Retiring as a Debian developer

This is a repost and update of my retirement letter sent privately to Debian last month, July 10, 2016. At that time I received many notes of appreciation and good wishes which I treasure. Now, I’d like to say goodbye to the broader Debian community and, as well, indicate which of the cleanup items have since been addressed in strikethrough style and with annotations. Also, I’d like to stay in touch with many of you, so I have added some comments oriented towards those of you who are interested in doing that after the letter.

When in 1995, on a tip from a friend, I installed Debian on my 386 at work and was enthralled with the results, I could not have foreseen that two years later, friends I had made on channel #debian would nudge me to become a Debian developer. Nor when that happened did I have any idea that twenty years later, I’d consider Debian to be like family, the greatest free software community in the world, and would still be promoting it and helping people with it whenever I could. Debian quietly, unexpectedly became a part of what defines me.

My priorities in life have changed over that time, though. I have shifted my attention to things that are more important to me in life, such as my family, my health and well-being physically and spiritually, and bringing all I can to bear on the task of preserving our local wilderness areas and trails. In the latter area, I’m now bringing all of what Debian has helped shaped me to be to the table, launching some ambitious projects I hope will bear fruit in the coming years, and make a measurable contribution to help us hang onto our precious natural preserves where I live.

Unfortunately, as I’ve poured more time and energy into these things, I’ve increasingly not been giving my packages the care they need. Nor do I have any roles or goals now for any of the Debian projects I was previously involved in. So, after much careful deliberation, and as much as it pains me to say it, it’s time to retire as a Debian developer. It has been a great privilege to work with you, and to meet many of you in New York at Debconf 10. I plan to be around online, and will continue to take an interest in Debian, lending a hand when I can. Thanks for all of the fun times, for all that I’ve learned, and for the privilege to make awesome things with you. I’ll treasure this forever.

So much for the soppy bits. ūüôā Now, business. These things remain to clean up upon my departure, and I’d appreciate help from QA, and anyone else who can lend a hand. My packages are effectively orphaned, but I haven’t the time to do any of the cleanup myself, so please speak up if you can help.

  1. Debian Jr.
    • O: junior-doc. The junior-doc package has been awaiting an overhaul by whoever revives the project since I gave it up years ago. I’m still listed as maintainer and that should be changed to Debian Junior Maintainers <debianjr-maintainers@lists.alioth.debian.org> if they want it. Otherwise, it is orphaned.
    • I should also be dropped from Uploaders from debian-junior, the metapackages source. Fixed in git.
  2. Tux Paint. This is a very special package that deserves to go to someone who will love it and care for it well. There are three source packages in all:
    • O: tuxpaint
    • O: tuxpaint-config
    • O: tuxpaint-stamps
  3. O: xletters. This is a cute little typing practice game and needs a new maintainer.
  4. XPilot is co-maintained by Phil Brooke <pjb@debian.org>, so he should replace me as Maintainer. Phil said he’ll pick up xpilot-ng and will also look at xpilot-extra.
    • xpilot-ng
    • O: xpilot-extra (recently removed from testing due to my neglect, and not co-maintained by Phil; it’s unclear if anyone really uses this anymore)
  5. GTypist is co-maintained by Daniel Leidert <dleidert@debian.org> and should replace me as Maintainer.
  6. My ruby packages. A group of packages that I brought into Debian as dependencies of taskwarrior-web, which I never completed. Maybe they’ll be useful in and of themselves, and maybe not. In any case, they are maintained by pkg-ruby-extras-maintainers, but I’m the sole developer in Uploaders and should be removed: Fixed in git.
    • ruby-blockenspiel
    • ruby-parseconfig
    • ruby-rack-flash3
    • ruby-simple-navigation
    • ruby-sinatra-simple-navigation
    • ruby-term-ansicolor
    • ruby-versionomy
  7. Debian Live stuff: I am listed in Uploaders for live-manual (fixed in git) and debian-installer-launcher (fixed in git) and need to be removed.
  8. O: eeepc-acpi-scripts. The defunct Debian EeePC project has just this one package. Recently, the mailing list was asked about its status, and it was recently NMU’d. To my knowledge, nobody from the original team remains to take care of it, so it needs a new maintainer. I should be removed from Uploaders, and since the Debian Eee PC Team no longer exists, it should be removed as maintainer. It is effectively orphaned unless someone speaks up.

