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To what extent should Free Software respect its users?

The question, strange as it may sound, is not only valid but also becoming more and more important these days. If you think that the four freedoms are enough to guarantee that the Free Software will respect the user, you are probably being oversimplistic. The four freedoms are essential, but they are not sufficient. You need more. I need more. And this is why I think the Free Software movement should have been called the Respectful Software movement.

I know I will probably hear that I am too radical. And I know I will hear it even from those who defend Free Software the way I do. But I need to express this feeling I have, even though I may be wrong about it.

It all began as an innocent comment. I make lots of presentations and talks about Free Software, and, knowing that the word “Free” is ambiguous in English, I started joking that Richard Stallman should have named the movement “Respectful Software”, instead of “Free Software”. If you think about it just a little, you will see that “respect” is a word that brings different interpretations to different people, just as “free” does. It is a subjective word. However, at least it does not have the problem of referring to completely unrelated things such as “price” and “freedom”. Respect is respect, and everybody knows it. What can change (and often does) is what a person considers respectful or not.

(I am obviously not considering the possible ambiguity that may exist in another language with the word “respect”.)

So, back to the software world. I want you to imagine a Free Software. For example, let's consider one that is used to connect to so-called “social networks” like GNU Social or pump.io. I do not want to use a specific example here; I am more interested in the consequences of a certain decision. Which decision? Keep reading :-).

Now, let's imagine that this Free Software is just beginning its life, probably in some code repository under the control of its developer(s), but most likely using some proprietary service like GitHub (which is an issue by itself). And probably the developer is thinking: “Which social network should my software support first?”. This is an extremely valid and important question, but sometimes the developer comes up with an answer that may not be satisfactory to its users. This is where the “respect” comes into play.

In our case, this bad answer would be “Facebook”, “Twitter”, “Linkedin”, or any other unethical social network. However, those are exactly the easiest answers for many and many Free Software developers, either because those “vampiric” services are popular among users, or because the developer him/herself uses them!! By now, you should be able to see where I am getting at. My point, in a simple question, is: “How far should we, Free Software developers, allow users to go and harm themselves and the community?”. Yes, this is not just a matter of self-inflicted restrictions, as when the user chooses to use a non-free software to edit a text file, for example. It is, in most cases, a matter of harming the community too. (I have written a post related to this issue a while ago, called “Privacy as a Collective Good”.)

It should be easy to see that it does not matter if I am using Facebook through my shiny Free Software application on my computer or cellphone. What really matters is that, when doing so, you are basically supporting the use of those unethical social networks, to the point that perhaps some of your friends are also using them because of you. What does it matter if they are using Free Software to access them or not? Is the benefit offered by the Free Software big enough to eliminate (or even soften) the problems that exist when the user uses an unethical service like Linkedin?

I wonder, though, what is the limit that we should obey. Where should we draw the line and say “I will not pass beyond this point”? Should we just “abandon” the users of those unethical services and social networks, while we lock ourselves in our not-very-safe world? After all, we need to communicate with them in order to bring them to our cause, but it is hard doing so without getting our hands dirty. But that is a discussion to another post, I believe.

Meanwhile, I could give plenty of examples of existing Free Softwares that are doing a disservice to the community by allowing (and even promoting) unethical services or solutions for their users. They are disrespecting their users, sometimes exploiting the fact that many users are not fully aware of privacy issues that come as a “gift” when you use those services, without spending any kind of effort to teach the users. However, I do not want this post to become a flamewar, so I will not mention any software explicitly. I think it should be quite easy for the reader to find examples out there.

Perhaps this post does not have a conclusion. I myself have not made my mind completely about the subject, though I am obviously leaning towards what most people would call the “radical” solution. But it is definitely not an easy topic to discuss, or to argument about. Nonetheless, we are closing our eyes to it, and we should not do so. The future of Free Software depends also on what kinds of services we promote, and what kinds of services we actually warn the users against. This is my definition of respect, and this is why I think we should develop Free and Respectful Software.


Yes, you are reading correctly: I decided to buy a freacking Chromebook. I really needed a lightweight notebook with me for my daily hackings while waiting for my subway station, and this one seemed to be the best option available when comparing models and prices. To be fair, and before you throw me rocks, I visited the LibreBoot X60's website for some time, because I was strongly considering buying one (even considering its weight); however, they did not have it in stock, and I did not want to wait anymore, so...

Anyway, as one might expect, configuring GNU/Linux on notebooks is becoming harder as time goes by, either because the infamous Secure Boot (anti-)feature, or because they come with more and more devices that demand proprietary crap to be loaded. But fortunately, it is still possible to overcome most of those problems and still get a GNU/Linux distro running.

References

For main reference, I used the following websites:

I also used other references for small problems that I had during the configuration, and I will list them when needed.

Backing up ChromeOS

The first thing you will probably want to do is to make a recovery image of the ChromeOS that comes pre-installed in the machine, in case things go wrong. Unfortunately, to do that you need to have a Google account, otherwise the system will fail to record the image. So, if you want to let Google know that you bought a Chromebook, login into the system, open Chrome, and go to the special URL chrome://imageburner. You will need a 4 GiB pendrive/sdcard. It should be pretty straightforward to do the recording from there.

Screw the screw

Now comes the hard part. This notebook comes with a write-protect screw. You might be thinking: what is the purpose of this screw?

Well, the thing is: Chromebooks come with their own boot scheme, which unfortunately doesn't work to boot Linux. However, newer models also offer a “legacy boot” option (SeaBIOS), and this can boot Linux. So far, so good, but...

When you switch to SeaBIOS (details below), the system will complain that it cannot find ChromeOS, and will ask if you want to reinstall the system. This will happen every time you boot the machine, because the system is still entering the default BIOS. In order to activate SeaBIOS, you have to press CTRL-L (Control + L) every time you boot! And this is where the screw comes into play.

