Planet dgplug

## On Why Farmers Agitate, The Best Online Classes You Can Take and Love Letters to Trees

This post was first sent to my newsletter on May 2nd, 2021.
You really ought to subscribe :)

New month, new newsletter! :)
Let’s get right into it, shall we?

Read more… (2 min remaining to read)

## Take your concentration seriously!

May 09, 2021

A few months back, Jason Braganza pointed me to this podcast episode from Cal Newport.

Each question asked during this particular podcast was very helpful to me. I literally got answers, solutions, work-arounds, frameworks (or whatever you wanna call them) to solve my own set of problems at the time.

Today, I want to put here, (kind of) a gist of an answer to one of the questions asked during the podcast (I’ll figure out later, how to put a link to the exact timestamp here, but for now it is at timestamp 41:00).

### Someone asked Cal, this question:

Can you be hyper-distracted on social media for some days, & then deeply focus on the other ones?

OR…

You need to be consistent to build up Decent Cognitive Fitness?

To answer this question, Cal starts by talking about Physical Fitness.

He gives this example ~

• you exercise for one day during a week,
• then you go & binge eat twice during the same week,
• & then you come back to diet & exercise again.

Well, it doesn’t work this way!

And similar thing goes for Social Media.

If you are doing the same thing, i.e. you’re hyper-distracted on social media for some days, & then you come back and tries to focus deeply during the other ones).

You’re not taking your congnitive fitness seriously.

You need to be serious about your brain.

You need to follow, what is known as Digital Minimalism.

Which means, you need to be very intentional about what & why you are using your social medias for? It should be minimised to a level & utilizied in such a manner, where it gives you real value without getting distracted.

Of course, this isn’t to be done in one moment itself, rather slowly & by taking one step at a time. But, this is the solution!

If you give yourself distractive days very frequently, it will make it harder & harder to go back to concentration on the other days.

YOU NEED TO TAKE YOUR CONCENTRATION SERIOUSLY!

I followed this advice myself (with minimising the usage of multiple social media platforms). And I can very confidently say, I absolutely don’t regret not scrolling through the timelines & feeds every single day. It’s just not required & useful to me in any way.

It works. The process of digital minimalism totally works. It makes your life better in thousand ways. 🙂

## (I'm struggling for a title) notes! #8

May 08, 2021

I’m struggling for a title(s), for these daily blogs. If you’ve any suggestions, please please tell me 😅 (I’m very serious). I want to entirely eliminate this title thinking part.

Anyways, updates from today:

• Today was kind of a leisure day. Well, kind of only, because for the whole day, I was troubling my-own-self with the feeling that I was supposed to work today and I didn’t do anything, work like work. I need to improve here alot.

• I bought my first ever domain name today (psaggu.com). And yes, with no doubts, I still did a lot of thinking (cough cough over-thinking) while deciding, whether I should buy or not, or why I should buy, or what I will use it for, etc etc. But, tl;dr I bought it & now this blog is live on blog.psaggu.com. It was a very good exercise for me, understanding how to create DNS records.

• To make all my social media handles, cohesive with this new domain name, I changed/updated the twitter username (to @_psaggu), linkedIn (to psaggu) & gnome gitlab username (to psaggu) handles. Well, Github is still left, & I’m not sure what all things it will break if I update it right now. Lots of trouble & risk, so leaving it for later.

• I re-wrote the blog’s about page. I think I can be very ok with this one for quite some time now. :)

• I finished some pending phone calls (family & friends).

• (Just right now) I also finished filling up the post course completion survery for my DO280 training course (yes, that counts as some real work).

• And I wrote this post. (title, title, please suggest me title)

That’s all for today, Tata everyone. Good night!

Ok, finally, I finished re-doing my jekyll blog. For now, it looks exactly like, how I wanted it to look like, in the beginning of this morning.

This was truly a required effort and definitely worth every second I spent today on it. I really started hating this blog for how it looked.

Plus, with all these redoing stuff today, I realised such an important and surprising thing.

Today’s blogs is my 100th blog post on the home page. So, in a way, it was the perfect day to renovate this website.

Got a new domain, got a new renovated theme, Wohoooo, I am really happy! 🎊 🎊

Thank you so much! 🙏

## Jason Learns Django - 08

And just like that, this little journey ends.

Read more… (1 min remaining to read)

## Breaking down into K8s!

It was 2019 when I first attended the PyCon India conference and heard the term kubernetes. I had no idea back then what it was, it’s use, it’s requirement. Last year, 2020 I heard about docker and kubernetes and they do something with containers and all, still no idea what is the difference between two. But this time I got into it and finally breaking down kubernetes into simple concepts for you all to read.

Before jumping into k8s, let us know the basic concept; containers. For people who required to use more than one technology such as web server (node JS), database (mongo DB), messaging system (Redis) and an orchestration tool( Ansible) all together had to face a lot issues to develop. Firstly their compatibility and version of OS they planned to use. Different components required different OS for these tools to work. Secondly, they had to check their compatibility between the services and the libraries and dependencies on the OS. Issues like one service required one version of the dependent library whereas another service required another version. For new developers it was a hectic job to set-up a project because the services required might not be compatible with their system or OS.

Here containers came into rescue. Containers are nothing but an isolated environment just like Virtual Machines but unlike VMs they do not have their own separate OS. Now they just had to build a container using a docker run command and they can create separate environments according to the need of the services. Containers have their own processes and their own networking interfaces, their own mounts. The concept of containers had been existed for about 10 years and some different types of containers are like LXC, LXD, LXFC etc. But here is the catch, docker uses the same OS kernel hardware. The kernel must remain same but the softwares used can be different, for an example you can have softwares like Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, Fedora. These softwares might have different user interfaces, drivers, compilers, file managers, tools etc but their OS kernel should be common for using docker. So you can run a Linux based container in linux based OS but not on a windows based kernel. The main purpose of docker is to containerize applications and ship them.

Now it is time to work among these containers and organize them according to the need, this is where k8s is used. Kubernetes is a platform which orchestrates connectivity between containers. The advantage was that your app will work without any hardware failure because you can deploy more instances if one container failed. You can scale up if the demand increases and scale down if the workload increases. What we do in the containers is that we install the required package or image which we need and containerize them according to their favorable environments. An image is a template or package used to create containers. Containers are running instances of images that have their own environments and set of processes. K8s architecture is simple to understand. K8s uses nodes; nodes are a physical or virtual machine where k8s is installed. The containers will be launched here. A set of nodes is termed as cluster. In this cluster there is a master node and worker nodes. Master node is responsible for the orchestration of worker nodes and watches over the worker nodes.

K8s components consist of:

• API server – interacts with kubernetes cluster
• etcd – is a distributed reliable key-value store all data used to manage the cluster.
• scheduler – is responsible for distributing work or containers across multiple nodes. Looks for newly created containers and assigns them to nodes.
• Controller – Responsible for when containers, nodes or end point ends. they are responsible to make decisions to bring up new containers in these cases.
• Container runtime – Underlying software to run container.
• Kubelet – works as an agent for making sure the nodes are running without any trouble

## Finite State Machines (FSM)

It is an abstract machine that can be in exactly one of a finite number of states at any given time. A state machine is just a specification of how to handle events. It consists of a set of states, one of which is the current state. For each state, we list the events that are significant to that state. For each of those events, we define the new current state of the system.

Let see with an example

Devops:
Stable (DB down) --> Critical (DB up) --> Stable (N/w down) --> Warning (N/w up) --> Stable


Here we have defined the states Stable, Critical, Warning and events DB down, DB up, and N/W down. In this case, we have a stable state so whenever our database goes down or the network goes down the state changes to critical/warning. We can link some logic with these states to perform any action for transition.

This logic can help in designing a good program around a problem statement that will have less coupled code and easy to maintain. Cheers!

## Starting Kubernetes journey!

Let me apologize for the not being consistent with my blogs. I was busy preparing for some placement exams(again) and joined another community, The Kubernetes. Well joining did not take my time mostly I tried applying for an internship and I am still in the process for being accepted and rejected. Given the present situation COVID-19 is on creating a havoc on the mankind. Hence, having a peace of mind is utterly necessary in this situation.

This February, I became a part of Kubernetes community, and since then I have met some new folks and amazing people who are always willing to guide me in my desperate times. But my journey to learn and get into these concepts started a month back. Today is 24 April, 2021 and on this day 24 March I knew nothing about any of the things which these 31 days taught me. This has bought me more confidence on myself where I doubted myself; Will I be able to learn this on my own? Will I be able to contribute? Will I be able to meet amazing mentors/folks? I look back to these days and think that learning is not an easy journey but you need to have an urge to believe in yourself. I applied for an internship and the internship requires you to contribute to any one pf the projects, and thus this has pushed me to go beyond my comfort zone and start doing. "I want to thank me" a line by Calvin Cordozar ( a.k.a Snoop Dogg) and American rapper who said this line in his Hollywood speech. Yes! Believe in yourself without this you cannot push yourself hard.

## Writing Emacs Lisp to convert ICS to Org mode list

A couple of months back David O’Toole (dto) taught me basics of Emacs Lisp (Elisp). These were things like lists, symbols, functions, debugging and a few more things. After the session I was consciously observing my workflows, so that I can make improvements to them by writing Elisp. We wrote one such fuction during the session, but I had not written anything apart from that. Recently, I wrote an Elisp function to convert event entries from an ICS (iCalendar file) to Org mode list.

## Adding dunder methods to a Python class written in Rust

Last week I did two rounds of my Creating Python modules in Rust workshop. During the second session on Sunday, someone asked if we can create standard dunder methods, say __str__ or __repr__. I never did that before, and during the session I tried to read the docs and implement it. And I failed :)

Later I realized that I should have read the docs carefully. To add those methods, we will have to implement PyObjectProtocol for the Rust structure.

#[pyproto]
impl PyObjectProtocol for Ros {
fn __repr__(&self) -> PyResult<String> {
let cpus = self.sys.get_processors().len();
let repr = format!("<Ros(CPUS: {})>", cpus);
Ok(repr)
}

fn __str__(&self) -> PyResult<String> {
let cpus = self.sys.get_processors().len();
let repr = format!("<Ros(CPUS: {})>", cpus);
Ok(repr)
}
}

>>> from randomos import Ros
>>> r = Ros()
>>> r
<Ros (CPUS: 8)>
>>> str(r)
'<Ros (CPUS: 8)>'


This code example is in the ros-more branch of the code.

## Git: Commands

Git is a version control tool, that helps to track changes in the project. We will discuss a few useful commands which are handy to know while working with the git

Creating a branch with no commits on it

>>> git checkout --orphan <branch_name>
>>> git log
fatal: your current branch '<branch_name>' does not have any commits yet



Remove stale branches In your local, if you have branches that are removed in the remote then you can use the prune command to delete those branches in local also.

>>> git remote prune origin



To pick a commit from another branch If you want to pick a commit from other branches into your current branch you can use the cherry-pick command and -x for when recording the commit, append a line that says “(cherry picked from commit ...)” to the original commit message to indicate which commit this change was cherry-picked from.

