm \
https://kojipkgs.fedoraproject.org//packages/kernel/4.11.3/200.fc25/x86_64/kernel-tools-4.11.3-200.fc25.x86_64.rpm \
https://kojipkgs.fedoraproject.org//packages/kernel/4.11.3/200.fc25/x86_64/kernel-tools-libs-4.11.3-200.fc25.x86_64.rpm \
https://kojipkgs.fedoraproject.org//packages/kernel/4.11.3/200.fc25/x86_64/perf-4.11.3-200.fc25.x86_64.rpm

This grabs a kernel that’s sitting in testing and isn’t yet in the main repositories. However, I can now see things on monitors, rather than 0 to 1 monitor (most often 0). You can also dock/undock and everything doesn’t crash in a pile of fail.

I remember a time when you could fairly reliably buy Intel hardware and have it “just work” with the latest distros. It’s unfortunate that this is no longer the case, and it’s more of a case of “wait six months and you’ll still have problems”.

Urgh.

(at least Wayland and X were bug for bug compatible?)

May 03, 2017

Stewart SmithAPI, ABI and backwards compatibility are a hard necessity

Recently, I was reading a thread on LKML on a proposal to change the behavior of the open system call when confronted with unknown flags. The thread is worth a read as the topic of augmenting things that exist probably by accident to be “better” is always interesting, as is the definition of “better”.

Keeping API and/or ABI compatibility is something that isn’t a new problem, and it’s one that people are pretty good at sometimes messing up.

This problem does not go away just because “we have cloud now”. In any distributed system, in order to upgrade it (or “be agile” as the kids are calling it), you by definition are going to have either downtime or at least two versions running concurrently. Thus, you have to have your interfaces/RPCs/APIs/ABIs/protocols/whatever cope with changes.

You cannot instantly upgrade the world, it happens gradually. You also have to design for at least three concurrent versions running. One is the original, the second is your upgrade, your third is the urgent fix because the upgrade is quite broken in some new way you only discover in production.

So, the way you do this? Never ever EVER design for N-1 compatibility only. Design for going back a long way, much longer than you officially support. You want to have a design and programming culture of backwards compatibility to ensure you can both do new and exciting things and experiment off to the side.

It’s worth going and rereading Rusty’s API levels posts from 2008:

April 27, 2017

Dave HallContinuing the Conversation at DrupalCon and Into the Future

My blog post from last week was very well received and sparked a conversation in the Drupal community about the future of Drupal. That conversation has continued this week at DrupalCon Baltimore.

Yesterday during the opening keynote, Dries touched on some of the issues raised in my blog post. Later in the day we held an unofficial BoF. The turn out was smaller than I expected, but we had a great discussion.

Drupal moving from a hobbyist and business tool to being an enterprise CMS for creating "ambitious digital experiences" was raised in the Driesnote and in other conversations including the BoF. We need to acknowledge that this has happened and consider it an achievement. Some people have been left behind as Drupal has grown up. There is probably more we can do to help these people. Do we need more resources to help them skill up? Should we direct them towards WordPress, backdrop, squarespace, wix etc? Is it is possible to build smaller sites that eventually grow into larger sites?

In my original blog post I talked about "peak Drupal" and used metrics that supported this assertion. One metric missing from that post is dollars spent on Drupal. It is clear that the picture is very different when measuring success using budgets. There is a general sense that a lot of money is being spent on high end Drupal sites. This has resulted in less sites doing more with Drupal 8.

As often happens when trying to solve problems with Drupal during the BoF descended into talking technical solutions. Technical solutions and implementation detail have a place. I think it is important for the community to move beyond this and start talking about Drupal as a product.

In my mind Drupal core should be a content management framework and content hub service for building compelling digital experiences. For the record, I am not arguing Drupal should become API only. Larger users will take this and build their digital stack on top of this platform. This same platform should support an ecosystem of Drupal "distros". These product focused projects target specific use cases. Great examples of such distros include Lightning, Thunder, Open Social, aGov and Drupal Commerce. For smaller agencies and sites a distro can provide a great starting point for building new Drupal 8 sites.