If you remove the write-protect screw, you will be able to make the system use SeaBIOS by default, and therefore will not need to worry about pressing CTRL-L every time. Sounds good? Maybe not so much...

The first thing to consider is that you will lose your warranty the moment you open the notebook case. As I was not very concerned about it, I decided to try to remove the screw, and guess what happened? I stripped the screw! I am still not sure why that happened, because I was using the correct screw driver for the job, but when I tried to remove the screw, it seemed like butter and started to “decompose”!

Anyway, after spending many hours trying to figure out a way to remove the screw, I gave up. My intention is to always suspend the system, so I rarely need to press CTRL-L anyway...

Well, that's all I have to say about this screwed screw. If you decide to try removing it, keep in mind that I cannot help you in any way, and that you are entirely responsible for what happens.

Now, let's install the system :-).

Enable Developer Mode

You need to enable the Developer Mode in order to be able to enable SeaBIOS. To do that, follow these steps from the Arch[GNU/]Linux wiki page.

I don't remember if this step works if you don't have activated the ChromeOS (i.e., if you don't have a Google account associated with the device). For my use, I just created a fake account to be able to proceed.

Accessing the superuser shell inside ChromeOS

Now, you will need to access the superuser (root) shell inside ChromeOS, to enable SeaBIOS. Follow the steps described in the Arch[GNU/]Linux wiki page. For this specific step, you don't need to login, which is good.

Enabling SeaBIOS

We're almost there! The last step before you boot your Fedora LiveUSB is to actually enable SeaBIOS. Just go inside your superuser shell (from the previous step) and type:

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> crossystem dev_boot_usb=1 dev_boot_legacy=1

And that's it!

If you managed to successfuly remove the write-protect screw, you may also want to enable booting SeaBIOS by default. To do that, there is a guide, again on Arch[GNU/]Linux wiki. DO NOT DO THAT IF YOU DID NOT REMOVE THE WRITE-PROTECT SCREW!!!!

Booting Fedora

Now, we should finally be able to boot Fedora! Remember, you will have to press CTRL-L after you reboot (if you have not removed the write-protect screw), otherwise the system will just complain and not boot into SeaBIOS. So, press CTRL-L, choose the boot order (you will probably want to boot from USB first, if your Fedora is on a USB stick), choose to boot the live Fedora image, and... bum!! You will probably see a message complaining that there was not enough memory to boot (the message is “Not enough memory to load specified image”).

You can solve that by passing the mem parameter to Linux. So, when GRUB complains that it was unable to load the specified image, it will give you a command prompt (boot:), and you just need to type:

#!bash boot: linux mem=1980M

And that's it, things should work.

Installing the system

I won't guide you through the installation process; I just want to remember you that you have a 32 GiB SSD drive, so think carefully before you decide how you want to set up the partitions. What I did was to reserve 1 GB for my swap, and take all the rest to the root partition (i.e., I did not create a separate /home partition).

You will also notice that the touchpad does not work (neither does the touchscreen). So you will have to do the installation using a USB mouse for now.

Getting the touchpad to work

I strongly recommend you to read this Fedora bug, which is mostly about the touchpad/touchscreen support, but also covers other interesting topics as well.

Anyway, the bug is still being constantly updated, because the proposed patches to make the touchpad/touchscreen work were not fully integrated into Linux yet. So, depending on the version of Linux that you are running, you will probably need to run a different version of the scripts that are being kindly provided in the bug.

As of this writing, I am running Linux 3.16.2-201.fc20, and the script that does the job for me is this one. If you are like me, you will never run a script without looking at what it does, so go there and do it, I will wait :-).

OK, now that you are confident, run the script (as root, of course), and confirm that it actually installs the necessary drivers to make the devices work. In my case, I only got the touchpad working, even though the touchscreen is also covered by this script. However, since I don't want the touchscreen, I did not investigate this further.

After the installation, reboot your system and at least your touchpad should be working :-). Or kind of...

What happened to me was that I was getting strange behaviors with the touchpad. Sometimes (randomly), its sensitivity became weird, and it was very hard to move the pointer or to click on things. Fortunately, I found the solution in the same bug, in this comment by Yannick Defais. After creating this X11 configuration file, everything worked fine.

Getting suspend to work

Now comes the hard part. My next challenge was to get suspend to work, because (as I said above) I don't want to poweroff/poweron every time.

My first obvious attempt was to try to suspend using the current configuration that came with Fedora. The notebook actually suspended, but then it resumed 1 second later, and the system froze (i.e., I had to force the shutdown by holding the power button for a few seconds). Hmm, it smelled like this would take some effort, and my nose was right.

After a lot of search (and asking in the bug), I found out about a few Linux flags that I could provide in boot time. To save you time, this is what I have now in my /etc/default/grub file:

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GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX="tpm_tis.force=1 tpm_tis.interrupts=0 ..."

The final ... means that you should keep whatever was there before you included those parameters, of course. Also, after you edit this file, you need to regenerate the GRUB configuration file on /boot. Run the following command as root:

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> grub2-mkconfig -o /boot/grub2/grub.cfg

Then, after I rebooted the system, I found that only adding those flags was still not enough. I saw a bunch of errors on dmesg, which showed me that there was some problem with EHCI and xHCI. After a few more research, I found the this comment on an Arch[GNU/]Linux forum. Just follow the steps there (i.e., create the necessary files, especially the /usr/lib/systemd/system-sleep/cros-sound-suspend.sh), and things should start to get better. But not yet...