>>> git cherry-pick -x <commit SHA1>



To view commits that are not pushed yet

>>> git log @{u}..



Run previous command In Git, we are also switching from one branch to the other. Typing the name, again and again, is tedious. You can use - with the Git command, to save your self from typing the name again

>>>  randomos git:(useless_dict) git checkout add_numbers
Switched to branch 'add_numbers'
>>>  randomos git:(add_numbers) git checkout -
Switched to branch 'useless_dict'
Your branch is up-to-date with 'origin/useless_dict'.



If you have any Git commands which you feel are worth sharing and can save some time. Please do share.

Cheers!

## Opting out of Google FLoC network

Recently, Google announced their new ad-tracking and surveillance tool called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). This is a new alternative to the third-party cookie tracking that is otherwise widely used for advertising business.

EFF has written more about the issues with using Google FLoC and also created a website where you can test if you are already a victim of their FLoC tests.

Google will track any user visiting your website even if it doesn't have Google analytics or any other services related to Google. One easy way for users visiting websites to opt out of this is to not use Google Chrome and use browsers like Firefox, etc. However, website maintainers can also help against this new tracking technology by opting out of the FLoC network.

So the main way of opting out of this surveillance technology is to add a HTTP response header to their websites.

The HTTP response header is

Permissions-Policy: interest-cohort()


The FLoC technology uses interest-cohort to check for an allowlist. By default, everything is allowed as long as the user is visiting from a browser which supports InterestCohort API. However, by mentioning interest-cohort() in the Permissions-Policy header, the website is opting out from allowing any origin (including the current page) from being tracked using FLoC. Hence the FLoC feature is turned off for the website, even if the user is visiting your website from a Google Chrome browser.

## NGINX

To add the above header, go to your nginx configuration file and add the following inside the server block:

server {
...

...
}


If you have different nginx confs for multiple websites running via nginx, you have to do the above in all the server blocks or nginx configuration files.

Then run nginx -t to test that everything is correct in your updated nginx configuration. Then, restart nginx by running the command service nginx restart (or any other command that you might use based on your OS to restart nginx)

If you are using any other web server or proxy server, you can check this link: https://paramdeo.com/blog/opting-your-website-out-of-googles-floc-network

## Workshop on writing Python modules in Rust April 2020

I am conducting 2 repeat sessions for a workshop on "Writing Python modules in Rust".

The first session is on 16th April, 1500 UTC onwards, and the repeat session will be on 18th April 0900 UTC. More details can be found in this issue.

You don't have to have any prior Rust knowledge. I will be providing working code, and we will go very slowly to have a working Python module with useful functions in it.

If you are planning to attend or know anyone else who may want to join, then please point them to the issue link.

## OSS Work update #10

I’m trying to post these roughly once a month. Here’s the Feb post.

## Work I did (1 Mar 2021 - 31 Mar 2021)

### Technical

• Started writing a PEP 517 build backend for Sphinx themes.
• Started writing sphinx-basic-ng, an attempt at modernising the Sphinx theme ecosystem.
• Released new versions of sphinx-autobuild.
• More updates to Furo.
• Made progress on installer’s implementation.
• Made progress on pip’s documentation rewrite.
• Started work on rewriting ScriptTest, to pay down pip’s technical debt.

### Communication

• Talking to relevant folks about toml on PyPI (and moving it to… a specific GitHub repository).
• Finally sat down and did an “open source responsibility audit”.
• My open social weekends is still a thing, and has been great so far!
• Still collaborating on designing a lockfile format for Python.
• Added to The Executable Book Project’s GitHub organisation! ^>^
• Chatted with a few people about the state of Python and pip on Debian.

## General notes

Looking back, I think I picked up a couple of new projects based on random brain waves I had! That’s perfectly timed, because I’ve decided to pivot away from my earlier approach of “yay, more responsibility!”.

## What next?

This is getting increasingly harder to decide on, as my free time chunks are becoming smaller and I’m picking up bigger projects. :)

### Technical

• Sphinx Theme PEP 517 stuff: Make the initial release.
• sphinx-basic-ng: Make the first usable release.
• pip: Clear some of the backlog on the pull request front.
• pip: More progress on the documentation rewrite.

### Communication

• Spend more time looking into the Python lockfile standardisation effort.
• Write a blog post, on automated code formatting.
• Find more speaking opportunities, to talk about things that aren’t Python packaging!

## Other commitments

A full time job, that pays my bills. :)

## How to make your phone battery last for one week and longer with this simple trick

Sure, it sounds like a click-bait headline, but I'm serious. I've bought my Android phone, a Google Nexus X5, second-hand from ebay. It's a great device, popular with developers but it's not known for its long lasting battery. In fact, I had to charge my phone at least once a day, if not more often.

But not anymore. During the last three weeks I charged it twice, no more. I didn't just turn it off. What I did is simple: I stopped using it. I turned off the WiFi, the mobile data connection and as a result I don't have much reason to look at it very often. Sometimes not even once a day. I do get phone calls from time to time, and I even play some puzzle games while I brush my teeth, but that's it.

## Why no smart phone?

I would say I was an average smart phone user. I do some of that social networking thingies, message with friends and family and if I don't know the answer to a random question I ask duckduckgo. I've not been a poweruser, I don't have a zillion followers on any platform, and I don't take pictures of me or my food or my cats (don't have any) all the time. But I did use my phone regularly to check my email, my calendar or via termux work remotely on several Linux servers.

I cannot give any reliable numbers about the amount of time I've spent staring on my smart phone, but I can tell that I took it everywhere. I took it to the toilet to read my mastodon timeline and I took it with me when I went to bed to read my RSS feeds. I had it lying next to me on the table during meals or at work, so I could peek at incoming messages.

After a couple of weeks without using my smart phone now, I can tell that I miss none of that. I integrated some things into a more or less regular schedule, like checking feeds and mastodon on the laptop only once a day before I go to bed. It saves a lot of time and I never had the feeling I would miss anything. However, I find much more time to read books or play some guitar now, which I enjoy very much.

I spending a huge amount of my day in front of a screen anyway, due to my job and hobbies, but I feel that dropping the phone is absolutely beneficial for my health and also I could be the better role model for my children.

## How no smart phone?

That leaves us with the question: What apps/services to drop and how to replace those that I'm not willing to drop?

### The obvious

The easiest part was to port the most phone actions to the laptop. I did read mails on the phone a lot, though I didn't reply very often. Sometimes I just flagged some as important and left the work for later. Doing email on my laptop only resulted in more consistency and structure for me, and additionally saved quite some time and stress in my off-work time.

Randomly browsing the web or looking up stuff on Wikipedia, just like reading feeds and timelines was also easy to replace and led to more structure and much less distraction. Interestingly, I don't think that I'm spending more time on the laptop now, but I never took any measure to verify that ;)

I used my phone as second factor for some two-factor authentication logins. For now I also replaced that with the OTP module of my password manager pass. It still is a valid second factor, as I need the device additionally to the laptop, however, I think I will replace that with a security key in future.

I still enjoy Spotify sometimes. To make that work without my phone, I installed spotifyd on my raspberry pi, which I use as media center. The daemon just serves as the player, while I'm controlling the playlist from my laptop (using a beautiful TUI written in Rust, called spt).

### The messaging

I'm using Signal as my main messaging app, but also joined some Matrix rooms on different servers and even follow some Mattermost conversations. Since I never seriously used IRC on the phone, I instead tried to integrate the messaging to my favorite IRC client weechat, with quite decent success.

I'm running signald on my weechat server and fixed some on the signal-weechat plugin and message happily ever since. Signald is a java app that subscribes to my phone number and provides a socket that can be used to interact with the API. Is it as secure as the official Signal app? Nope. But that's not my threat model ;) It's way better than the crappy electron app, in my opinion.

After I configured that, I realized that there are also plugins available for matrix and Mattermost (the latter of which is in pre-alpha, but hey). Using weechat for all my messaging feels great and to me is a big improvement over the phone (and over web- and electron clients). I know that there may be security drawbacks, not in transportation but in the way data is stored on my server. Luckily I can address these issues and I can do that independent of any app.

### The rest

I thought that I could just drop everything that I cannot port to laptop. However, I hardly found anything I had to give up. I still use the phone to take pictures sometimes (never took many) and use the audio recorder occasionally. I play less random games.

The only thing I miss is the calendar functionality. I do have an excellent calendar on the laptop, or course (khal). But sometimes I would like to quickly glance at my upcoming events or schedule an appointment without being on the laptop. I will need to think how to do that without going fully analog on this one again. I'm having an eye on the Mudita Pure which I think would support me in exactly the way I chose to take.

## OSS Work update #9

Alrighty! Let’s start doing this again. The plan is to get back to doing these roughly once a month again.

## Work I did (1 Jan 2021 - 26 Feb 2021)

### Communication

• I’m experimenting with a new thing: social weekends!
• I presented 2 talks at FOSDEM: in the Python devroom and Open Source Design devroom. Shout-out to Bernard Tyers, for all the help and the bazillion reminders to make sure I do all the things on time. :)
• Collaborating on designing a lockfile format for Python, that can hopefully be standardised for interoperability.

## General notes

Onboarding in a new company, relocating internationally, settling into a new space has been… well, it’s all been a very interesting learning experience.

Given the fairly strict lockdown and the percentage of people wearing masks in my locality, I’ve spent a lots of time indoors. Looking forward to the social weekends experiment I’m doing.

## What next?

### Technical

• pip: Work on the documentation rewrite, hopefully to get it ready in time for the next release.
• pip: Clear some of the backlog on the pull request front.
• pip: General discussions for new features and enhancements.
• TOML: Work on writing that the compliance test suite.
• TOML: Bring toml for Python back from the dead.
• Furo: Make the first stable release.
• Start work on the other Sphinx theme I have in mind.

### Communication

• Spend more time looking into the Python lockfile standardisation effort.
• Catch up on the Python-on-Debian saga, and see how I can contribute constructively.

## Other commitments

Oh, I have a full time job at Bloomberg now. :)

## Linux containers

Our story dates all the way back to 2006, believe it or not. The first steps were taken towards what we know today as containers. We'll discuss their history, how to build them and how to use them. Stick around! you might enjoy the ride.

## History

### 2006-2007 - The Generic Process Containers lands in Linux

This was renamed thereafter to Control Groups, popularily known as cgroups, and landed in Linux version 2.6.24. Cgroups are the first piece of the puzzle in Linux Containers. We will be talking about cgroups in detail later.

### 2008 - Namespaces

Even though namespaces have been around since 2002, Linux version 2.4.19, they saw a rapid development beginning 2006 and into 2008. namespaces are the other piece of the puzzle in Linux Containers. We will talk about namespaces in more details later.

### 2008 - LXC

LXC finally shows up!

LXC is the first form of containers on the Linux kernel. LXC combined both cgroups and namespaces to provide isolated environments; containers.

Note

It is worth mentioning that LXC runs a full operating system containers from an image. In other words, LXC containers are meant to run more than one process.