The biggest challenge I see is continuing this conversation as a community. The majority of the community toolkit is focused on facilitating technical discussions and implementations. These tools will be valuable as we move from talking to doing, but right now we need tools and processes for engaging in silver discussions so we can build platinum level products.

February 22, 2017

Julien GoodwinMaking a USB powered soldering iron that doesn't suck

Today's evil project was inspired by a suggestion after my talk on USB-C & USB-PD at this years's linux.conf.au Open Hardware miniconf.

Using a knock-off Hakko driver and handpiece I've created what may be the first USB powered soldering iron that doesn't suck (ok, it's not a great iron, but at least it has sufficient power to be usable).

Building this was actually trivial, I just wired the 20v output of one of my USB-C ThinkPad boards to a generic Hakko driver board, the loss of power from using 20v not 24v is noticeable, but for small work this would be fine (I solder in either the work lab or my home lab, where both have very nice soldering stations so I don't actually expect to ever use this).

If you were to turn this into a real product you could in fact do much better, by doing both power negotiation and temperature control in a single micro, the driver could instead be switched to a boost converter instead of just a FET, and by controlling the output voltage control the power draw, and simply disable the regulator to turn off the heater. By chance, the heater resistance of the Hakko 907 clone handpieces is such that combined with USB-PD power rules you'd always be boost converting, never needing to reduce voltage.

With such a driver you could run this from anything starting with a 5v USB-C phone charger or battery (15W for the nicer ones), 9v at up to 3A off some laptops (for ~25W), or all the way to 20V@5A for those who need an extremely high-power iron. 60W, which happens to be the standard power level of many good irons (such as the Hakko FX-888D) is also at 20v@3A a common limit for chargers (and also many cables, only fixed cables, or those specially marked with an ID chip can go all the way to 5A). As higher power USB-C batteries start becoming available for laptops this becomes a real option for on-the-go use.

Here's a photo of it running from a Chromebook Pixel charger:

February 14, 2017

Stewart Smithj-core + Numato Spartan 6 board + Fedora 25

A couple of changes to http://j-core.org/#download_bitstream made it easy for me to get going:

  • In order to make ModemManager not try to think it’s a “modem”, create /etc/udev/rules.d/52-numato.rules with the following content:
    # Make ModemManager ignore Numato FPGA board
    ATTRS{idVendor}=="2a19", ATTRS{idProduct}=="1002", ENV{ID_MM_DEVICE_IGNORE}="1"
  • You will need to install python3-pyserial and minicom
  • The minicom command line i used was:
    sudo stty -F /dev/ttyACM0 -crtscts && minicom -b 115200 -D /dev/ttyACM0

and along with the instructions on j-core.org, I got it to load a known good build.

January 30, 2017

Stewart SmithRecording of my LCA2017 talk: Organizational Change: Challenges in shipping open source firmware

January 28, 2017

Julien GoodwinCharging my ThinkPad X1 Gen4 using USB-C

As with many massive time-sucking rabbit holes in my life, this one starts with one of my silly ideas getting egged on by some of my colleagues in London (who know full well who they are), but for a nice change, this is something I can talk about.

I have a rather excessive number of laptops, at the moment my three main ones are a rather ancient Lenovo T430 (personal), a Lenovo X1 Gen4, and a Chromebook Pixel 2 (both work).

At the start of last year I had a T430s in place of the X1, and was planning on replacing both it and my personal ThinkPad mid-year. However both of those older laptops used Lenovo's long-held (back to the IBM days) barrel charger, which lead to me having a heap of them in various locations at home and work, but all the newer machines switched to their newer rectangular "slim" style power connector and while adapters exist, I decided to go in a different direction.

One of the less-touted features of USB-C is USB-PD[1], which allows devices to be fed up to 100W of power, and can do so while using the port for data (or the other great feature of USB-C, alternate modes, such as DisplayPort, great for docks), which is starting to be used as a way to charge laptops, such as the Chromebook Pixel 2, various models of the Apple MacBook line, and more.