Now, you will see that suspend/resume work OK, but when you suspend, the system will still resume after 1 second or so. Basically, this happens because the system is using the touchpad and the touchscreen to determine whether it should resume from suspend or not. So basically what you have to do is to disable those sources of events:

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echo TPAD > /proc/acpi/wakeup
echo TSCR > /proc/acpi/wakeup

And voilà! Now everything should work as expected :-). You might want to issue those commands every time you boot the system, in order to get suspend to work every time, of course. To do that, you can create a /etc/rc.d/rc.local, which gets executed when the system starts:

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> cat /etc/rc.d/rc.local
#!/bin/bash

suspend_tricks()
{
  echo TPAD > /proc/acpi/wakeup
  echo TSCR > /proc/acpi/wakeup
}

suspend_tricks

exit 0

Don't forget to make this file executable:

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> chmod +x /etc/rc.d/rc.local

Conclusion

Overall, I am happy with the machine. I still haven't tried installing Linux-libre on it, so I am not sure if it can work without binary blobs and proprietary craps.

I found the keyboard comfortable, and the touchpad OK. The only extra issue I had was using the Canadian/French/whatever keyboard that comes with it, because it lacks some useful keys for me, like Page Up/Down, Insert, and a few others. So far, I am working around this issue by using xbindkeys and xvkdb.

I do not recommend this machine if you are not tech-savvy enough to follow the steps listed in this post. If that is the case, then consider buying a machine that can easily run GNU/Linux, because you feel much more comfortable configuring it!


It has been a while since I dream of being able to send encrypted e-mail to everyone in my contact list. It is still a distant future, but fortunately it is getting closer with campaigns like the Reset the Net. And while I already send encrypted messages to a couple of friends, it is always good to discover (and share!) some configuration tips to make your life easy :-).

I use Gnus as my e-mail (and news!) reader for quite a while, and I can say it is a very nice piece of software (kudos to Lars and all the devs!). For those who are not aware, Gnus runs inside Emacs, which is a very nice operating system (and text editor also).

Emacs provides EasyPG for those who want to make use of cryptographic operations inside it, and Gnus also uses it to encrypt/decrypt the messages it handles. I am using it for my own messages, and it works like a charm. However, there was something that I had not had configured properly: the ability to read the encrypted messages that I was sending to my friends.

In a brief explanation, when you send an encrypted message GnuPG looks at the recipients of the message (i.e., the people that will receive it, listed in the “From:”, “Cc:” and “Bcc:” fields) and encrypts it according to each recipient's public key, which must be present in your local keyring. But when you send a message to someone, you are not (usually) present in the original recipients list, so GnuPG does not encrypt the message using your public key, and therefore you are unable to read the message later. In fact, this example can be used to illustrate how secure this system really is, when not even the sender can read his/her message again!

Anyway, this behavior was mostly unnoticed by me because I rarely look at my “Sent/” IMAP folder. Until today. And it kind of pissed me off, because I wanted to read what I wrote, damn it! So, after looking for a solution, I found a neat GnuPG setting called hidden-encrypt-to. It basically tells GnuPG to add a hidden recipient in every message it encrypts. So, all I had to do was to provide my key's ID and ask GnuPG to always encrypt the message to myself too.

You basically have to edit your $HOME/.gnupg/gpg.conf file and put this setting there:

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hidden-encrypt-to ID

That's it. Now, whenever I send an encrypted message, GnuPG encrypts it for me as well, so I just need to go to my “Sent/” folder, and decrypt it to read.

I hope this tip helps you the same way it helped me!


This post is massively inspired by a post in the gnu-prog-discuss mailing list. This is a closed list of the GNU Project, and only GNU maintainers and contributors can join, so I cannot put a link to the original message (by Mike Gerwitz), but this topic is being discussed over and over again at many places, so you will not have trouble finding similar opinions. I am also “responding” to a recent discussion that I had with Luiz Izidoro, which is a “friend” (as he himself likes to say) of the LibrePlanet São Paulo group.

Mike's point is simple: we, Free Software activists, are the geeks (or nerds) at school, surrounded by the “popular guys” all over again. In case it is not clear, the “popular guys” are the people who do not care about the Free Software ideology; the programmers who license their softwares using permissive licenses using the excuse of “more freedom”, but give away their work to increase the proprietary world.

It is undeniable that the Free Software, as a technical movement, has won. Anywhere you look, you see Free Software being developed and used. It is important to say that by “Free Software” I mean not only copyleft programs, but also permissive ones. However, it is also undeniable that several proprietary programs and solutions are being developed with the help of those permissive Free Softwares, without giving anything back to the community, as usual.

Numbers speak for themselves, so I am posting here the example that Mike used in his message, about Trello, a “web-based project management application”, according to Wikipedia. It is quite popular among project managers, and I know about two or three companies that use it, though I have never used it myself (luckily). Being web-based, it is full of Javascript code, and I appreciated the work Mike had to determine which pieces of Free Software Trello uses. The result is:

jQuery, Sizzle, jQuery UI, jQuery Widget, jQuery UI Mouse, jQuery UI Position, jQuery UI Draggable, jQuery UI Droppable, jQuery UI Sortable, jQuery UI Datepicker, Hogan, Backbone, JSON2 (Crockford), Markdown.js, Socket.io, Underscore.js, Bootstrap, Backbone, and Mustache

You can see the license headers of all those projects here:

This is only on the client-side, i.e., the Javascript portion. I will not post the link to the full Javascript code (condensed in one single file) because I do not have permission to do so, but it should not be hard to take a look yourself if you are curious.

On the server side, Mike came up with this list of Free Softwares being used by Trello:

MongoDB, Redis, Node.js, HAProxy, Express, Connect, Cluster, node_redis, Mongoose, node-mogodb-native, async, CofeeScript, and probably more

Quite a lot of Free Software, right? And Trello advertises itself as being “free”, which might confuse the inexperient reader because they are talking about price, not about freedom.

The lesson we learn is obvious but no less painful. He who contributes to Free Software using permissive licenses is directly contributing to the dissemination of proprietary software. And the corolary should be obvious as well: you are being exploited. Another nice addition made by Mike is a quote by Larry Ellison, CEO and founder of Oracle Corporation, about Free Software (and Open Source):

“If an open source product gets good enough, we'll simply take it.... So the great thing about open source is nobody owns it – a company like Oracle is free to take it for nothing, include it in our products and charge for support, and that's what we'll do. So it is not disruptive at all – you have to find places to add value. Once open source gets good enough, competing with it would be insane. ... We don't have to fight open source, we have to exploit open source.”