There are also some Alioth projects / lists that are defunct that I’ll need to talk to the Alioth admins about cleaning up in the coming days. One of these is <debian-eeepc-devel@lists.alioth.debian.org> and since it is still listed as the maintainer of eeepc-acpi-scripts, that needs to be sorted out before the list can be closed.

Thanks again, and see you around!
Ben

Stay in touch

For those of you who would like to stay in touch, here are some ways to do that:

  • Follow my blog: http://syn.theti.ca
    If you already do that, great! If not, welcome to my blog! For the past couple of years you may have noticed a decrease in technical content and increase in local trails and conservation oriented posts. You can expect more of the latter.
  • Say hi to me on irc: SynrG (also SynrGy) on irc.oftc.net (irc.debian.org) or irc.freenode.net.
    I still intend to hang out and offer support when I can, just no longer as a developer. Channel #debian-offtopic on either network is a good place to catch up with me socially.
  • Follow me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SynrG
    For better or worse, a lot of the trails and conservation folks hang out here, and many of you in the Debian community are already my Facebook friends.
  • Look for my Bluff Trail posts on their site: https://wrweo.ca
    Providing tech support to this organization is where much of my time and energy is going these days. I post here once in a while, but do most of my work behind the scenes as a volunteer and, newly this year, as a board member.
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The passing of Debian Live

Debian Live has passed on. And it has done so in not happy circumstances. (You can search the list archives for more if you are confused.) I have reposted here my response to this one thread because it’s all I really want to say, after all of the years of working with the team.

I’d like to add as a postscript, that while the focus of this article¬†was to remain positive in the face of Daniel’s announcement of the closure of his project, that event has left a lot of users confused about the status of live support in Debian going forward. Read my posts here and here addressing that confusion.

On 09/11/15 12:47 PM, Daniel Baumann wrote:
> So long, and thanks for all the fish[7].
>
> Daniel
>
> [7] http://live.debian.net/project/downstream/

Enough bitter words have been said. I don’t want to add any more. So:

I’m proud.

Indeed, that long list of downstreams does speak to the impact you’ve¬†had in inspiring and equipping people to make their own live images. I’m¬†proud to have been a small part of this project.

I’m thankful.

I’m thankful that I was able to, through this project, contribute to¬†something for a while that had a positive impact on many people, and¬†made Debian more awesome.

I remember the good times.

I remember fondly the good times we had in the project’s heyday. I¬†certainly found your enthusiasm and vision for the project, Daniel,¬†personally inspiring. It motivated me to contribute. Debconf10 was a¬†highlight among those experiences, but also I had many good times and¬†made many friendships online, too.

I’m sad.

I’m sad, because although I made some attempts to liaise between Debian¬†Live and the CD and Installer teams, I don’t feel I did an effective job¬†there, and that contributed to the situation we now find ourselves in.¬†If I did you or the project injury in trying to fulfill that role, please forgive me.

I’m hopeful.

I’m hopeful that whichever way we all go from here, that the bitterness¬†will not be forever. That we’ll heal. That we’ll have learned. That¬†we’ll move on to accomplish new things, bigger and better things.

Thank you, Daniel. Thank you, Debian Live team.