Instead of buying a heap of slim-style Lenovo chargers, or a load of adapters (which would inevitably disappear over time) I decided to bridge towards the future by making an adapter to allow me to charge slim-type ThinkPads (at least the smaller ones, not the portable workstations which demand 120W or more).

After doing some research on what USB-PD platforms were available at the time I settled on the TI TPS65986 chip, which, with only an external flash chip, would do all that I needed.

Devkits were ordered to experiment with, and prove the concept, which they did very quickly, so I started on building the circuit, since just reusing the devkit boards would lead to an adapter larger than would be sensible. As the TI chip is a many-pin BGA, and breaking it out on 2-layers would probably be too hard for my meager PCB design skills, I needed a 4-layer board, so I decided to use KiCad for the project.

It took me about a week of evenings to get the schematic fully sorted, with much of the time spent reading the chip datasheet, or digging through the devkit schematic to see what they did there for some cases that weren't clear, then almost a month for the actual PCB layout, with much of the time being sucked up learning a tool that was brand new to me, and also fairly obtuse.

By mid-June I had a PCB which should (but, spoiler, wouldn't) work, however as mentioned the TI chip is a 96-ball 3x3mm BGA, something I had no hope of manually placing for reflow, and of course, no hope of hand soldering, so I would need to get these manufactured commercially. Luckily there are several options for small scale assembly at very reasonable prices, and I decided to try a new company still (at the time of ordering) in closed trials, PCB.NG, they have a nice simple procedure to upload board files, and a slightly custom pick & place file that includes references to the exact component I want by Digikey[link] part number. Best of all the pricing was completely reasonable, with a first test run of six boards only costing my US$30 each.

Late in June I recieved a mail from PCB.NG telling me that they'd built my boards, but that I had made a mistake with the footprint I'd used for the USB-C connector and they were posting my boards along with the connectors. As I'd had them ship the order to California (at the time they didn't seem to offer international shipping) it took a while for them to arrive in Sydney, courtesy a coworker.

I tried to modify a connector by removing all through hole board locks, keeping just the surface mount pins, however I was unsuccessful, and that's where the project stalled until mid-October when I was in California myself, and was able to get help from a coworker who can perform miracles of surface mount soldering (while they were working on my board they were also dead-bug mounting a BGA). Sadly while I now had a board I could test it simply dropped off my priority list for months.

At the start of January another of my colleagues (a US-based teammate of the London rabble-rousers) asked for a status update, which prompted me to get off my butt and perform the testing. The next day I added some reinforcement to the connector which was only really held on by the surface mount pins, and was highly likely to rip off the board, so I covered it in epoxy. Then I knocked up some USB A plug/socket to bare wires test adapters using some stuff from the junk bin we have at the office maker space for just this sort of occasion (the socket was actually a front panel USB port from an old IBM x-series server). With some trepidation I plugged the board into my newly built & tested adapter, and powered the board from a lab supply set to limit current in case I'd any shorts in the board. It all came up straight away, and even lit the LEDs I'd added for some user feedback.

Next was to load a firmware for the chip. I'd previously used TI's tool to create a firmware image, and after some messing around with the SPI flash programmer I'd purchased managed to get the board programmed. However the behaviour of the board didn't change with (what I thought was) real firmware, I used an oscilloscope to verify the flash was being read, and a twinkie to sniff the PD negotiation, which confirmed that no request for 20v was being sent. This was where I finished that day.

Over the weekend that followed I dug into what I'd seen and determined that either I'd killed the SPI MISO port (the programmer I used was 5v, not 3.3v), or I just had bad firmware and the chip had some good defaults. I created a new firmware image from scratch, and loaded that.

Sure enough it worked first try. Once I confirmed 20v was coming from the output ports I attached it to my recently acquired HP 6051A DC load where it happily sank 45W for a while, then I attached the cable part of a Lenovo barrel to slim adapter and plugged it into my X1 where it started charging right away.

At linux.conf.au last week I gave (part of) a hardware miniconf talk about USB-C & USB-PD, which open source hardware folk might be interested in. Over the last few days while visiting my dad down in Gippsland I made the edits to fix the footprint and sent a new rev to the manufacturer for some new experiments.