So, do you really think you have more freedom because you can choose BSD/MIT over GPL? Do you really think you it doesn't matter what other people do to your code, which you released as a Free Software? What are your goal with this movement, contribute to a better Free Software ecosystem (which will lead to a society which is more fair), or just getting your name in the hall of (f|sh)ame?

Back to the initial point, about not being “popular” among your friends (or be the “radical”, “extremist”, and other adjectives), I believe Mike hit the nail when he said that, because that is exactly how I am feeling currently, and I know other Free Softwares activists feel exactly the same. To defend a copyleft license is to defend something that is wrong, because, in the “popular kids' view”, copyleft is about anything but freedom! The cool thing now is to be indifferent, or even to think that it is nice that proprietary software can coexist with Free Software, so let's give it a help and release everything we can under permissive licenses. I could mention lots of very nice Free Softwares that chose to be permissive because their maintainers thought (and still think) GPL is evil.

I contributed and still contribute to some Free Softwares that are permissive licensed. And despite trying to use only copyleft software, sometimes I replace some of them by permissive ones, and do not feel guilty about it. I do that because I believe in Free Software, and I believe we should support it in every way we can. But doing so is also nocive to our cause. We are supporting softwares that are contributing to the proprietary world, even if that is not what their developers want. We are making it very easy for people like Larry Ellison to win and think they can exploit what other people are doing for free(dom). We are feeding our own enemy in their mouths. And we should be very careful about that.

This post is a request. I am asking you a favor. Please, consider (re)licensing your project using a copyleft license. If you do value what Free Software is about (or even what Open Source is about!), then help spread it by not helping the proprietary side. I am not asking you to join our ideological cause (or maybe I am?); feel free to stay out of this if you want. But please, at least consider helping the Free Software community by avoiding making your code permissive, which will give too much power to the unethical side.

Thank you!


It has been a while since I wanted to write about this subject. At many presentations that I gave during these last 2 years, I used the expression in the title in order to try to raise more awareness about why we should take care of our privacy (and maybe everyone's). But what does it really mean?

First of all, this article is not a copy of Benjamin Mako's Google Has Most of My Email Because It Has All of Yours. And I would also like to take this opportunity to recommend this great article; it provides many insights that some people do not even realize.

But back to the point: privacy is a collective good, and we should preserve it. The explanation of why I am calling privacy something “collective” is simple, and if you read Ben's article you probably know it by now: whenever I send an e-mail to someone who uses Gmail, Google will have a copy of it, even if I don't have a Google account. What does it mean? It means that I pay my own server in order to run my own e-mail infrastructure and not have my privacy disrespected, but in the end of the day the majority of my efforts are useless. Which boils down to something that may be hard to read, but is true: you are not respecting my privacy. Your displicence with your privacy is forcing me, who needs to communicate with you, to give up my privacy as well, even if for a small portion of time. But it's not only about e-mail...

Another common example is Facebook. I don't have an account there, and don't plan to have one, despite the pressure coming from the society sometimes. However, when you take a picture of me and post it there, or when you mention something about me on your Facebook, you are also disrespecting my privacy. If I don't have Facebook, it is because I do not want to become a product for them and have my personal data sold to advertisement companies, nor have it shared with the NSA. You, on the other hand, do not care about this, and post things about me and other people without their permission. This is wrong, and you are disrespecting my privacy.

I chose to use this argument because oftentimes people are not concerned about their privacy, and think that “if I have nothing to hide, then I don't need privacy”. I won't even begin discussing this absurd, because that is not the point of this article. Instead, I noticed that sometimes people pay more attention if you say that they are disrespecting someone else's right. Maybe I am wrong, but I still think it is worth trying to open everyone's eyes for something that seems to have been forgotten by most.


After trying (and failing!) to find a guide, how-to, or anything that could help me in the migration from Jabberd2 to Prosody on my personal server, I decided to write my own version here. I hope it can help other people who want to do this somewhat painful procedure!

Struggling with Jabberd2

When I installed my personal server, I chose Jabberd2 as my Jabber server. At that time, this choice seemed the most logical to me because of a few reasons:

  1. It is written in C, which is my favorite language and, therefore, would make it easier for me if I ever wanted to fix something in the software (as it really happened afterwards).
  2. Looking at the page comparing different Jabber servers at Wikipedia, I found that Jabberd2 was mature enough to be used seriously.
  3. I knew some people who uses it in their own servers, and they said good things about it.

So, the decision seemed pretty simple for me: Jabberd2 would be my choice! And then the problems started...

The first issue I had to solve was not Jabberd2's fault: I am using Debian Wheezy (stable) in my server, and Jabberd2 is only available for Debian Jessie (testing) or Sid (unstable). Therefore, I had to create my own version of the Jabberd2 Debian package (and all its dependencies that were not packaged) for Wheezy, which took me about 1 day. But after that, I managed to install the software in my server. Then, the configuration hell began...

Jabberd2 uses configuration files written in XML. They are well documented, with helpful comments inside. But they are confuse, as confuse as XML can be. Of course you have to take into account that it was my first time configuring a Jabber server, which added a lot to the complexity of the task. However, I feel compelled to say that the way Jabberd2 organizes its configuration files makes it a much more complex work than it should be. Nevertheless, and after lots of fails, I managed to set the server up properly. Yay!

Now, before I continue complaining, one good thing about Jabberd2: it has never crashed with me. I consider this to be something good because I am a software developer myself and I know that, despite our best efforts, bad things can happen. But Jabberd2 takes the gold medal on this one...

However... My confidence on Jabberd2's security was severily damaged when I found that the SQLite backend could not encrypt the users's passwords!!! I stumbled on this issue by myself, while naively dumping my SQLite database to check something there... You can imagine how (badly) impressed I was when I saw my password there, in plaintext. I decided to fix this issue ASAP. Hopefully next users will benefit from this fix.