### 2013 - Docker

Docker offered a full set of tools for working with containers, making it easier than ever to work with them. Docker containers are designed to only run the application process. Unlike LXC, the PID 1 of a Docker container is excepted to be the application running in the contanier. We will be discussing this topic in more detail later.

## Concepts

### cgroups

#### What are cgroups ?

Let's find out ! Better yet, let's use the tools at our disposal to find out together…

Open a terminal and run the following command.

man 7 cgroups


This should open the man pages for cgroups.

Control groups, usually referred to as cgroups, are a Linux kernel feature which allow processes to be organized into hierarchical groups whose usage of various types of resources can then be limited and monitored. The kernel's cgroup interface is provided through a pseudo-filesystem called cgroupfs. Grouping is implemented in the core cgroup kernel code, while resource tracking and limits are implemented in a set of per-resource-type subsystems (memory, CPU, and so on).

#### What does this all mean ?

This can all be simplified by explaining it in a different way. Essentially, you can think of cgroups as a way for the kernel to limit what you can use.

This gives us the ability to give a container only 1 CPU out of the 4 available to the kernel. Or maybe, limit the memory allowed to 512MB to the container. This way the container cannot overload the resources of the system in case they run a fork-bomb, for example.

But, cgroups do not limit what we can "see".

### namespaces

#### Namespaces to the rescue !

As we did before, let's check the man page for namespaces

man 7 namespaces


A namespace wraps a global system resource in an abstraction that makes it appear to the processes within the namespace that they have their own isolated instance of the global resource. Changes to the global resource are visible to other processes that are members of the namespace, but are invisible to other processes. One use of namespaces is to implement containers.

Wooow ! That's more mumbo jumbo ?!

#### Is it really simple ?

Let's simplify this one as well.

You can think of namespaces as a way for the kernel to limit what we see.

There are multiple namespaces, like the cgroup_namespaces which virtualizes the view of a process cgroup. In other words, inside the cgroup the process with PID 1 is not PID on the system.

The namespaces manual page lists them, you check them out for more details. But I hope you get the gist of it !

### Linux Containers

We are finally here! Let's talk Linux Containers.

The first topic we need to know about is images.

#### What are container images ?

We talked before that Docker came in and offered tooling around containers.

One of those concepts which they used, in docker images, is layers.

First of all, an image is a file-system representation of a container. It is an on-disk, read-only, image. It sort of looks like your Linux filesystem.

Then, layers on top to add functionality. You might ask, what are these layers. We will see them in action.

Let's look at my system.

lsb_release -a

LSB Version:	n/a
Distributor ID:	ManjaroLinux
Description:	Manjaro Linux
Release:	20.2.1
Codename:	Nibia


As you can see, I am running Manjaro. Keep that in mind.

Let's take a look at the kernel running on this machine.

uname -a

Linux manjaro 5.10.15-1-MANJARO #1 SMP PREEMPT Wed Feb 10 10:42:47 UTC 2021 x86_64 GNU/Linux


So, it's kernel version 5.8.6. Remember this one as well.

• neofetch

I would like to test a tool called neofetch. Why ?

• First reason, I am not that creative.
• Second, it's a nice tool, you'll see.

We can test neofetch

neofetch

fish: Unknown command: neofetch


Look at that! We don't have it installed… Not a big deal. We can download an image and test it inside.

#### Pulling an image

Let's download a docker image. I am using podman, an open source project that allows us to use containers.

Note

You might want to run these commands with sudo privileges.

podman pull ubuntu:20.04

f63181f19b2fe819156dcb068b3b5bc036820bec7014c5f77277cfa341d4cb5e


Let's pull an Ubuntu image.

As you can see, we have pulled an image from the repositories online. We can see further information about the image.

podman images

REPOSITORY                TAG     IMAGE ID      CREATED      SIZE
docker.io/library/ubuntu  20.04   f63181f19b2f  5 weeks ago  75.3 MB


Much better, now we can see that we have an Ubuntu image downloaded from docker.io.

#### What's a container then ?

A container is nothing more than an instance of an image. It is the running instance of an image.

Let's list our containers.

podman ps -a

CONTAINER ID  IMAGE   COMMAND  CREATED  STATUS  PORTS   NAMES


We have none. Let's start one.

podman run -it ubuntu:20.04 uname -a

Linux 57453b419a43 5.10.15-1-MANJARO #1 SMP PREEMPT Wed Feb 10 10:42:47 UTC 2021 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux


It's running the same kernel as our machine… Are we really inside a container ?

podman run -it ubuntu:20.04 hostname -f

6795b85eeb50


okay ?! And our hostname is ?

hostname -f

manjaro


Hmm… They have different hostnames

Let's see if it's really Ubuntu.

podman run -it ubuntu:20.04 bash -c 'apt-get update && apt-get install -y vim'

Get:1 http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu focal InRelease [265 kB]
Get:2 http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu focal-updates InRelease [114 kB]
Get:3 http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu focal-backports InRelease [101 kB]
Get:4 http://security.ubuntu.com/ubuntu focal-security InRelease [109 kB]
Get:5 http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu focal/restricted amd64 Packages [33.4 kB]
Get:6 http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu focal/multiverse amd64 Packages [177 kB]
Get:7 http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu focal/universe amd64 Packages [11.3 MB]
...
Setting up libpython3.8:amd64 (3.8.5-1~20.04.2) ...
Setting up vim (2:8.1.2269-1ubuntu5) ...
update-alternatives: using /usr/bin/vim.basic to provide /usr/bin/vim (vim) in auto mode
update-alternatives: using /usr/bin/vim.basic to provide /usr/bin/vimdiff (vimdiff) in auto mode
update-alternatives: using /usr/bin/vim.basic to provide /usr/bin/rvim (rvim) in auto mode
update-alternatives: using /usr/bin/vim.basic to provide /usr/bin/rview (rview) in auto mode
update-alternatives: using /usr/bin/vim.basic to provide /usr/bin/vi (vi) in auto mode
...
update-alternatives: using /usr/bin/vim.basic to provide /usr/bin/editor (editor) in auto mode
...
Processing triggers for libc-bin (2.31-0ubuntu9.1) ...



This should not work on my Manjaro. apt-get is not a thing here. Well, the output is a bit large so I truncated it a bit for readability but we seem to have installed vim successfully.

#### Building a container image

Now that we saw what an image is and what a container is. We can explore a bit inside a container to see it more clearly.

So, what can we do with containers? We can use the layering system and the docker created tooling to create them and distribute them.

Let's go back to our neofetch example.

I want to get an Ubuntu image, then install neofetch on it.

First step, create a Dockerfile in your current directory. It should look like this.

FROM ubuntu:20.04

RUN apt-get update && \
apt-get install -y neofetch


This file has two commands:

• FROM designates the base image to use. This is the base image we will be building upon. In our case, we chose Ubuntu:20.04. You can find the images on multiple platforms. To mention a few, we have Dockerhub, Quay.io and a few others.

• RUN designates the commands to run. Pretty simple. We are running a couple of commands that should be very familiar to any user familiar with debian-based OS's.

Now that we have a Dockerfile, we can build the container.

podman build -t neofetch-ubuntu:20.04 -f Dockerfile.ubuntu .

STEP 1: FROM ubuntu:20.04
STEP 2: RUN apt-get update &&     apt-get install -y neofetch
Get:1 http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu focal InRelease [265 kB]
Get:2 http://security.ubuntu.com/ubuntu focal-security InRelease [109 kB]
Get:3 http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu focal-updates InRelease [114 kB]
...
Fetched 17.2 MB in 2s (7860 kB/s)
...
The following additional packages will be installed:
chafa dbus fontconfig-config fonts-dejavu-core fonts-droid-fallback
fonts-noto-mono fonts-urw-base35 ghostscript gsfonts imagemagick-6-common
krb5-locales libapparmor1 libavahi-client3 libavahi-common-data
libavahi-common3 libbsd0 libchafa0 libcups2 libdbus-1-3 libexpat1
libfftw3-double3 libfontconfig1 libfreetype6 libglib2.0-0 libglib2.0-data
libgomp1 libgs9 libgs9-common libgssapi-krb5-2 libicu66 libidn11 libijs-0.35
libjbig0 libjbig2dec0 libjpeg-turbo8 libjpeg8 libk5crypto3 libkeyutils1
libkrb5-3 libkrb5support0 liblcms2-2 liblqr-1-0 libltdl7
libmagickcore-6.q16-6 libmagickwand-6.q16-6 libopenjp2-7 libpaper-utils
libpaper1 libpng16-16 libssl1.1 libtiff5 libwebp6 libwebpmux3 libx11-6
libx11-data libxau6 libxcb1 libxdmcp6 libxext6 libxml2 poppler-data
shared-mime-info tzdata ucf xdg-user-dirs
Suggested packages:
default-dbus-session-bus | dbus-session-bus fonts-noto fonts-freefont-otf
| fonts-freefont-ttf fonts-texgyre ghostscript-x cups-common libfftw3-bin
libfftw3-dev krb5-doc krb5-user liblcms2-utils libmagickcore-6.q16-6-extra
poppler-utils fonts-japanese-mincho | fonts-ipafont-mincho
fonts-japanese-gothic | fonts-ipafont-gothic fonts-arphic-ukai
fonts-arphic-uming fonts-nanum
The following NEW packages will be installed:
chafa dbus fontconfig-config fonts-dejavu-core fonts-droid-fallback
fonts-noto-mono fonts-urw-base35 ghostscript gsfonts imagemagick-6-common
krb5-locales libapparmor1 libavahi-client3 libavahi-common-data
libavahi-common3 libbsd0 libchafa0 libcups2 libdbus-1-3 libexpat1
libfftw3-double3 libfontconfig1 libfreetype6 libglib2.0-0 libglib2.0-data
libgomp1 libgs9 libgs9-common libgssapi-krb5-2 libicu66 libidn11 libijs-0.35
libjbig0 libjbig2dec0 libjpeg-turbo8 libjpeg8 libk5crypto3 libkeyutils1
libkrb5-3 libkrb5support0 liblcms2-2 liblqr-1-0 libltdl7
libmagickcore-6.q16-6 libmagickwand-6.q16-6 libopenjp2-7 libpaper-utils
libpaper1 libpng16-16 libssl1.1 libtiff5 libwebp6 libwebpmux3 libx11-6
libx11-data libxau6 libxcb1 libxdmcp6 libxext6 libxml2 neofetch poppler-data
shared-mime-info tzdata ucf xdg-user-dirs
0 upgraded, 66 newly installed, 0 to remove and 6 not upgraded.
Need to get 36.2 MB of archives.
After this operation, 136 MB of additional disk space will be used.
Get:1 http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu focal/main amd64 fonts-droid-fallback all 1:6.0.1r16-1.1 [1805 kB]
...
Get:66 http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu focal/universe amd64 neofetch all 7.0.0-1 [77.5 kB]
Fetched 36.2 MB in 2s (22.1 MB/s)
...
Setting up ghostscript (9.50~dfsg-5ubuntu4.2) ...
Processing triggers for libc-bin (2.31-0ubuntu9.1) ...
STEP 3: COMMIT neofetch-ubuntu:20.04
--> 6486fa42efe
6486fa42efe5df4f761f4062d4986b7ec60b14d9d99d92d2aff2c26da61d13af


Note

You might need sudo to run this command.