Ben

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Debian Live Rescue needs some love

You may have noticed that Jessie no longer includes the useful rescue¬†flavour of live image, formerly included in Wheezy and earlier releases, and neither will Stretch unless you take action. This is my second public call for help this year to revive it. So if you care about rescue, here’s how you can help:

  • First, try a self-built image, based on the old live-image-rescue configuration. While Jessie still contains the live-image-rescue configuration for live-build as a starting point, to successfully build this image for yourself, you need to edit the package lists to drop or substitute any packages that aren’t in the archive. As of writing, this includes libphash0, mii-diag, denyhosts, hal and emacs23-nox. (Tip: for the latter, substitute emacs24-nox.)
  • Join or form a team to maintain the rescue¬†metapackages in the long term. All of the official Debian Live images are based on metapackages that are looked after by various other teams, (principally the desktop teams,) with rescue¬†being the sole exception. The¬†old package lists include some forensics packages, so you may wish to contact¬†Debian Forensics, but I don’t want to presume they’ll take it on.
  • Have your team decide on what¬†a¬†rescue¬†system should include. You might start with the old lists, spruced up a bit just to make the image build, or you might take an entirely different tack. This is your project, so it’s up to you.
  • File a bug on tasksel, preferably with patch, to include a task-forensics and/or task-rescue task (or whatever you decide the task or tasks should be called).
  • File a bug on the live-images package to include your work.

If you have any questions not answered in this post, please feel free to leave a comment on this blog, talk to the Debian Live team on irc ‚ÄĒ I’m SynrG, and hang out with the team at¬†#debian-live @ irc.oftc.net) ‚ÄĒ or drop us an email at debian-live@lists.debian.org.

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Taskwarrior new blog, getting involved

The Taskwarrior Team has just started a blog, kicking it off with a series of articles about development of Taskwarrior itself. Go, team!

Almost from the moment I started using Taskwarrior (thanks to Jakub WIlk for an excellent job maintaining this) I knew I had finally found the todo system that I could love. Right away, I started hanging out with the Taskwarrior community at #taskwarrior @ irc.freenode.net and found out what an awesome bunch of people they are, both developers and users alike. I have plunged in with bug reports and feature requests, and am helping get more Taskwarrior-related things into Debian. In NEW right now I have uploaded several of the dependencies needed by my ITP of taskwarrior-web. It’s looking like I’ll have that finished later this month or early next month. Also, I have uploaded a wheezy backport of Taskwarrior itself (aka ‘task’) which, if all goes well, enters the archive next week.

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Debugging the installer on Debian Live

I’ve been using this process for debugging the installer while launched from a Debian Live desktop. Having a full live environment at your disposal during install is a boon to debugging because you don’t have to work within the constraints normally imposed upon you by the limited debian-installer environment. Caveat: running debian-installer from the debian-installer-launcher still has one or two unresolved issues, so unless you’re specifically working on live integration issues like I am, compare with a conventional d-i image install to gain the added confidence the install is the same in both environments.

There are no longer active maintainers working on debian-installer-launcher and live-installer, and I think it’s really important for wheezy to release with solid support for live installs, so I’ve been using this setup to try to solve #702335. So far, progress is slow because I’m new to this. If anyone is interested in collaborating in this work, give me a shout. I am SynrG @ irc.oftc.net and can be found on #debian-live and #debian-boot if you would like to drop in.

Overview:

  1. Use images/lxde-desktop config from live-images.git and build your own image with live-build >=3.0.1-1. Just add “-b hdd” in auto/config before starting your build, as having a read/writable image is handy for this exercise.
  2. Boot the live medium. You may prefer to do this in a VM for convenience, having prepared a blank virtual disk image as your target in advance.
  3. Make any small changes you want to the installer before launching it.¬† A quick hack I’ve used is to “sudo vi /usr/sbin/debian-installer-launcher” and near the end on the line after “prepare” right before “run”, open a new line and add “bash” so an interactive shell will be opened after the installer is extracted but before it is launched. For larger changes (e.g. inclusion of updated udebs, etc.) add them to your live image configuration before building as described in live-manual.
  4. Open two root terminals and do “debian-installer-launcher -t debug” in one and “tail -f /lib/live/installer/var/log/syslog” in the other. If you’ve added the hack from step 3, don’t forget to “exit” the interactive shell after making changes. Now you can watch debug output as you go through the steps of the installer. If you like, you may append additional boot prompt parameters (e.g. preseeds) to the debian-installer-launcher command.
  5. During the install, you may modify other parts of the unpacked installer under /lib/live/installer (e.g. to add ‘set -x’ to some scripts) prior to executing steps that would call them.
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Involve kids in free software development through play