Of course at CES Lenovo announced that this years ThinkPads would feature USB-C ports and allow charging through them, and due to laziness I never got around to replacing my T430, so I'm planning to order a T470 as soon as they're available, making my adapter obsolete.





Rough timeline:
  • April 21st 2016, decide to start working on the project
  • April 28th, devkits arrive
  • May 8th, schematic largely complete, work starts on PCB layout
  • June 14th, order sent to CM
  • ~July 6th, CM ships order to me (to California, then hand carried to me by a coworker)
  • early August, boards arrive from California
  • Somewhere here I try, and fail, to reflow a modified connector onto a board
  • October 13th, California cowoker helps to (successfully) reflow a USB-C connector onto a board for testing
  • January 6th 2017, finally got around to reinforce the connector with epoxy and started testing, try loading firmware but no dice
  • January 10th, redo firmware, it works, test on DC load, then modify a ThinkPad-slim adapater and test on a real ThinkPad
  • January 25/26th, fixed USB-C connector footprint, made one more minor tweak, sent order for rev2 to CM, then some back & forth over some tolerance issues they're now stricter on.


1: There's a previous variant of USB-PD that works on the older A/B connector, but, as far as I'm aware, was never implemented in any notable products.

August 01, 2013

Tim ConnorsNo trains for the corporatocracy

Sigh, look, I know we don't actually live in a democracy (but a corporatocracy instead), and I should never expect the relevant ministers to care about my meek little protestations otherwise, but I keep writing these letters to ministers for transport anyway, under the vague hope that it might remind them that they're ministers for transport, and not just roads.


Dear Transport Minister, Terry Mulder,

I encourage you and your fellow ministers to read this article
("Tracking the cost", The Age, June 13 2009) from 2009, back when the
Liberals claimed to have a very different attitude, and when
circumstances seemed to mirror the current time:
http://www.theage.com.au/national/tracking-the-cost-20090612-c67m.html

The eventual costs of building the first extensions to the Melbourne
public transport system in 80 years eventually blew out from $8M to
$500M over the short life of the South Morang project; despite being a
much smaller project than the entire rail lines built cheaper by
cities such as Perth in recent years.

The increased cost is explained away as a safety requirement - it
being so important to now start building grade separated lines rather
than level crossings regardless of circumstances. Perceived safety
trumps real safety (I'd much rather be in a train than suffer from one
of the 300 Victorian deaths on the roads each year), but more sinister
is that because of this inflated expense, we'll probably never see
another rail line like this built at all in Melbourne (although we'll
build at public expense a wonderful road tunnel that no-one but
Lindsay Fox will use at more than 10 times the cost, though).

I suspect the real reason for grade separation is not safety, but to
cause less inconvenience to car drivers stuck for 30 seconds at these
minor crossings. Since the delays at level crossings are a roads
problem, and collisions of errant motorists with trains at level
crossings is a roads problem, and the South Morang railway reservation
existed far before any of the roads were put in place, I'm wondering
whether you can answer why the blowout in costs of construction of
train lines comes out of the public transport budget, and not at the
expense of what causes these problems in the first place - the roads?
These train lines become harder to build because of an artificial cost
inflation caused by something that will be less of a problem if only
we could built more rail lines and actually improve the Melbourne
public transport system and make it attractive to use, for once (we've
been waiting for 80 years).


Yours sincerely,


And a little while later, the reply!

July 01, 2013

Tim ConnorsYarra trail pontoon closures

I do have to admit, I had some fun writing this one:

Dear Transport Minister, Terry Mulder (Denis Napthine, Local MP Ted Baillieu, Ryan Smith MP responsible for Parks Victoria, Parks Victoria itself, and Bicycle Victoria CCed),

I am writing about the sudden closure of the Main Yarra bicycle trail around Punt Road. The floating sections of the trail have been closed for the foreseeable future because of some over-zealous lawyer at Parks Victoria who has decided that careless riders might injure themselves on the rare occasion when the pontoon is both icy, and resting on the bottom of the Yarra at very low tides, sloping sideways at a minor angle. The trail has been closed before Parks Victoria have even planned for how they're going to rectify the problem with the pontoons. Instead, the lawyers have forced riders to take to parallel streets such as Swan St (which I took tonight in the rain, negotiating the thin strip between parked cars far enough from their doors being flung out illegally by careless drivers, and the wet tram tracks beside them). Obviously, causing riders to take these detours will be very much less safe than just keeping the trail open until a plan is developed, but I can see why Parks Victoria would want to shift the legal burden away from them.