After that, the bell rang in my head and I started to look for alternatives for Jabberd2. Though I still want to contribute to the project eventually (I am even working on a patch to merge all the database backends), I wanted to have a little bit more confidence in the software that I use as my Jabber server.

Meeting Prosody

Prosody came to my attention when I was setting up the server for our local Free Software group in Brazil. You can reach our wiki here (in pt_br) if you are interested. We wanted to offer a few services to our members/friends, and Jabber was obviously one of them. This happened after I discovered the bug in Jabberd2's SQLite backend, so using Jabberd2 was not a choice anymore. We had heard ejabberd, which was being used by Jabber-BR (they recently migrated to Prosody as well), but the fact that it is written in Erlang, a language that I am not familiar with, has contributed to our decision of dropping the idea. So, the only choice left was Prosody itself.

Since I am brazilian, I also feel a little bit proud of Prosody because it is writte in Lua, a programming language designed by brazilians.

We installed Prosody on our server, and it was amazingly easy to configure it! The configuration file is writte in Lua as well, which makes it a lot easier to read than XML. It is also well documented, and I felt that they were more organized too: you have small configuration files splitted by categories, instead of one big XML to edit.

The modular structure of Prosody also impressed me. You can load and unload many modules very easily, generally just by (un)commenting lines on the configuration file. Neat.

Prosody also offers a command-line program to manage the server, which is really helpful if you want to automatize some tasks and write scripts. There is a little thing that still annoys me, which is the fact that this command-line program does not have a very useful "--help" command, but I plan to propose a patch to fix that.

And at last, but definitely not least, Prosody is also very robust, and have not crashed one single time with us. It runs smoothly in the server, and although I haven't really compared the memory footprint of Jabberd2 and Prosody, I have nothing to complain about it too.

The Migration Process

Well, so after all this story, I think it is clear why I decided to migrate to Prosody. However, it was not an easy task.

Before we begin to understand the procedure needed to do the migration, I would like to say a few things. First, I would like to thank the guys at the Prosody chatroom, who were very helpful and provided several resources to make this migration possible. And I would also like to say that these instructions apply if you are running jabberd2_2.2.17-1 and prosody-0.8.2-4+deb7u2!! I have not tested with other versions of those softwares, so do it at your own risk.

The first thing you have to do is to convert Jabberd2's database to XEP-0227. This XEP is very nice: it defines a standard format to import/export user data to and from XMPP servers. Unfortunately, not every server supports this XEP, and Jabberd2 is one of those... So I started looking for ways to extract the information which was inside Jabberd2's SQLite database in a XEP-0227 compatible way. Thanks to the guys at the Prosody chatroom, I found a tool called sleekmigrate. It allowed me to generate a XEP-0227 file that could be imported into Prosody. Nice! But... I needed to extract this information from Jabberd2, and sleekmigrate could not do it. Back to the beginning...

It took me quite a while to figure out how to extract this info from Jabberd2. I was initially looking for ways (other than using sleekmigrate) that would allow me to extract this info directly from Jabberd2's SQLite database, but could not find it. Only when I read that sleekmigrate could actually work with jabberd14 data directories directly, I had the idead to find a way to convert my SQLite database into a jabberd14 data directory, and then I found this link: it teaches how to migrate from Jabberd2 to ejabberd, and has separate instructions on how to do the Jabberd2 -> Jabberd14 conversion! Sweet!

The first thing you have to do is to download the j2to1 Perl script. I had to patch the script to make it work with SQLite, and also to fix a little bug in a SQL query; you can grab my patched version here. Save the file as j2to1.pl, and run the script (don't forget to edit the source code in order to provide the database name/file):

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$> perl j2to1.pl jabberd14-dir/
Converting user@host...
$>

This will convert the database from Jabberd2 to Jabberd14, and put the XML file of each Jabber user in the server into jabberd14-dir/host/. Now, you have a Jabberd14 version of your user data. Let's proceed with the migration.

After following the instructions on the sleekmigrate page on how to set it up, you can run it on your Jabberd14 data directory in order to finally generate a XEP-0227 XML file that will be imported into Prosody.

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$> ./sleekmigrate.py -j /path/to/jabberd14-dir/

This should create a file called 227.xml on your current directory, which is the exported version of the Jabberd14 data directory. As a side note, it is always recommended to check those generated files in order to see if everything is OK.

Right, so now you have 227.xml, which means you can finally import it into Prosody. Fortunately, Prosody has a tool to help you with that: it is a Lua script called xep227toprosody.lua. However, if you are doing this using Debian and the same versions of the softwares that I was using, you may find it harder than it seems to run this script without errors. Here is what I had to do.

First, grab a copy of version 0.8.2 of Prosody. I had to do that because using the latest version of the script was not working. I also had to build some POSIX module of Prosody in order to make everything work. To do that, unpack the tar.gz file, go to the Prosody source code directory, and do:

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$> apt-get build-dep prosody && ./configure --ostype=debian && make

Only after I did that I could finally run the conversion script successfully. The script is locate inside the tools/ directory. To run it:

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$> cd tools && lua ./xep227toprosody.lua /path/to/227.xml

And yay! I finally had everything imported into Prosody!!!! Then it was just a matter of finishing the server configuration, initializing it, and everything was there: my contacts, my user, etc.

Conclusion

The migration was not very easy, especially because Jabberd2 does not support XEP-0227. I found a bug against Jabberd2 that requested this feature to be implemented, but it was not receiving any attention. Of course, if Jabberd2 implemented XEP-0227 it would make it easier for people to migrate from it, but it would also make it easier to migrate to it, so it is definitely not a bad thing to have.

Despite some difficulties, Prosody made it really easy to import my data, so kudos to it. The Prosody community is also very responsive and helpful, which made me feel very good about it. I hope I can contribute some patches to the project :-).