As you can see, we just successfully built the container. We also got a hash as a name for it.

If you were careful, I used the && command instead of using multiple RUN. You can use as many RUN commands ase you like. But be careful, each one of those commands creates a layer. The more layers you create, the more time they require to download*/*upload. It might not seem to be a lot of time to download a few extra layer on one system. But if we talk about container orchestration platforms, it makes a big difference there.

Let's examine the build a bit more and see what we got.

STEP 1: FROM ubuntu:20.04
STEP 2: RUN apt-get update &&     apt-get install -y neofetch


The first step was to download the base image so we could use it, then we added a layer which insatlled neofetch. If we list our images.

podman images

REPOSITORY                 TAG     IMAGE ID      CREATED        SIZE
localhost/neofetch-ubuntu  20.04   6486fa42efe5  5 minutes ago  241 MB
docker.io/library/ubuntu   20.04   f63181f19b2f  5 weeks ago    75.3 MB


We can see that we have localhost/neofetch-ubuntu. If we examine the ID, we can see that it is the same as the one given to us at the end of the build.

#### Running our container

Now that we created a brand-spanking-new image, we can run it.

podman images

REPOSITORY                 TAG     IMAGE ID      CREATED        SIZE
localhost/neofetch-ubuntu  20.04   6486fa42efe5  6 minutes ago  241 MB
docker.io/library/ubuntu   20.04   f63181f19b2f  5 weeks ago    75.3 MB


First we list our images. Then we choose which one to run.

podman run -it neofetch-ubuntu:20.04 neofetch


Text

neofetch is installed in that container, because the image has it.

We can also build an image based on something else, maybe Fedora ?

I looked in Dockerhub (Fedora) and found the following image.

FROM fedora:32

RUN dnf install -y neofetch


We can duplicate what we did before real quick. Save file, run command to build the image.

podman build -t neofetch-fedora:20.04 -f Dockerfile.fedora .


Then, run the container.

podman run -it neofetch-fedora:20.04 neofetch


Text

## Conclusion

Finally thought before I let you go. You may have noticed that I used Podman instead of Docker. In these examples, both commands should be interchangeable. Remember kids, containers are cool! They can be used for a wide variety of things. They are great at many things and with the help of container orchestration platforms, they can scale better than ever. They are also very bad at certain things. Be careful where to use them, how to use and when to use them. Stay safe and mainly have fun!

## Anonymous Chat using OnionShare

Let's dive in a little deeper into the feature.

## Why do we need an anonymous chat?

A common question that we got during developing this feature is what's the use of an anonymous chat room since we already have end-to-end encrypted messaging apps. It leaves a lot fewer traces.

The way we achieve this is very simple. There is no form of storage whatsoever in OnionShare chat mode. The chat is not persistent. The chat server stores no information at all (not even the usernames of people chatting). So once the chat server is closed, and the Tor Browser tab with the chat client is closed, there is no data (or metadata) related to chat that remains, even in the person's system who started the server. Hence, it leaves much less trace compared to other chat applications.

A good example of the above as mentioned by Micah in his blog is:

If, for example, you send a message to a Signal group, a copy of your message ends up on each device (the devices, and computers if they set up Signal Desktop of each member of the group). Even if disappearing messages is turned on it’s hard to confirm all copies of the messages are actually deleted from all devices, and from any other places (like notifications databases) they may have been saved to. OnionShare chat rooms don’t store any messages anywhere, so the problem is reduced to a minimum.

Given that the OnionShare chat feature works over the onion network, so it also has the additional anonymity feature. Also, adding to the anonymity feature, OnionShare chat doesn't need any form of signing in. Hence, people chatting can stay anonymous, and everything happens inside the tor network. One can just start a chat server, share the link via some disposable way, and then wait for the other people to join while maintaining anonymity.

Because it's an onion service, there is no way for an attacker to eavesdrop on the messages. The closest they can get is if they run a malicious Tor rendezvous node that's chosen for the onion service, they'll be able to spy on encrypted onion traffic. So, there's no capturing ciphertext to decrypt later on.

## So what happens under the hood?

The chat feature is dependent on flask-socketio and eventlet for the WebSocket server implementation, and socket.io client js for the frontend implementation of the chat client. So when a chat server is started, the WebSocket is started in a namespace "/chat". Whenever a new user joins the link, they are given a randomly generated username and they are added to the room "default". There is only one room, and the actual name of the room can be set from the OnionShare settings-related code, but it doesn't really impact anything in the implementation. Both the room name and the randomly generated username are stored in a flask session. But that information is also completely gone once the chat server is stopped. The room and username information are only there to emit the messages properly.

You can also change the randomly generated username to a username (or pseudo username) of your choice for that particular session.

There are two main types of messages:

1. status messages - these are sent from the client to the server only when a new user joins or someone updates their username. The status message is then broadcasted to all the other connected clients, who will then see it as a form of a status message in the chat window.

1. user messages - these are sent when a user sends a message. All messages are broadcasted, so in case you share the link to multiple users, there is no concept of private message and everyone connected to the room can view your messages. Hence, sharing the onion link securely is important.

All of these WebSocket communication happens over the Tor onion services. OnionShare in itself doesn't implement any encryption algorithm to the chat and heavily relies on the Tor onion service's encryptions for the same. The message from the client to the OnionShare server is E2EE as it goes via Tor's onion connection. Then the OnionShare server broadcasts the message to all the other clients connected to the chat room through their E2EE onion connection, over WebSockets.

## So what now?

I feel, as of now, the OnionShare anonymous chat is great if you quickly want to have an anonymous, secure, non-persistent conversation with someone or a group of people. It is also great if a whistleblower wants to share some details over chat with a journalist and then remove all traces of that conversation completely. But I feel if someone needs to host a chat server for a long time where people can connect anonymously, this is probably not the best solution for that.

There are still some issues that we will hopefully improve in the next releases. Firstly, we need to try and make it a bit more asynchronous. Right now, if left inactive for a long time, the Tor connection over WebSocket is sometimes dropped which isn't a great user experience. We are working on improving that.

Also, we will improve the UI for the chat more to give a better user experience.

With the new tabs feature, one can have all different modes (even multiple servers of same mode) running at the same time. So you can have a chat server and share mode server running at the same time. All the modes are very independent of each other and hence don't affect one another in any way.

I hope you all enjoy the new chat feature and leave feedbacks/suggestions on how to improve it. You can also read more about this and other features at docs.onionshare.org

## Background

I recently get really pissed quite often when I browse the web; I'm nuked with ads and pop-ups or - should I dare to use an adblocker - will not be able to see the content I was looking for at all. With the GDPR in place, living in Europe also reveals the incredible amount of Cookies used for profiling and tracking my browsing behavior. I'm being tracked everywhere, always.

Sure, I can opt-out. That's what they say. And it's a bad joke.

I cannot opt-out of what is called "essential to make the site run", which is obviously a whole lot. Technically it's forbidden to make the opt-out process harder then the opt-in, but I have never seen a single of these modal dialogs that would have offered me an "opt-out of everything" button that was just as easy to find as the "I agree to everything" button. Now even if I opt-out of everything, sites hide their "legitimate interest" settings on another page where I often need to manually de-select zillion items.

That's not the web I learned to love and I want to use as a major source of daily information.

I also recently learned about a new internet protocol that aims to make things different than HTTP/S, called gemini. If you're familiar with the gopher protocol, which has been around for some time now, you can put gemini somewhere between gopher and HTTP/S. By intention it does not much. It will let you display text, basically, that you type in a markdown-like syntax called gemtext. The function set is very limited on purpose, so content counts. It does not support images or inline links, but three levels of headings and code blocks. gemini does also TLS by default and explicitly welcomes self-signed certificates.

## Hosting a Gemlog

To serve a gemlog, a server is needed; since TLS is a requirement, it's not sufficient to just serve the file structure. There are a couple of lightweight servers available, I'm using gemserv here, which I found fairly easy to compile and configure.

### Generating a Certificate

I use openssl to generate a private key and a certificate signing request (CSR):

openssl req -new -newkey rsa:4096 -nodes \
-keyout private_key.txt \
-out csr.txt \
-subj "/CN=gemini.schubisu.de"


This will generate an X.509 certificate signing request with a new RSA 4096 bit key. The nodes option will skip encryption of the key. You can put more information in the subject name, it's important to have the CN right, however, to let it match your domain.

With the CSR we can generate the certificate:

openssl x509 -req -sha256 \
-days 365 \
-in csr.txt \
-signkey private_key.txt \
-out certificate.txt \
-extensions req_ext


The private_key.txt and certificate.txt will need to be on our server.

### Configure gemserv

If available in your packet manager, install gemserv from there, or clone the repository and follow the build instructions. The configuration can be as simple as the following config.toml file:

port = 1965
host = "0.0.0.0"

[[server]]
hostname = "gemini.schubisu.de"
key = "/path/to/private_key.txt"
cert = "/path/to/certificate.txt"
dir = "/path/to/content"


and simply run

/path/to/gemserv config.toml


For local testing you don't even need to have a registered domain, just add a line like this to your /etc/hosts file:

127.0.0.1    gemini.schubisu.de    localhost


## Converting my lektor blog to gemtext

I write my blog with a lightweight CMS for static websites written in python, called lektor. I always liked about lektor that it's file structure mirrors the resulting web page. Every page I write is represented by a folder that contains at least one content.lr file which consists of a bit yaml and markdown.

This is very much like what gemini expects, which will either show you the subfolders of a directory, or - if present - renders the index.gmi (or index.gemini) file.

I started by renaming all contents.lr files to index.gemini to get the quickest possible working gemlog and an initial idea of what work lies ahead of me. It works, of course, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. What needs to be adjusted are

• Meta data: The contents.lr starts with a yaml block of meta data which could be anything. In my case it's the title, publication date and some tags.
• Inline links and links in general: Gemini does not allow inline links, so my links need to be converted to the correct format.
• Navigation: I want to allow quick navigation to previous and next blog posts, as well as returning to an overview.

I decided to write a small python script, to use lektor's API to access all meta information and contents. I also reviewed all my blog posts to bring the links into a standardized format:

 # inline links:

# and at the bottom of the document:


The script will convert that into valid gemini links that are numerically indexed inline when rendered:

# inline links:
some text[1]

# and just below the paragraph:
[1] my_link_name [some text]


I also edited a few minor things in my contents.lr to make the markdown comply with gemtext:

• gemtext does not allow nested bullet lists, so I need to reduce lists to one level wherever I used more
• Different than with when I convert markdown to HTML, gemtext will break a line wherever I inserted a line break. If I want something to show as a nice paragraph, it should not be interrupted by line breaks.
• Inline text formatting to emphasize some words is not possible in gemtext. However, I find markdown with inline formatting still readable enough, so I left that as is.
• I found a whole lot of typos :)

I've uploaded the script to convert the blog here. It's pretty much tailored to my needs. However, it may be useful if you happen to run into the same or similar idea :)

For what it's worth, I can now simply run my conversion script, rsync the files to my gemini server and that's it.