Giving up on a position within a free software project when you know you’re no longer managing to do an effective job is a wonderfully liberating experience. Now that I have started to talk with Miriam Ruiz about handing over the Debian Jr. project, I can stop worrying about the leadership task and just have fun with it.

I can always count on Miriam for recommendations for games in Debian my kids may enjoy, as she has a passion for finding good games to package for Debian, and in particular, games for children. Over the past few weeks we’ve had some fun with her picks. At the same time, I always have Debian Jr. in mind. How can we ensure kids can have the most fun with this? How do we equip their guides to help them?

What we’ve done with each new piece of software is to find a quiet time when one or more of the children can start playing with it on their own while we watch, offering such guidance as they need, but for the most part just letting them loose with it. Each wrinkle of the brow, each impetuous thump of the mouse, every illuminated grin and exclamation of delight is noted. We try to see what frustrates or pleases our kids and discuss it both with them and the Debian maintainers and upstream developers. This is an excercise we’ve managed to pull off without being overly intrusive and the results have been well worth the effort.

Using a few of Miriam’s picks we tried this week, we were able to draw their play into the free software development process. Here’s a brief summary of those sessions:

Platinum Arts Sandbox puts into children’s hands the ability to role play in a 3D world and edit that world using simplified controls. The expressions on the faces of our kids as they played were priceless: both the ups and the downs. I wanted to capture this on video and share it. After having established a rapport with upstream, we took a 20 minute clip of one of our play sessions and gave a copy to them to use to help further their work. Here is the edited result. They were very pleased to have that kind of feedback and found the video valuable for determining where the software still needed improvement and to notice which aspects particularly pleased the children.

I happen to know that Hex-a-hop is one of Miriam’s personal favourites. We have a household full of puzzle-lovers so this puzzle game was an instant hit. While on irc on #debian-jr with Miriam we relayed in real-time some of the reactions as they played this and a handful of her other picks. This gave her some confirmation of areas she knew needed work as well as inspiration for upcoming releases of these packages.

During this play session, which also included StegaVorto, kartofel, Anagramarama, Funny Boat and Vodovod, my youngest girl, age 7, plunked down on the couch next to me as her 10-year-old sister played. Then she started to notice I was typing what people in the livingroom were saying and doing on irc. She took a mild affront to me copying her own words and actions, so I decided it would be better to let her participate so she would feel included. At this point, I started playing secretary for her, typing what she dictated to me while she read the responses from the display. Later, I just handed her the keyboard so she could type and read the responses on her own. She was still at it long past bedtime and it was with some reluctance that she finally gave up the keyboard. We all had a lot of fun and look forward to doing this again.

We are particularly careful with privacy, taking care to share pictures, videos, and other personal details only so far as we believe it does not put our children at risk. Also, we need to ensure we observe in a way that is welcome and doesn’t interfere with their enjoyment. But with a little bit of prudence and a practiced eye and ear for what increases or diminishes enjoyment of the software, we can involve our children directly in the free software development process. I commend to anyone who has the privilege to share free software with children to use this method to communicate with maintainers and developers, increasing your own enjoyment of the software in the process and that of children and their guides everywhere.

Update: A quote from this article has made it to Slashdot. Although many of the comments seem to miss my point entirely, it’s nice to get a wider audience.

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