I have no faith that the pontoon will be fixed in the foreseeable future without your intervention, because of past history -- that trail has been partially closed for about 18 months out of the past 3 years due to the very important works on the freeway above (keeping the economy going, as they say, by digging ditches and filling them immediately back up again).

Since we're already wasting $15B on an east-west freeway tunnel that will do absolutely nothing to alleviate traffic congestion because the outbound (Easterly direction) freeway is already at capacity in the afternoon without the extra induced traffic this project will add, I was wondering if you could spare a few million to duplicate the only easterly bicycle trail we have, so that these sorts of incidents don't reoccur and have so much impact on riders in the future.

I do hope that this trail will be fixed in a timely fashion before myself and all other 3000-4000 cyclists who currently use the trail every day resorting to riding through any of your freeway tunnels.

Yours sincerely,

Me

April 14, 2013

Tim Connors

Oh well, if The Age aren't going to publish my Thatcher rant, I will:

Jan White (
Letters, 11 Apr) is heavily misguided if she believes that Thatcher was one of Britain's greatest leaders. For whom? By any metric 70% of Brits cared about, she was one of the worst. Any harmony, strength of character and respect Brits may be missing now would be due to her having nearly destroyed everything about British society with her Thatchernomics. Her funeral should be privatised and definitely not funded by the state as it is going to be. Instead, it could be funded by the long queue of people who want to dance on her grave.

March 21, 2013

Tim ConnorsRagin' on the road

Since The Age didn't publish my letter, my 3 readers ought to see it anyway:


Reynah Tang of the Law Institute of Victoria says that road rage offences shouldn't necessarily lead to loss of licence ("Offenders risk losing their licence", The Age, Mar 21) . He misses the point -- a vehicle is a weapon. Road ragers demonstrably do not have enough self control to drive. They have already lost their temper when in control of such a weapon, so they must never be given a licence to use that weapon again (the weapon should also be forfeited). The same is presumably true of gun murderers after their initial jail time (which road ragers rarely are given). RACV's Brian Negus also doesn't appear to realise that a driving license is a privilege, not an automatic right. You can still have all your necessary mobility without your car - it's not a human rights issue.


It was less than 200 words even dammit! But because the editor didn't check the basic arithmetic in a previous day's letter, they had to publish someone's correction.

November 18, 2012

Ben McGinnesFixed it

I've fixed the horrible errors that were sending my tweets here, it only took a few hours.

To do that I've had to disable cross-posting and it looks like it won't even work manually, so my updates will likely only occur on my own domain.

Details of the changes are here. They include better response times for my domain and no more Twitter posts on the main page, which should please those of you who hate that. Apparently that's a lot of people, but since I hate being inundated with FarceBook's crap I guess it evens out.

The syndicated feed for my site around here somewhere will get everything, but there's only one subscriber to that (last time I checked) and she's smart enough to decide how she wants to deal with that.

Ben McGinnesTweet Sometimes I amaze even myself; I remembered the pa…

Sometimes I amaze even myself; I remembered the passphrases to old PGP keys I thought had been lost to time. #crypto

Originally published at Organised Adversary. Please leave any comments there.

Ben McGinnesTweet These are the same keys I referred to in the PPAU…

These are the same keys I referred to in the PPAU #NatSecInquiry submission as being able to be used against me. #crypto

Originally published at Organised Adversary. Please leave any comments there.

Ben McGinnesTweet Now to give them their last hurrah: sign my curren…

Now to give them their last hurrah: sign my current key with them and then revoke them! #crypto

Originally published at Organised Adversary. Please leave any comments there.