You can grab a gemini browser and checkout the results of my conversion at gemini://gemini.schubisu.de

## Love Boredom

I was talking to Jason today, discussing aspects of life and building habits. Last week was pretty rough, devoid of motivation to maintain my habits. To which he said to me, “to fall in love with boredom” and passed me a copule post from James Clear. How to Fall in Love With Boredom and Unlock Your Mental Toughness How to Stay Focused When You Get Bored Working Toward Your Goals Lessons on Success and Deliberate Practice from Mozart, Picasso, and Kobe Bryant The first blog was one I could relate to in an instant.

## Email IMAP Setup with isync

The blog post "Email setup with isync, notmuch, afew, msmtp and Emacs" prompted a few questions. The questions were around synchronizing email in general.

I did promise to write up more blog posts to explain the pieces I brushed over quickly for brevity and ease of understanding. Or so I thought !

## Maildir

Let's talk Maildir. Wikipedia defines it as the following.

The Maildir e-mail format is a common way of storing email messages in which each message is stored in a separate file with a unique name, and each mail folder is a file system directory. The local file system handles file locking as messages are added, moved and deleted. A major design goal of Maildir is to eliminate the need for program code to handle file locking and unlocking.

It is basically what I mentioned before. Think of your emails as folders and files. The image will get clearer, so let's dig even deeper.

If you go into a Maildir directory, let's say Inbox and list all the directories in there, you'll find tree of them.

$ls cur/ new/ tmp/  These directories have a purpose. • tmp/: This directory stores all temporary files and files in the process of being delivered. • new/: This directory stores all new files that have not yet been seen by any email client. • cur/: This directory stores all the files that have been previously seen. This is basically how emails are going to be represented on your disk. You will need to find an email client which can parse these files and work with them. ## IMAP The Internet Mail Access Protocol, shortened to IMAP, is an Internet standard protocol used by email clients to retrieve email messages from a mail server over a TCP/IP connection. In simple terms, it is a way of communication that allows synchronization between a client and an email server. ## What can you do with that information ? Now, you have all the pieces of the puzzle to figure out how to think about your email on disk and how to synchronize it. It might be a good idea to dive a little bit into my configuration and why I chose these settings to begin with. Shall we ? ## isync Most email servers nowadays offer you an IMAP (POP3 was another protocol used widely back in the day) endpoint to connect to. You might be using Outlook or Thunderbird or maybe even Claws-mail as an email client. They usually show you the emails in a neat GUI (Graphical User Interface) with all the read and unread mail and the folders. If you've had the chance to configure one of these clients a few years ago, you would've needed to find the IMAP host and port of the server. These clients talk IMAP too. isync is an application to synchronize mailboxes. I use it to connect to my email server using IMAP and synchronize my emails to my hard drive as a Maildir. ### IMAP The very first section of the configuration is the IMAP section. IMAPAccount Personal Host email.hostname.com User personal@email.hostname.com Pass "yourPassword" # One can use a command which returns the password # Such as a password manager or a bash script #PassCmd sh script/path SSLType IMAPS CertificateFile /etc/ssl/certs/ca-certificates.crt IMAPStore personal-remote Account Personal  In here, we configure the IMAP settings. Most notably here is of course Host, User and Pass/PassCmd. These settings refer to your server and you should populate them with that information. The IMAPStore is used further in the configuration, this gives a name for the IMAP Store. In simple terms, if you want to refer to your server you use personal-remote. ### Maildir The next section of the configuration is the Maildir part. You can think of this as where do you want your emails to be saved on disk. MaildirStore personal-local Subfolders Verbatim Path ~/.mail/ Inbox ~/.mail/Inbox  This should be self explanatory but I'd like to point out the MaildirStore key. This refers to email on disk. So, if you want to refer to your emails on disk you use personal-local. At this point, you are thinking to yourself what the hell does that mean ? What is this dude talking about ! Don't worry, I got you. ### Synchronize to your taste This is where all what you've learned comes together. The fun part ! The part where you get to choose how you want to do things. Here's what I want. I want to synchronize my server Inbox with my on disk Inbox both ways. If the Inbox folder does not exist on disk, create it. The name of the Inbox on the server is Inbox. This can be translated to the following. Channel sync-personal-inbox Master :personal-remote:"Inbox" Slave :personal-local:Inbox Create Slave SyncState * CopyArrivalDate yes  I want to do the same with Archive and Sent. Channel sync-personal-archive Master :personal-remote:"Archive" Slave :personal-local:Archive Create Slave SyncState * CopyArrivalDate yes Channel sync-personal-sent Master :personal-remote:"Sent" Slave :personal-local:Sent Create Slave SyncState * CopyArrivalDate yes  At this point, I still have my trash. The trash on the server is called Junk but I want it to be Trash on disk. I can do that easily as follows. Channel sync-personal-trash Master :personal-remote:"Junk" Slave :personal-local:Trash Create Slave SyncState * CopyArrivalDate yes  I choose to synchronize my emails both ways. If you prefer, for example, not to download the sent emails and only synchronize them up to the server, you can do that with SyncState. Check the mbsync manual pages. ### Tie the knot At the end, add all the channel names configured above under the save Group with the same account name. Group Personal Channel sync-personal-inbox Channel sync-personal-archive Channel sync-personal-sent Channel sync-personal-trash  ## Conclusion This is pretty much it. It is that simple. This is how I synchronize my email. How do you ? ### November 09, 2020 ## Anwesha Das ## How to use Yubikey or any GPG smartcard in Thunderbird 78 Thunderbird is the free and open source email client by Mozilla Foundation. I have been using it for some years now. Till now the Thunderbird users had to use an extension Enigmail to use GnuPG. Thunderbird 78 now uses a different implementation of OpenPGP called RNP. Since RNP library still does not support the use of secret key on smartcards, to use Yubikey or any other GnuPG enabled smartcards, we need manually configure Thunderbird with GnuPG. The steps as said are the following : ## Install GPGME dnf install GPGME  GPGME, GnuPG Made Easy library makes the GnuPG easily accessible by providing a high level crypto API for encrypt, decrypt, sign, verify and key management. I already have GnuPG installed in my Fedora 33 machine and my Yubikey ready. ## Modify Thunderbird configuration Go to the Preferences menu then click on the config editor button at the very end. Click on the I accept the risk. Search for mail.openpgp.allow_external_gnupg and switch to true. Remember to restart the Thunderbird after that. ## Configure the secret key usage form Yubikey Now go to the Account Settings and then go to the End-To-End-Encryption at the sidebar. Select the Use your external key through GnuPG(e.g. from a smartcard) option and click on continue. Type your Secret Key ID in the box and click on Save key ID. Now open the OpenPGP Key Manager and import your public key and then verify. Now you can start using your hardware token in Thunderbird. In this case we have to use 2 keyrings - GnuPG and RNP’s keyring (internal in Thunderbird). This is an extra step, which I hope in future can be avoided. ### November 07, 2020 ## Anwesha Das ## Using Mailvelope with Yubikey in Linux Mailvelope is an extension on web browsers to send end to end encrypted emails. This is a good option available to the users to send end to end encrypted without changing the email service they use. It is licensed under AGPL v3, making it Free and Open Source software. The code is there in Github for the community to have a look. This can be added as an extension to the - Chrome, Firefox and Edge browsers to securely encrypt emails with PGP using your email providers. Mailvelope does provide end to end encryption for the email content but does not protect the metadata (subject, IP address of the sender) from third parties. As most of the email encryption tools, it does not work on the mobile browser. There is a detailed user guide on Mailvelope from the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which is really helpful for the new users. By default, Mailvelope uses its own keyring. To use my Yubikey along with GnuPG keyring, I had to take the following steps: ## Install gpgme We need gpgme installed. On my Fedora 33 I did $ sudo dnf install gpgme -y


## For Chrome browser

We have to create gpgmejson.json .json file in the ~/.config/google-chrome/NativeMessagingHosts directory write the following json in there.

{
"name": "gpgmejson",
"description": "Integration with GnuPG",
"path": "/usr/bin/gpgme-json",
"type": "stdio",
"allowed_origins": [
"chrome-extension://kajibbejlbohfaggdiogboambcijhkke/"
]
}


## For Firefox

mkdir -p ~/.mozilla/native-messaging-hosts
​


After creating the native-messaging-hosts directory inside the Mozilla directory, add gpgmejson.json file there with the following content.

vim ~/.mozilla/native-messaging-hosts/gpgmejson.json
​


{
"name": "gpgmejson",
"description": "Integration with GnuPG",
"path": "/usr/bin/gpgme-json",
"type": "stdio",
"allowed_extensions": [
]
}
​


Remember to restart the respective browser after you add the .json file. Then go to the Mailvelope extension to select the GnuPG keyring.

## My journey in the Kubernetes Release Team

My learnings from working on the Kubernetes Release Team and leading the enhancements vertical

## Concurrency bugs in Go

I recently read this paper titled, Understanding Real-World Concurrency Bugs in Go (PDF), that studies concurrency bugs in Golang and comments on the new primitives for messages passing that the language is often known for.

I am not a very good Go programmer, so this was an informative lesson in various ways to achieve concurrency and synchronization between different threads of execution. It is also a good read for experienced Go developers as it points out some important gotchas to look out for when writing Go code. The fact that it uses real world examples from well known projects like Docker, Kubernetes, gRPC-Go, CockroachDB, BoltDB etc. makes it even more fun to read!

The authors analyzed a total of 171 concurrency bugs from several prominent Go open source projects and categorized them in two orthogonal dimensions, one each for the cause of the bug and the behavior. The cause is split between two major schools of concurrency

Along the cause dimension, we categorize bugs into those that are caused by misuse of shared memory and those caused by misuse of message passing

and the behavior dimension is similarly split into

we separate bugs into those that involve (any number of ) goroutines that cannot proceed (we call themblocking bugs) and those that do not involve any blocking (non-blocking bugs)

Interestingly, they chose the behavior to be blocking instead of deadlock since the former implies that atleast one thread of execution is blocked due to some concurrency bug, but the rest of them might continue execution, so it is not a deadlock situation.

Go has primitive shared memory protection mechanisms like Mutex, RWMutex etc. with a caveat

Write lock requests in Go have ahigher privilege than read lock requests.

as compared to pthread in C. Go also has a new primitive called sync.Once that can be used to guarantee that a function is executed only once. This can be useful in situations where some callable is shared across multiple threads of execution but it shouldn't be called more than once. Go also has sync.WaitGroups , which is similar to pthread_join to wait for various threads of executioun to finish executing.

Go also uses channels for the message passing between different threads of executions called Goroutunes. Channels can be buffered on un-buffered (default), the difference between them being that in a buffered channel the sender and receiver don't block on each other (until the buffered channel is full).

The study of the usage patterns of these concurrency primitives in various code bases along with the occurence of bugs in the codebase concluded that even though message passing was used at fewer places, it accounted for a larger number of bugs(58%).