So, that's it. I hope this guide will be helpful to anyone who is planning to do this migration. Feel free to contact me about mistakes/comments/suggestions.

Happy migration!


Narcissistic behavior


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People talk about themselves all the time. Directly or indirectly, they usually have the intention to promote their views, opinions, or increase their self-esteem. I'm wondering now if I'm too radical when I say that I do bother about this behavior...

Sometimes I can't stand being close to someone who is a narcissist. However, what really pisses me off is talking to someone who pretends not to be a narcissist! This is absurdly annoying. They frequently talk about themselves, mentioning their freaking achievements, secretly waiting for other people to admire them, but they also like to say that they are not so good as they wanted, or that they should give more value to what they do, and so on...

Oh, man. Really? Can't you just stop appraising yourself externally, and start doing this internally, which is by far the most important thing to do? Can't you just be a nice guy/girl and stop talking about yourself like you were in a freaking presentation?

On the other hand, I understand that this kind of people probably have some serious internal issues (who doesn't, huh?), and they probably want everyone to pay attention to them as much as possible. We've got to be patient with them, understand their problem, and maybe try to help (how??). But sometimes it's just too hard to do that.

New year's resolution? Nah, I don't think so...


The Free Software Foundation has a Twitter account. Surprised? So am I, in a negative way, of course. And I will explain why on this post.

You may not agree with me on everything I write here, and I am honestly expecting some opposition, but I would like to make it crystal clear that my purpose is to raise awareness for the most important "feature" an organization should have: coherence.

The shock

I first learned about the Twitter account on IRC. I was hanging around in the #fsf channel on Freenode, when someone mentioned that "... something has just been posted on FSF's Twitter!" (yes, it was a happy announcement, not a complaint). I thought it was a joke, but before laughing I decided to confirm. And to my deepest sorrow, I was wrong. The Free Software Foundation has a Twitter account. The implications of this are mostly bad not only for the Foundation itself, but also for us, Free Software users and advocates.

Twitter uses Free Software to run its services. So does Facebook, and I would even bet that Microsoft runs some GNU/Linux machines serving intranet pages... But the thing is not about what a web service uses. It is about endorsement. And I will explain.

Free ads, anyone?

I remember having this crazy thought some years ago, when I saw some small company in Brazil putting the Facebook logo in their product's box. What surprised me was that the Facebook logo was actually bigger than the company's logo! What the heck?!?! This is "Marketing 101": you are drawing attention to Facebook, not to your company who actually made the product. And from that moment on, every time I see Coca Cola putting a "Find us on http://facebook.com/cocacola" (don't know if the URL is valid, it's just an example) I have this strange feeling of how an internet company can twist the rules of marketing and get free ads everywhere...

My point is simple: when a company uses a web service, it is endorsing the use of this same web service, even if in an indirect way. And the same applies to organizations, or foundations, for that matter. So the question I had in my mind when I saw FSF's Twitter account was: do we really want to endorse Twitter? So I sent them an e-mail...

Talking to the FSF - First message

I have exchanged some interesting messages with Kyra, FSF's Campaign Organizer, and with John Sullivan, FSF's Executive Director. I will not post the messages here because I don't have their permission to do so, but I will try to summarize what we discussed, and the outcomings.

My first message was basically requiring some clarifications. I had read this interesting page about the presence of FSF on Twitter, and expressed my disagreement about the arguments used there.

They explicitly say that Twitter uses nonfree JavaScript, and suggest that the reader use a free client to access it. Yet, they still close their eyes to the fact that a big part of the Twitter community use it through the browser, or through some proprietary application.

They also acknowledge that Twitter accounts have privacy issues. This is obvious for anyone interested in privacy, and the FSF even provides a link to an interesting story about subpoenas during the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Nevertheless, the FSF still thinks it's OK to have a Twitter account, because it uses Twitter via a bridge which connects FSF's StatusNet instance to Twitter. Therefore, in their vision, they are not really using Twitter (at least, they are not using the proprietary JavaScript), and well, let the bridge do its job...

This is nonsense. Again: when a foundation uses a web service, it is endorsing it, even if indirectly! And that was the main argument I have used when I wrote to them. Let's see how they replied...

FSF answers

The answer I've got to my first message was not very good (very weak arguments), so I won't even bother talking about it here. I had to send another message to make it clear that I was interested in real answers.

After the second reply, it became clear to me that the main point of the FSF is to reach as many people as they can, and pass along the message of software user freedom. I have the impression that it doesn't really matter the means they will use for that, as long as it is not Facebook (more on that latter). So if it takes using a web service that disrespects privacy and uses nonfree Javascript, so be it.

It also seems to me that the FSF believes in an illusion created by themselves. In some messages, they said that they would try to do a harder job at letting people know that using Twitter is not the solution, but part of the problem (the irony is that they would do that using Twitter). However, sometimes I look at FSF's Twitter account, and so far nothing has been posted about this topic. Regular people just don't know that there are alternatives to Twitter.

I will take the liberty to tell a little story now. I told the same story to them, to no avail. Let's imagine the following scenario: John has just heard about Free Software and is beginning to study about it. He does not have a Twitter account, but one of the first things he finds when he looks for Free Software on the web is FSF's Twitter. So, he thinks: "Hey, I would like to receive news about Free Software, and it's just a Twitter account away! Neat!". Then, he creates a Twitter account and starts following FSF there.

Can you imagine this happening in the real world? I definitely can.

The FSF is also mistaken when they think that they should go to Twitter in order to reach people. I wrote them, and I will say it again here, that I think we should create ways to reach those users "indirectly" (which, as it turns out, would be more direct!), trying to promote events, conferences, talks, face-to-face gatherings, etc. The LibrePlanet project, for example, is a great way of doing this job through local communities, and the FSF should pay a lot more attention to it in my opinion! These are "offline" alternatives, and I confess I think we should discuss the "online" ones with extra care, because we are in such a sad situation regarding the Internet now that I don't even know where to start...