October 26, 2011

Donna Benjaminheritage and hysterics

Originally published at KatteKrab. Please leave any comments there.

This gorgeous photo of The Queen in Melbourne on the Royal Tram made me smile this morning.

I've long been a proponent of an Australian Republic - but the populist hysteria of politicians, this photo, and the Kingdom of the Netherlands is actually making me rethink that position.

At least for today.  Long may she reign over us.

"Queen Elizabeth II smiles as she rides on the royal tram down St Kilda Road"
Photo from Getty Images published on theage.com.au

October 02, 2011

Donna BenjaminSticks and Stones and Speech

Originally published at KatteKrab. Please leave any comments there.

THE law does treat race differently: it is not unlawful to publish an article that insults, offends, humiliates or intimidates old people, for instance, or women, or disabled people. Professor Joseph, director of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University, said in principle ''humiliate and intimidate'' could be extended to other anti-discrimination laws. But historically, racial and religious discrimination is treated more seriously because of the perceived potential for greater public order problems and violence.

Peter Munro The Age  2 Oct 2011

Ahaaa. Now I get it! We've been doing it wrong. 

Racial villification is against the law because it might be more likely to lead to violence than villifying women, the elderly or the disabled.

Interesting debates and articles about free speech and discrimination are bobbing up and down in the flotsam and jetsam of the Bolt decision. Much of it seems to hinge on some kind of legal see-saw around notions of a bad law about bad words.

I've always been a proponent of the sticks and stones philosophy.  For those not familiar, it's the principle behind a children's nursery rhyme.

Sticks and Stones may break my bones
But  words will never hurt me

But I'm increasingly disturbed by the hateful culture of online comment.  I am a very strong proponent of the human right to free expression, and abhor censorship, but I'm seriously sick of "My right to free speech" being used as the ultimate excuse for people using words to denigrate, humiliate, intimidate, belittle and attack others, particularly women.

We should defend a right to free speech, but condemn hate speech when ever and where ever we see it.  Maybe we actually need to get violent to make this stop? Surely not.

September 20, 2011

Donna BenjaminQantas Pilots

Originally published at KatteKrab. Please leave any comments there.

The Qantas Pilot Safety culture is something worth fighting to protect. I read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers whilst on board a Qantas flight recently. While Qantas itself isn't mentioned in the book, a footnote listed Australia as having the 2nd lowest Pilot Power-Distance Index (PDI) in the world. New Zealand had the lowest. The entire chapter "The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes" is the strongest argument I've seen which explains the Qantas safety record. The experience of pilots and relationships amongst the entire air crew is a crucial differentiating factor. Other airlines work hard to develop this culture, often needing to work against their own cultural patterns to achieve it. At Qantas, and likely at other Australian airlines too, this culture is the norm.

I want Australian Qantas Pilots flying Qantas planes. I'd like an Australian in charge too.

If you too support Qantas Pilots - go to their website, sign the petition.

Do your own reading.

G.R. Braithwaite, R.E. Caves, J.P.E. Faulkner, Australian aviation safety — observations from the ‘lucky’ countryJournal of Air Transport Management, Volume 4, Issue 1, January 1998: 55-62.

Anthony Dennis, What it takes to become a Qantas pilot news.com.au, 8 September 2011.

Ashleigh Merritt, Culture in the Cockpit: Do Hofstede’s Dimensions Replicate?  Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, May 2000 31: 283-30.

Matt Phillips, Malcolm Gladwell on Culture, Cockpit Communication and Plane Crashes, WSJ Blogs, 4 December 2008.

 

September 18, 2011

Donna BenjaminRegistering for LCA2012

Originally published at KatteKrab. Please leave any comments there.

linux.conf.au ballarat 2012

I am right now, at this very minute, registering for linux.conf.au in Ballarat in January. Creating my planet feed. Yep. Uhuh.

I reckon the "book a bus" feature of rego is pretty damn cool.  I won't be using it, because I'll be driving up from Melbourne. Serious kudos to the Ballarat team. Also nice to see they'll add busses from Avalon airport as well as from Tullamarine airport if there's demand.

Too cool.