Implication 1:With heavier usages of goroutines and newtypes of concurrency primitives, Go programs may potentiallyintroduce more concurrency bugs

Also, interesting to note is this observation in tha paper

Observation 5:All blocking bugs caused by message passing are related to Go’s new message passing semantics like channel. They can be difficult to detect especially when message passing operations are used together with other synchronization mechanisms

The authors also talk about various ways in which Go runtime can detect some of these concurrency bugs. Go runtime includes a deadlock detector which can detect when there are no goroutunes running in a thread, although, it cannot detect all the blocking bugs that authors found by manual inspection.

For shared memory bugs, Go also includes a data race detector which can be enbaled by adding -race option when building the program. It can find races in memory/data shared between multiple threads of execution and uses happened-before algorithm underneath to track objects and their lifecycle. Although, it can only detect a part of the bugs discovered by the authors, the patterns and classification in the paper can be leveraged to improve the detection and build more sophisticated checkers.

## My Rubber Ducks

There are times when I find myself stuck when solving any problem. This deadlock can arise due to several factors. Somet...

## Url Shortner in Golang

TLDR; Trying to learn new things I tried writing a URL shortner called shorty. This is a first draft and I am trying to approach it from first principle basis. Trying to break down everything to the simplest component.

I decided to write my own URL shortner and the reason for doing that was to dive a little more into golang and to learn more about systems. I have planned to not only document my learning but also find and point our different ways in which this application can be made scalable, resilient and robust.

A high level idea is to write a server which takes the big url and return me a short url for the same. I have one more requirement where I do want to provide a slug i.e a custom short url path for the same. So for some links like https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=me.farhaan.bubblefeed, I want to have a url like url.farhaan.me/linktray which is easy to remember and distribute.

The way I am thinking to implement this is by having two components, I want a CLI interface which talks to my Server. I don’t want a fancy UI for now because I want it to be exclusively be used through terminal. A Client-Server architecture, where my CLI client sends a request to the server with a URL and an optional slug. If a slug is present URL will have that slug in it and if it doesn’t it generates a random string and make the URL small. If you see from a higher level it’s not just a URL shortner but also a URL tagger.

The way a simple url shortner works:

A client makes a request to make a given URL short, server takes the URL and stores it to the database, server then generates a random string and maps the URL to the string and returns a URL like url.farhaan.me/<randomstring>.

Now when a client requests to url.farhaan.me/<randomstring>, it goest to the same server, it searches the original URL and redirects the request to a different website.

The slug implementation part is very straightforward, where given a word, I might have to search the database and if it is already present we raise an error but if it isn’t we add it in the database and return back the URL.

One optimization, since it’s just me who is going to use this, I can optimize my database to see if the long URL already exists and if it does then no need to create a new entry. But this should only happen in case of random string and not in case of slugs. Also this is a trade off between reducing the redundancy and latency of a request.

But when it comes to generating a random string, things get a tiny bit complicated. This generation of random strings, decides how many URLs you can store. There are various hashing algorithms that I can use to generate a string I can use md5, base10 or base64. I also need to make sure that it gives a unique hash and not repeated ones.

Unique hash can be maintained using a counter, the count either can be supplied from a different service which can help us to scale the system better or it can be internally generated, I have used database record number for the same.

If you look at this on a system design front. We are using the same Server to take the request and generate the URL and to redirect the request. This can be separated into two services where one service is required to generate the URL and the other just to redirect the URL. This way we increase the availability of the system. If one of the service goes down the other will still function.

The next step is to write and integrate a CLI system to talk to the server and fetch the URL. A client that can be used for an end user. I am also planning to integrate a caching mechanism in this but not something out of the shelf rather write a simple caching system with some cache eviction policy and use it.

Till then I will be waiting for the feedback. Happy Hacking.

I now have a Patreon open so that you folks can support me to do this stuff for longer time and sustain myself too. So feel free to subscribe to me and help me keeping doing this with added benefits.

## Farhaan Bukhsh

TLDR; Link Tray is a utility we recently wrote to curate links from different places and share it with your friends. The blogpost has technical details and probably some productivity tips.

Link Bubble got my total attention when I got to know about it, I felt it’s a very novel idea, it helps to save time and helps you to curate the websites you visited. So on the whole, and believe me I am downplaying it when I say Link Bubble does two things:

1. Saves time by pre-opening the pages
2. Helps you to keep a track of pages you want to visit

It’s a better tab management system, what I felt weird was building a whole browser to do that. Obviously, I am being extremely naive when I am saying it because I don’t know what it takes to build a utility like that.

Now, since they discontinued it for a while and I never got a chance to use it. I thought let me try building something very similar, but my use case was totally different. Generally when I go through blogs or articles, I open the links mentioned in a different tab to come back to them later. This has back bitten me a lot of time because I just get lost in so many links.

I thought if there is a utility which could just capture the links on the fly and then I could quickly go through them looking at the title, it might ease out my job. I bounced off the same idea across to Abhishek and we ended up prototyping LinkTray.

Our first design was highly inspired by facebook messenger but instead of chatheads we have links opened. If you think about it the idea feels very beautiful but the design is “highly” not scalable. For example if you have as many as 10 links opened we had trouble in finding our links of interest which was a beautiful design problems we faced.

We quickly went to the whiteboard and put up a list of requirements, first principles; The ask was simple:

1. To share multiple links with multiple people with least transitions
2. To be able to see what you are sharing

We took inspiration from an actual Drawer where we flick out a bunch of links and go through them. In a serendipitous moment the design came to us and that’s how link tray looks like the way it looks now.

Link Tray was a technical challenge as well. There is a plethora of things I learnt about the Android ecosystem and application development that I knew existed but never ventured into exploring it.

Link Tray is written in Java, and I was using a very loosely maintained library to get the overlay activity to work. Yes, the floating activity or application that we see is called an overlay activity, this allows the application to be opened over an already running application.

The library that I was using doesn’t have support for Android O and above. To figure that out it took me a few nights , also because I was hacking on the project during nights . After reading a lot of GitHub issues I figured out the problem and put in the support for the required operating system.

One of the really exciting features that I explored about Android is Services. I think I might have read most of the blogs out there and all the documentation available and I know that I still don't know enough. I was able to pick enough pointers to make my utility to work.

Just like Uncle Bob says make it work and then make it better. There was a persistent problem, the service needs to keep running in the background for it to work. This was not a functional issue but it was a performance issue for sure and our user of version 1.0 did have a problem with it. People got mislead because there was constant notification that LinkTray is running and it was annoying. This looked like a simple problem on the face but was a monster in the depth.

The solution to the problem was simple stop the service when the tray is closed, and start the service when the link is shared back to link tray. Tried, the service did stop but when a new link was shared the application kept crashing. Later I figured out the bound service that is started by the library I am using is setting a bound flag to True but when they are trying to reset this flag , they were doing at the wrong place, this prompted me to write this StackOverflow answer to help people understand the lifecycle of service. Finally after a lot of logs and debugging session I found the issue and fixed it. It was one of the most exciting moment and it help me learn a lot of key concepts.

The other key learning, I got while developing Link Tray was about multi threading, what we are doing here is when a link is shared to link tray, we need the title of the page if it has and favicon for the website. Initially I was doing this on the main UI thread which is not only an anti-pattern but also a usability hazard. It was a network call which blocks the application till it was completed, I learnt how to make a network call on a different thread, and keep the application smooth.

Initially approach was to get a webview to work and we were literally opening the links in a browser and getting the title and favicon out, this was a very heavy process. Because we were literally spawning a browser to get information about links, in the initial design it made sense because we were giving an option to consume the links. Over time our design improved and we came to a point where we don’t give the option to consume but to curate. Hence we opted for web scraping, I used custom headers so that we don’t get caught by robot.txt. And after so much of effort it got to a place where it is stable and it is performing great.

It did take quite some time to reach a point where it is right now, it is full functional and stable. Do give it a go if you haven’t, you can shoot any queries to me.

Happy Hacking!

## Transitioning to Windows

So, recently I started using windows for work. Why? There are a couple of reasons, one that I needed to use MSVC, that is the Microsoft Visual C++ toolchain and the other being, I wasn’t quite comfortable to ifdef stuff for making it work on GCC aka, the GNU counterpart of MSVC.

## Krita Weekly #14

After an anxious month, I am writing a Krita Weekly again and probably this would be my last one too, though I hope not. Let’s start by talking about bugs. Unlike the trend going about the last couple of months, the numbers have taken a serious dip.

## Bikeshedding

http://bikeshed.org/

What color should I paint the bike-shed?

## Using Docker with Ansible

[Published in Open Source For You (OSFY) magazine, October 2017 edition.]

This article is the eighth in the DevOps series. In this issue, we shall learn to set up Docker in the host system and use it with Ansible.

# Introduction

Docker provides operating system level virtualisation in the form of containers. These containers allow you to run standalone applications in an isolated environment. The three important features of Docker containers are isolation, portability and repeatability. All along we have used Parabola GNU/Linux-libre as the host system, and executed Ansible scripts on target Virtual Machines (VM) such as CentOS and Ubuntu.

Docker containers are extremely lightweight and fast to launch. You can also specify the amount of resources that you need such as CPU, memory and network. The Docker technology was launched in 2013, and released under the Apache 2.0 license. It is implemented using the Go programming language. A number of frameworks have been built on top of Docker for managing these cluster of servers. The Apache Mesos project, Google’s Kubernetes, and the Docker Swarm project are popular examples. These are ideal for running stateless applications and help you to easily scale them horizontally.

# Setup

The Ansible version used on the host system (Parabola GNU/Linux-libre x86_64) is 2.3.0.0. Internet access should be available on the host system. The ansible/ folder contains the following file:

ansible/playbooks/configuration/docker.yml

# Installation

The following playbook is used to install Docker on the host system:

---
- name: Setup Docker
hosts: localhost
gather_facts: true
become: true
tags: [setup]

- name: Update the software package repository
pacman:
update_cache: yes

- name: Install dependencies
package:
name: "{{ item }}"
state: latest
with_items:
- python2-docker
- docker

- service:
name: docker
state: started

- name: Run the hello-world container
docker_container:
name: hello-world
image: library/hello-world

The Parabola package repository is updated before proceeding to install the dependencies. The python2-docker package is required for use with Ansible. Hence, it is installed along with the docker package. The Docker daemon service is then started and the library/hello-world container is fetched and executed. A sample invocation and execution of the above playbook is shown below:

$ansible-playbook playbooks/configuration/docker.yml -K --tags=setup SUDO password: PLAY [Setup Docker] ************************************************************* TASK [Gathering Facts] ********************************************************** ok: [localhost] TASK [Update the software package repository] *********************************** changed: [localhost] TASK [Install dependencies] ***************************************************** ok: [localhost] => (item=python2-docker) ok: [localhost] => (item=docker) TASK [service] ****************************************************************** ok: [localhost] TASK [Run the hello-world container] ******************************************** changed: [localhost] PLAY RECAP ********************************************************************** localhost : ok=5 changed=2 unreachable=0 failed=0  With verbose ’-v’ option to ansible-playbook, you will see an entry for LogPath, such as /var/lib/docker/containers//-json.log. In this log file you will see the output of the execution of the hello-world container. This output is the same when you run the container manually as shown below: $ sudo docker run hello-world

Hello from Docker!