And last, but definitely not least, the FSF is being incoherent. When it says that "it is OK to use Twitter through a bridge in a StatusNet instance", then it should also be coherent and do the same thing for Facebook. One can use Facebook through bridges connecting privacy-friendly services such as Diaspora and Friendica (the fact that Diaspora itself has a Facebook account for the project is a topic I won't even start to discuss). And through those bridges, the FSF will be able to reach much more people than through Twitter.

I am not, in any way, comparing Twitter and Facebook. I am very much aware that Facebook has its own set of problems, which are bigger and worse than Twitter's (in the most part). But last time I checked, we were not trying to find the best between both. They are both bad in their own ways, and the FSF should not be using either of them!

Conclusion

My conversation with the FSF ended after a few more messages. It was clear to me that they would not change anything (despite their promises to raise awareness to alternatives to Twitter, as I said above), and I don't believe in infinite discussions about some topic, so I decided to step back. Now, this post is the only thing I can do to try to let people know and think about this subject. It may seem a small problem to solve, and I know that the Free Software community must be together in order to promote the ideas we share and appreciate, but that is precisely why I am writing this.

The Free Software movement was founded on top of ideas and coherence. In order to be successful, we must remain coherent to what we believe. This is not an option, there is no alternative. If we don't defend our own beliefs, no one will.


It is really nice to see something you did in a project influence in future features and developments. I always feel happy and proud when I notice such scenarios happening, and this time was no different. Gary Benson, a colleague at Red Hat who works in the GDB team as well, has implemented a way of improving the interface between the linker and the debugger, and one of the things he used to achieve this is the GDB <-> SystemTap integration that I implemented with Tom Tromey 2 years ago. Neat!

The problem

You can read a detailed description of the problem in the message Gary sent to the gdb-patches mailing list, but to summarize: GDB needs to interface with the linker in order to identify which shared libraries were loaded during the inferior's (i.e., program being debugged) life.

Nowadays, what GDB does is to put a breakpoint in _dl_debug_state, which is an empty function called by the linker every time a shared library is loaded (the linker calls it twice, once before modifying the list of loaded shlibs, and once after). But GDB has no way to know what has changed in the list of loaded shlibs, and therefore it needs to load the entire list every time something happens. You can imagine how bad this is for performance...

The solution

What Gary did was to put SDT probes strategically on the linker, so that GDB could make use of them when examining for changes in the list of loaded shlibs. It improves performance a lot, because now GDB doesn't need to stop twice every time a shlib is loaded (it just needs to do that when stop-on-solib-events is set); it just needs to stop at the right probe, which will inform the address of the link-map entry of the first newly added library. It means GDB also won't need to walk through the list of shlibs and identify what has changed: you get that for free by examining the probe's argument.

Gary also mentions a discrepancy that happened on Solaris libc, which has also been solved by his patch.

And now, the most impressing thing: the numbers! Take a look at this table, which displays the huge improvement in the performance when using lots of shlibs (the time is in seconds):

Number of shlibs 128 256 512 1024 2048 4096
Old interface > 0 > 1 > 4 > 12 > 47 > 185
New interface > 0 > 0 > 2 > 4 > 10 > 36

Impressive, isn't it?

Conclusion

This is one the things I like most in Free Software projects: the possibility of extending and improving things by using what others did before. When I hacked GDB to implement the integration between itself and SystemTap, I had absolutely no idea that this could be used for improving the interface between the linker and the debugger (though I am almost sure that Tom was already thinking ahead!). And I can say it is a pleasure and I feel proud when I see such things happening. It just makes me feel more and more certain that Free Software is the way to go :-).


So long, Ambassadors...


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No, I am not leaving the Fedora Project, I am just leaving (or taking a break, depending on how you look) its Ambassadors program. I am still the co-maintainer of the GDB package, and will contribute to the development of the distribution since it is also my job. However, after a few months trying to become more involved with the Fedora community (specifically with the Brazilian/LATAM community), I became so disappointed that the only logical action for me now is to step back.

My brief history

I joined the Ambassadors program on October, 2012. After having used the system heavily for almost 3 years, I decided that it was about time to pay something back to the community too. Since I live in Brazil, I joined the the brazilian team of Ambassadors (which meant that I was also part of the Latin America team). Thanks to my friend Leonardo Vaz (from Red Hat), I talked to Daniel Bruno who then became responsible for "mentoring" me.

The brazilian community was (and still is) very inactive (compared to others, and to itself a few years ago), but I was very excited and decided to try to revive it. And the first task that I assigned myself was to regain control of the brazilian and LATAM domains.

The domains

Alejandro Perez, a very nice guy from Panamá responsible for LATAM's money, asked me to talk to Rodrigo Padula, an inactive Fedora Ambassador from Brazil, about the domains. Padula was a very active member of the brazilian community since 2006 if I'm not mistaken, but due to reasons beyond my knowledge is inactive in the Fedora community for quite some time now (he's still very active in the Mozilla community, however). And he owns both domains.

Alejandro was worried because the LATAM domain had suffered some sort of outage during some days, which is obviously bad for the project. He was also concerned (and I totally agreed with him on this) because those domains shouldn't be owned by a person (rather, it should be registered on behalf of the Fedora Project or, ultimately, Red Hat), specially if this person is now inactive.

To make a long story short, I spent more than 1 month doing the indirection and talking to both guys about this issue. Padula initially said he could transfer the domains without problem, but then changed his mind and said he wouldn't do it. On the other side, Alejandro was getting upset because Padula did not want to make the transfer, and the LATAM community was pressuring him. In the end, I totally gave up, and the LATAM guys registered yet another domain, but right now are still using the old domain. Yes, a mess.

Working with LATAM

Anyway, after this episode, and after witnessing how active the LATAM community was in contrast with the brazilian community, I decided to work directly with them. I wanted to do something, and I was eager to start working as a real ambassador, spreading the word about Fedora everywhere. And my friends from Panamá, Argentina, México, Venezuela, etc., seemed the right people to work with.