This message shows that your installation appears to be working correctly.

To generate this message, Docker took the following steps:
1. The Docker client contacted the Docker daemon.
2. The Docker daemon pulled the "hello-world" image from the Docker Hub.
3. The Docker daemon created a new container from that image which runs the
executable that produces the output you are currently reading.
4. The Docker daemon streamed that output to the Docker client, which sent it

To try something more ambitious, you can run an Ubuntu container with:
$docker run -it ubuntu bash Share images, automate workflows, and more with a free Docker ID: https://cloud.docker.com/ For more examples and ideas, visit: https://docs.docker.com/engine/userguide/ # Example A Deep Learning (DL) Docker project is available (https://github.com/floydhub/dl-docker) with support for frameworks, libraries and software tools. We can use Ansible to build the entire DL container from the source code of the tools. The base OS of the container is Ubuntu 14.04, and will include the following software packages: • Tensorflow • Caffe • Theano • Keras • Lasagne • Torch • iPython/Jupyter Notebook • Numpy • SciPy • Pandas • Scikit Learn • Matplotlib • OpenCV The playbook to build the DL Docker image is given below: - name: Build the dl-docker image hosts: localhost gather_facts: true become: true tags: [deep-learning] vars: DL_BUILD_DIR: "/tmp/dl-docker" DL_DOCKER_NAME: "floydhub/dl-docker" tasks: - name: Download dl-docker git: repo: https://github.com/saiprashanths/dl-docker.git dest: "{{ DL_BUILD_DIR }}" - name: Build image and with buildargs docker_image: path: "{{ DL_BUILD_DIR }}" name: "{{ DL_DOCKER_NAME }}" dockerfile: Dockerfile.cpu buildargs: tag: "{{ DL_DOCKER_NAME }}:cpu" We first clone the Deep Learning docker project sources. The docker_image module in Ansible helps us to build, load and pull images. We then use the Dockerfile.cpu file to build a Docker image targeting the CPU. If you have a GPU in your system, you can use the Dockerfile.gpu file. The above playbook can be invoked using the following command: $ ansible-playbook playbooks/configuration/docker.yml -K --tags=deep-learning

Depending on the CPU and RAM you have, it will take considerable amount of time to build the image with all the software. So be patient!

## Jupyter Notebook

The built dl-docker image contains Jupyter notebook which can be launched when you start the container. An Ansible playbook for the same is provided below:

- name: Start Jupyter notebook
hosts: localhost
gather_facts: true
become: true
tags: [notebook]

vars:
DL_DOCKER_NAME: "floydhub/dl-docker"

- name: Run container for Jupyter notebook
docker_container:
name: "dl-docker-notebook"
image: "{{ DL_DOCKER_NAME }}:cpu"
state: started
command: sh run_jupyter.sh

You can invoke the playbook using the following command:

$ansible-playbook playbooks/configuration/docker.yml -K --tags=notebook The Dockerfile already exposes the port 8888, and hence you do not need to specify the same in the above docker_container configuration. After you run the playbook, using the ‘docker ps’ command on the host system, you can obtain the container ID as indicated below: $ sudo docker ps
CONTAINER ID        IMAGE                    COMMAND               CREATED             STATUS              PORTS                NAMES
a876ad5af751        floydhub/dl-docker:cpu   "sh run_jupyter.sh"   11 minutes ago      Up 4 minutes        6006/tcp, 8888/tcp   dl-docker-notebook

You can now login to the running container using the following command:

$sudo docker exec -it a876 /bin/bash You can then run an ‘ifconfig’ command to find the local IP address (“172.17.0.2” in this case), and then open http://172.17.0.2:8888 in a browser on your host system to see the Jupyter Notebook. A screenshot is shown in Figure 1: ## TensorBoard TensorBoard consists of a suite of visualization tools to understand the TensorFlow programs. It is installed and available inside the Docker container. After you login to the Docker container, at the root prompt, you can start Tensorboard by passing it a log directory as shown below: # tensorboard --logdir=./log You can then open http://172.17.0.2:6006/ in a browser on your host system to see the Tensorboard dashboard as shown in Figure 2: ## Docker Image Facts The docker_image_facts Ansible module provides useful information about a Docker image. We can use it to obtain the image facts for our dl-docker container as shown below: - name: Get Docker image facts hosts: localhost gather_facts: true become: true tags: [facts] vars: DL_DOCKER_NAME: "floydhub/dl-docker" tasks: - name: Get image facts docker_image_facts: name: "{{ DL_DOCKER_NAME }}:cpu" The above playbook can be invoked as follows: $ ANSIBLE_STDOUT_CALLBACK=json ansible-playbook playbooks/configuration/docker.yml -K --tags=facts 

The ANSIBLE_STDOUT_CALLBACK environment variable is set to ‘json’ to produce a JSON output for readability. Some important image facts from the invocation of the above playbook are shown below:

"Architecture": "amd64",
"Author": "Sai Soundararaj <saip@outlook.com>",

"Config": {

"Cmd": [
"/bin/bash"
],

"Env": [
"PATH=/root/torch/install/bin:/root/caffe/build/tools:/root/caffe/python:/usr/local/sbin:/usr/local/bin:/usr/sbin:/usr/bin:/sbin:/bin",
"CAFFE_ROOT=/root/caffe",
"PYCAFFE_ROOT=/root/caffe/python",
"PYTHONPATH=/root/caffe/python:",
"LUA_PATH=/root/.luarocks/share/lua/5.1/?.lua;/root/.luarocks/share/lua/5.1/?/init.lua;/root/torch/install/share/lua/5.1/?.lua;/root/torch/install/share/lua/5.1/?/init.lua;./?.lua;/root/torch/install/share/luajit-2.1.0-beta1/?.lua;/usr/local/share/lua/5.1/?.lua;/usr/local/share/lua/5.1/?/init.lua",
"LD_LIBRARY_PATH=/root/torch/install/lib:",
"DYLD_LIBRARY_PATH=/root/torch/install/lib:"
],

"ExposedPorts": {
"6006/tcp": {},
"8888/tcp": {}
},

"Created": "2016-06-13T18:13:17.247218209Z",
"DockerVersion": "1.11.1",

"Os": "linux",

"task": { "name": "Get image facts" }

You are encouraged to read the ‘Getting Started with Docker’ user guide available at http://docs.ansible.com/ansible/latest/guide_docker.html to know more about using Docker with Ansible.

## "isn't a title of this post" isn't a title of this post

[NOTE: This post originally appeared on deepsource.io, and has been posted here with due permission.]

In the early part of the last century, when David Hilbert was working on stricter formalization of geometry than Euclid, Georg Cantor had worked out a theory of different types of infinities, the theory of sets. This theory would soon unveil a series of confusing paradoxes, leading to a crisis in the Mathematics community  regarding the stability of the foundational principles of the math of that time.

Central to these paradoxes was the Russell’s paradox (or more generally, as we’d talk about later, the Epimenides Paradox). Let’s see what it is.

In those simpler times, you were allowed to define a set if you could describe it in English. And, owing to mathematicians’ predilection for self-reference, sets could contain other sets.

Russell then, came up with this:

$$R$$  is a set of all the sets which do not contain themselves.

The question was "Does $$R$$ contain itself?" If it doesn’t, then according to the second half of the definition it should. But if it does, then it no longer meets the definition.

The same can symbolically be represented as:

Let $$R = \{ x \mid x \not \in x \}$$, then $$R \in R \iff R \not \in R$$

Cue mind exploding.

“Grelling’s paradox” is a startling variant which uses adjectives instead of sets. If adjectives are divided into two classes, autological (self-descriptive) and heterological (non-self-descriptive), then, is ‘heterological’ heterological? Try it!

Or, the so-called Liar Paradox was another such paradox which shred apart whatever concept of ‘computability’ was, at that time - the notion that things could either be true or false.

Epimenides was a Cretan, who made one immortal statement:

“All Cretans are liars.”

If all Cretans are liars, and Epimenides was a Cretan, then he was lying when he said that “All Cretans are liars”. But wait, if he was lying then, how can we ‘prove’ that he wasn’t lying about lying? Ein?

This is what makes it a paradox: A statement so rudely violating the assumed dichotomy of statements into true and false, because if you tentatively think it’s true, it backfires on you and make you think that it is false. And a similar backfire occurs if you assume that the statement is false. Go ahead, try it!

If you look closely, there is one common culprit in all of these paradoxes, namely ‘self-reference’. Let’s look at it more closely.

### Strange Loopiness

If self-reference, or what Douglas Hofstadter - whose prolific work on the subject matter has inspired this blog post - calls ‘Strange Loopiness’ was the source of all these paradoxes, it made perfect sense to just banish self-reference, or anything which allowed it to occur. Russell and Whitehead, two rebel mathematicians of the time, who subscribed to this point of view, set forward and undertook the mammoth exercise, namely “Principia Mathematica”, which we as we will see in a little while, was utterly demolished by Gödel’s findings.

The main thing which made it difficult to ban self-reference was that it was hard to pin point where exactly did the self-reference occur. It may as well be spread out over several steps, as in this ‘expanded’ version of Epimenides:

The next statement is a lie.

The previous statement is true.

Russell and Whitehead, in P.M. then, came up with a multi-hierarchy set theory to deal with this. The basic idea was that a set of the lowest ‘type’ could only contain ‘objects’ as members (not sets). A set of the next type could then only either contain objects, or sets of lower types. This, implicitly banished self-reference.

Since, all sets must have a type, a set ‘which contains all sets which are not members of themselves’ is not a set at all, and thus you can say that Russell’s paradox was dealt with.

Similarly, if an attempt is made towards applying the expanded Epimenides to this theory, it must fail as well, for the first sentence to make a reference to the second one, it has to be hierarchically above it - in which case, the second one can’t loop back to the first one.

Thirty one years after David Hilbert set before the academia to rigorously demonstrate that the system defined in Principia Mathematica was both consistent (contradiction-free) and complete (i.e. every true statement could be evaluated to true within the methods provided by P.M.), Gödel published his famous Incompleteness Theorem. By importing the Epimenides Paradox right into the heart of P.M., he proved that not just the axiomatic system developed by Russell and Whitehead, but none of the axiomatic systems whatsoever were complete without being inconsistent.

Clear enough, P.M. lost it’s charm in the realm of academics.

Before Gödel’s work too, P.M. wasn’t particularly loved as well.

Why?

It isn’t just limited to this blog post, but we humans, in general, have a diet for self-reference - and this quirky theory severely limits our ability to abstract away details - something which we love, not only as programmers, but as linguists too - so much so, that the preceding paragraph, “It isn’t … this blog … we humans …” would be doubly forbidden because the ‘right’ to mention ‘this blog post’ is limited only to something which is hierarchically above blog posts, ‘metablog-posts’. Secondly, me (presumably a human) belonging to the class ‘we’ can’t mention ‘we’ either.

Since, we humans, love self-reference so much, let’s discuss some ways in which it can be expressed in written form.

One way of making such a strange loop, and perhaps the ‘simplest’ is using the word ‘this’. Here:

• This sentence is made up of eight words.
• This sentence refers to itself, and is therefore useless.
• This blog post is so good.
• This sentence conveys you the meaning of ‘this’.
• This sentence is a lie. (Epimenides Paradox)

Another amusing trick for creating a self-reference without using the word ‘this sentence’ is to quote the sentence inside itself.

Someone may come up with:

The sentence ‘The sentence contains five words’ contains five words.

But, such an attempt must fail, for to quote a finite sentence inside itself would mean that the sentence is smaller than itself. However, infinite sentences can be self-referenced this way.

The sentence
"The sentence
"The sentence
...etc
...etc
is infinitely long"
is infinitely long"
is infinitely long"


There’s a third method as well, which you already saw in the title - the Quine method. The term ‘Quine’ was coined by Douglas Hofstadter in his book “Gödel Escher, Bach” (which heavily inspires this blog post). When using this, the self-reference is ‘generated’ by describing a typographical entity, isomorphic to the quine sentence itself. This description is carried in two parts - one is a set of ‘instructions’ about how to ‘build’ the sentence, and the other, the ‘template’ contains information about the construction materials required.

The Quine version of Epimenides would be:

“yields falsehood when preceded by it’s quotation” yields falsehood when preceded by it’s quotation

Before going on with ‘quining’, let’s take a moment and realize how awfully powerful our cognitive capacities are, and what goes in our head when a cognitive payload full of self-references is delivered - in order to decipher it, we not only need to know the language, but also need to work out the referent of the phrase analogous to ‘this sentence’ in that language. This parsing depends on our complex, yet totally assimilated ability to handle the language.

The idea of referring to itself is quite mind-blowing, and we keep doing it all the time — perhaps, why it feels so ‘easy’ for us to do so. But, we aren’t born that way, we grow that way. This could better be realized by telling someone much younger “This sentence is wrong.”. They’d probably be confused - What sentence is wrong?. The reason why it’s so simple for self-reference to occur, and hence allow paradoxes, in our language, is well, our language. It allows our brain to do the heavy lifting of what the author is trying to get through us, without being verbose.

Back to Quines.

## Reproducing itself

Now, that we are aware of how ‘quines’ can manifest as self-reference, it would be interesting to see how the same technique can be used by a computer program to ‘reproduce’ itself.

To make it further interesting, we shall choose the language most apt for the purpose - brainfuck:

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Running that program above produces itself as the output. I agree, it isn’t the most descriptive program in the world, so written in Python below, is the nearest we can go to describe what’s happening inside those horrible chains of +’s and >’s:

THREE_QUOTES = '"' * 3

def eniuq(template): print(
f'{template}({THREE_QUOTES}{template}{THREE_QUOTES})')

eniuq("""THREE_QUOTES = '"' * 3

def eniuq(template): print(
f'{template}({THREE_QUOTES}{template}{THREE_QUOTES})')

eniuq""")


The first line generates """ on the fly, which marks multiline strings in Python.

Next two lines define the eniuq function, which prints the argument template twice - once, plain and then surrounded with triple quotes.

The last 4 lines cleverly call this function so that the output of the program is the source code itself.

Since we are printing in an order opposite of quining, the name of the function is ‘quine’ reversed -> eniuq (name stolen from Hofstadter again)

Remember the discussion about how self-reference capitalizes on the processor? What if ‘quining’ was a built-in feature of the language, providing what we in programmer lingo call ‘syntactic sugar’?

Let’s assume that an asterisk, * in the brainfuck interpreter would copy the instructions before executing them, what would then be the output of the following program?

*


It’d be an asterisk again. You could make an argument that this is silly, and should be counted as ‘cheating’. But, it’s the same as relying on the processor, like using “this sentence” to refer to this sentence - you rely on your brain to do the inference for you.

What if eniuq was a builtin keyword in Python? A perfect self-rep was then just be a call away:

eniuq('eniuq')


What if quine was a verb in the English language? We could reduce a lot of explicit cognitive processes required for inference. The Epimenides paradox would then be:

“yields falsehood if quined” yields falsehood if quined

Now, that we are talking about self-rep, here’s one last piece of entertainment for you.

## The Tupper’s self-referential formula

This formula is defined through an inequality:

$${1 \over 2} < \left\lfloor \mathrm{mod}\left(\left\lfloor {y \over 17} \right\rfloor 2^{-17 \lfloor x \rfloor - \mathrm{mod}(\lfloor y\rfloor, 17)},2\right)\right\rfloor$$

If you take that absurd thing above, and move around in the cartesian plane for the coordinates $$0 \le x \le 106, k \le y \le k + 17$$, where $$k$$ is a 544 digit integer (just hold on with me here), color every pixel black for True, and white otherwise, you'd get:

This doesn't end here. If $$k$$ is now replaced with another integer containing 291 digits, we get yours truly:

## TeX User Group Conference 2019, Palo Alto

The Tex User Group 2019 conference was held between August 9-11, 2019 at Sheraton Palo Alto Hotel, in Palo Alto, California.

I wanted to attend TUG 2019 for two main reasons - to present my work on the “XeTeX Book Template”, and also to meet my favourite computer scientist, Prof. Donald Knuth. He does not travel much, so, it was one of those rare opportunities for me to meet him in person. His creation of the TeX computer typesetting system, where you can represent any character mathematically, and also be able to program and transform it is beautiful, powerful and the best typesetting software in the world. I have been using TeX extensively for my documentation and presentations over the years.

# Day I

I reached the hotel venue only in the afternoon of Friday, August 9, 2019, as I was also visiting Mountain View/San Jose on official work. I quickly checked into the hotel and completed my conference registration formalities. When I entered the hall, Rishi T from STM Document Engineering Private Limited, Thiruvananthapuram was presenting a talk on “Neptune - a proofing framework for LaTeX authors”. His talk was followed by an excellent poetic narration by Pavneet Arora, who happened to be a Vim user, but, also mentioned that he was eager to listen to my talk on XeTeX and GNU Emacs.

After a short break, Shreevatsa R, shared his experiences on trying to understand the TeX source code, and the lessons learnt in the process. It was a very informative, user experience report on the challenges he faced in navigating and learning the TeX code. Petr Sojka, from Masaryk University, Czech Republic, shared his students’ experience in using TeX with a detailed field report. I then proceeded to give my talk on the “XeTeX Book Template” on creating multi-lingual books using GNU Emacs and XeTeX. It was well received by the audience. The final talk of the day was by Jim Hefferon, who analysed different LaTeX group questions from newbies and in StackExchange, and gave a wonderful summary of what newbies want. He is a professor of Mathematics at Saint Michael’s College, and is well-known for his book on Linear Algebra, prepared using LaTeX. It was good to meet him, as he is also a Free Software contributor.

The TUG Annual General Meeting followed with discussions on how to grow the TeX community, the challenges faced, membership fees, financial reports, and plan for the next TeX user group conference.

# Day II

The second day of the conference began with Petr Sojka and Ondřej Sojka presenting on “The unreasonable effectiveness of pattern generation”. They discussed the Czech hyphenation patterns along with a pattern generation case study. This talk was followed by Arthur Reutenauer presenting on “Hyphenation patterns in TeX Live and beyond”. David Fuchs, a student who worked with Prof. Donald Knuth on the TeX project in 1978, then presented on “What six orders of magnitude of space-time buys you”, where he discussed the design trade-offs in TeX implementation between olden days and present day hardware.

After a short break, Tom Rokicki, who was also a student at Stanford and worked with Donald Knuth on TeX, gave an excellent presentation on searching and copying text in PDF documents generated by TeX for Type-3 bitmap fonts. This session was followed by Martin Ruckert’s talk on “The design of the HINT file format”, which is intended as a replacement of the DVI or PDF file format for on-screen reading of TeX output. He has also authored a book on the subject - “HINT: The File Format: Reflowable Output for TeX”. Doug McKenna had implemented an interactive iOS math book with his own TeX interpreter library. This allows you to dynamically interact with the typeset document in a PDF-free ebook format, and also export the same. We then took a group photo:

I then had to go to Stanford, so missed the post-lunch sessions, but, returned for the banquet dinner in the evening. I was able to meet and talk with Prof. Donald E. Knuth in person. Here is a memorable photo!

He was given a few gifts at the dinner, and he stood up and thanked everyone and said that “He stood on the shoulders of giants like Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.”

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I had a chance to meet a number of other people who valued the beauty, precision and usefulness of TeX. Douglas Johnson had come to the conference from Savannah, Georgia and is involved in the publishing industry. Rohit Khare, from Google, who is active in the Representational State Transfer (ReST) community shared his experiences with typesetting. Nathaniel Stemen is a software developer at Overleaf, which is used by a number of university students as an online, collaborative LaTeX editor. Joseph Weening, who was also once a student to Prof. Donald Knuth, and is at present a Research Staff member at the Institute for Defense Analyses Center for Communications Research in La Jolla, California (IDA/CCR-L) shared his experiences in working with the TeX project.

# Day III

The final day of the event began with Antoine Bossard talking on “A glance at CJK support with XeTeX and LuaTeX”. He is an Associate Professor of the Graduate School of Science, Kanagawa University, Japan. He has been conducting research regarding Japanese characters and their memorisation. This session was followed by a talk by Jaeyoung Choi on “FreeType MF Module 2: Integration of Metafont and TeX-oriented bitmap fonts inside FreeType”. Jennifer Claudio then presented the challenges in improving Hangul to English translation.

After a short break, Rishi T presented “TeXFolio - a framework to typeset XML documents using TeX”. Boris Veytsman then presented the findings on research done at the College of Information and Computer Science, University of Massachusetts, Amherst on “BibTeX-based dataset generation for training citation parsers”. The last talk before lunch was by Didier Verna on “Quickref: A stress test for Texinfo”. He teaches at École Pour l’Informatique et les Techniques Avancées, and is a maintainer of XEmacs, Gnus and BBDB. He also an avid Lisper and one of the organizers of the European Lisp Symposium!

After lunch, Uwe Ziegenhagen demonstrated on using LaTeX to prepare and automate exams. This was followed by a field report by Yusuke Terada, on how they use TeX to develop a digital exam grading system at large scale in Japan. Chris Rowley, from the LaTeX project, then spoke on “Accessibility in the LaTeX kernel - experiments in tagged PDF”. Ross Moore joined remotely for the final session of the day to present on “LaTeX 508 - creating accessible PDFs”. The videos of both of these last two talks are available online.

A number of TeX books were made available for free for the participants, and I grabbed quite a few, including a LaTeX manual written by Leslie Lamport. Overall, it was a wonderful event, and it was nice to meet so many like-minded Free Software people.

A special thanks to Karl Berry, who put in a lot of effort in organizing the conference, but, could not make it to due to a car accident.

The TeX User Group Conference in 2020 is scheduled to be held at my alma mater, Rochester Institute of Technology.

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