So I started attending the weekly meetings on #fedora-latam, at Freenode, every Wednesday night. It is a well-organized meeting (run by Alejandro), whose main goal is to vote tickets from LATAM ambassadors (including brazilians). Tickets are basically requests made through a Trac instance, and are used to ask for swags, media, sponsorship for travels, etc. The Fedora Project has a budget, and the LATAM region gets a fraction of this budget for annual expenses, so our job as ambassadors was to vote those tickets and decide whether they deserve to be approved or not, according to some rules inside the project.

Keep in mind: we are dealing with money here. It's not yours nor mine, but it's still money that should be used to promote a project that embraces open source initiatives (unfortunately, I cannot say Fedora is Free Software, but that is a topic for another post).

So, after some weeks working with the LATAM guys, I became the default owner of Trac tickets from brazilian ambassadors. And a few more weeks down the road Alejandro asked me to produce media (Fedora DVDs) and be resposible for distributing them in Brazil. I spent a lot of time ordering the medias (I had to travel to São Paulo in order to make sure everything was OK), and every time an ambassador requests Fedora DVDs I go through a series of steps (link in pt_br) to guarantee that she gets her media and I get my reimbursement.

I also like to give talks and presentations about the project, and so I've attended some events (or organized them) just to be able to do that. I have posted some reports about them in this blog, you can find them in the archives (if you can read in pt_BR).

So, enough of self-promotion: why I am leaving the ambassador's program after all?

Disappointment

A few things started to happen:

  • During the weekly LATAM meetings, it bothered me to see that the tickets were being approved without any kind of serious discussion. Everyone (including myself!) was just giving "+1" to everything!
  • FISL, the biggest open source (no, it is not about Free Software!!) event in LATAM, is going to happen on July. Suddenly, new brazilian ambassadors were popping out of nowhere, and inactive ambassadors were pretending to do something.
  • As a consequence, we received 9 sponsorship requests in our Trac. Some from active people, some not.

Something that I should have noticed before became crystal clear to me: some people are there just to take advantages for their own. They are not interested in the project, in the philosophy (yes, you can laugh at my face now...), in the promotion of the ideals, etc. They just want free lunch. And they get it...

During the last meeting I attended, two weeks ago, we were going to vote the FISL tickets. A few days before the meeting, I sent the following message to the LATAM Ambassadors list:

Hi there,

This message is just to let you know that we will be discussing several FISL tickets in our next meeting, May 8th. You can take a look at the meeting agenda by going to:

https://fedorahosted.org/fedora-latam/report/9

I would like to ask everyone to read the requests and make your decision based on merits, please. In my opinion, only active ambassadors should receive the honor of being sponsored by Fedora to go to FISL14. Let's not spend money unnecessarily, so try to avoid the "+1" wave when voting for the tickets.

Thanks a lot,

--Sergio.

As I said, some tickets were filed by inactive ambassadors, and I wanted us to at least discuss the matter with him/her, showing that we were not happy with his/her conduct. It is one thing when you have personal problems and have to step away from the project for a while; it is another different thing when you disappear without saying a word and then comes back to request sponsorship for travel.

We began the meeting by discussing tickets filed by active members, and approving them without thinking much about it. However, eventually we got to the problematic ones. There is this specific guy, whose name I will not mention here, who was very absent since I started in the project, and I felt the need to point that out. I told him I hadn't seen him in quite a while, and explained that there were many ambassadors doing things for Fedora. He's a long term contributor to the project, as he himself told me in a not-so-friendly tone during the meeting. But that was not the subject of the discussion, and while he kept saying how hard he worked for the project in the last 5 years, or how much he's done for this or that, I remained silent and began to think: what the hell am I doing? Why am I wasting my time in a Wednesday night to convince a group that someone maybe doesn't deserve the credit he's asking for? Well, the only reasonable answer was: because I feel it is the right thing to do. But nobody said a word during this discussion, and I started to feel something else. I felt that people were not interested in evaluating how much this guy (or anybody else, for that matter) really did for the project! And the feeling was corroborated when someone else said: "Hey, let's just approve the ticket now, we can continue the discussion later". WHAT????. Let me see if I get it: we are here to discuss, reach a consensus, and vote. You want to approve, maybe discuss, fuck the consensus. Well...

I left before the end of the meeting, but I still managed to see this behaviour explained by some people: there was enough money to approve all tickets, so the meeting was just a formality needed to explain the expenses later. I was at least fully convinced that I did not belong there.

Not my place

If you are part of a team and you disagree with its members, I believe you have two choices most of the time: you can either (a) discuss with them, try to understand their reasons for being different, try to explain yours, see what you can do to overcome this, or (b) leave it. Sometimes I choose one, sometimes another. This is the time for (b). I don't want to spend more time and energy into something that doesn't work the way I think it should. I don't feel motivated to fight against the tide, because I am not so strong and the tide keeps getting bigger and bigger. And I also don't want to stop people from doing what they think is right, honestly. In the end of the day, I still want to believe that everyone has a conscience and knows what's correct...

But I am not going to cross my arms and sit. Some friends and I decided to create our own group, called LibrePlanet São Paulo (link in pt_br), and focus on the real important thing: Free Software. I really hope we can make a difference with our local community, and we have started with the right foot already: we organized the Document Freedom Day in our city this year!

As for Fedora, as I said, I still intend to continue contributing to it. I'm still subscribed to the fedora-devel mailing list, and I still follow the project's decisions, partly because it is part of my job, partly because I strongly believe you have to give back what you take for free -- as in freedom -- from the community. I also have some DVDs and I intend to distribute them. But my time as a Fedora Ambassador is coming to an end. It was a good experience, I met good people, had a great time doing talks and presentations, and most of all, did what I felt right at the right time.

So, as Douglas Adams said, "...thanks for all the fish!".