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. 🙂 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.

Debian Live After Debian Live

Get involved

After this happened, my next step was to get re-involved in Debian Live to help it carry on after the loss of Daniel. Here’s a quick update on some team progress, notes that could help people building Stretch images right now, and what to expect next.

Team progress

  • Iain uploaded live-config, incorporating an important fix, #bc8914bc, that prevented images from booting.
  • I want to get live-images ready for an upload, including #8f234605 to fix wrong config/bootloaders that prevented images from building.

Test build notes

  • As always, build Stretch images with latest live-build from Sid (i.e. 5.x).
  • Build Stretch images, not Sid, as there’s less of a chance of dependency issues spoiling the build, and that’s the default anyway.
  • To make build iterations faster, make sure the config is modified to not build source & not include installer (edit auto/config before ‘lb config’) and use an apt caching proxy.
  • Don’t forget to inject fixed packages (e.g. live-config) into each config. Use apt pinning as per live-manual, or drop the debs into config/packages.chroot.

Test boot notes

  • Use kvm, giving it enough ram (-m 1024 works for me).
  • For gnome-desktop and kde-desktop, use -vga qxl, or else the desktop will crash and restart repeatedly.
  • When using qxl, edit boot params to add qxl.modeset=1 (workaround for #779515, which will be fixed in kernel >= 4.3).
  • My gnome image test was spoiled by #802929. The mouse doesn’t work (pointer moves, but no buttons work). Waiting on a new kernel to fix this. This is a test environment related bug only, i.e. should work fine on hardware. (Test pending.)
  • The Stretch standard, lxde-desktop, cinnamon-desktop, xfce-desktop, and gnome-desktop images all built and booted fine (except for the gnome issue noted above).
  • The Stretch kde-desktop and mate-desktop images are next on my list to test, along with Jessie images.
  • I’ve only tested on the standard and lxde-desktop images that if the installer is included, booting from the Install boot menu option starts the installer (i.e. didn’t do an actual install).

Coming soon

See the TODO in the wiki. We’re knocking these off steadily. It will be faster with more people helping (hint, hint).

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.

Bits from the Eee PC team, Spring 2009

Lenny well supported

We’re pleased that Lenny released with good support for the Eee PC and are now turning our efforts to make Squeeze even better, while continuing to provide support for our Lenny user base.  The standard Lenny installer can install Debian on all models of Eee and our custom installer provides the ability to install over wireless for almost every model (more about this later) from a very small image.  The latter continues to be our recommended install method, since in addition to being wireless-ready, the custom installer also handles a few other small eee-specific configuration chores to make as much as possible “just work” right after the install.

Solid mainstream support

We’ve made good on our promise to make Debian work on the Eee PC, not a derivative, many of which use a custom kernel instead of the stock kernel as we do and use a special desktop instead of our users’ favourites.  While we agree that some intriguing things can be done in these areas, it is no substitute for mainstream support.  Our users are better served by a solid foundation than specialised modifications that limit their choices.  We want them to be able to enjoy the freedom to mold Debian, the universal OS, into whatever suits them best.

Squeeze support started

Work is well underway on supporting all Eee models in Squeeze.  For months, several team members have been experimenting with new kernels, producing support for them in eeepc-acpi-scripts.  The current release of this key package (version 1.1.0) supports Linux 2.6.29 and contains enhancements for wifi, sound hotkeys, bluetooth, external displays and OSD.

Squeeze will support wired & wifi on all current models

With the appearance of 2.6.29 in Sid, all ethernet and wifi cards used in all models of Eee today are supportable without the need for out-of-kernel or non-free drivers.  Madwifi is replaced by the free ath5k driver, the non-free rt2860 package is replaced by mainstream kernel support, (though it still requires non-free firmware provided separately by firmware-linux — for now in 2.6.29, the firmware is included in the kernel, but that is a bug fixed in 2.6.30,) rtl8187se is included, making it possible now for us to support the model 701SD, and ath9k is included, making full support for newer models such as the 1000HE possible.

Lenny backports and live demo

All of these changes can be enjoyed today by Lenny users.  Just add Daniel Baumann’s Lenny kernel backport repository and then install the 2.6.29 kernel and an updated acpid.  See our upgrade howto for details.  You can try a small (less than 256M) demo of this configuration by downloading beta 2 of our Live USB image.

Accessibility

Late last year, we discussed how to make it easier for the blind to install Debian unassisted on their Eee PCs.  As it was a simple change, we now include brltty in the custom installer, but we understand that some users also need software synthesized text-to-speech, something for which there is no support yet in the standard Debian-installer.  We understand this isn’t an easy thing to fix, but hope someone will rise to the challenge.

Growing team of developers

We welcome Darren Salt and Raphael Geissert to the team this year.  Both have been actively making contributions to the eeepc-acpi-scripts package over the past months, fixing some outstanding bugs and readying it to handle changes in more recent kernel releases.

Moved eeepc.debian.net to new hosting

Nico Golde, who hosted eeepc.debian.net for the first year development, has turned his focus to other areas of Debian.  Glenn Saberton has stepped in to provide a new home for it.  We thank them both for their efforts and for a smooth, uneventful transition from one host to the other.

Size of user community

Speaking of the move, earlier this year, Glenn shared with us some interesting archive traffic statistics that give us a rough idea how many users we have.  For the months of December and January, after factoring out bot hits, we were seeing about 300,000 hits from 15,000 unique users per month.  The site handles roughly 60G of traffic per month, most of that from thousands of downloads of our custom installer image.  It’s hard to draw any firm conclusions about the size of our user base from these stats, as many users may be on dynamic IP numbers, inflating the numbers, but we can conservatively say we have at least 5000 users.  Other interesting statistics are that we have anywhere up to 80 users at any given time on our irc channel and over 250 users on the mailing list.

Help wanted

The Asus Eee PC line continues to expand, with 24 models listed so far.  It is a challenge to keep up support for all of them.  We’re encouraged to see Asus choose a new b/g/n wifi chipset for their 1002HA that is supported by a DFSG free driver — ath9k in this case.  It appears that the new Atom N280-based 1000HE uses the same chipset as well (though be careful: I know of at least one user who bought a 1000HE in Argentina expecting it to have this chipset and was disappointed to find it had the Ralink chipset instead, we guess because of availability).  If this trend continues, we’ll be that much closer to our goal of full support for Squeeze main.  As it stands, we’re already as close as we can get given the state of rt2860 and no prospect on the horizon for replacing the non-free firmware.

If you would like to help us out in any way, whether by testing, debugging, patching, or improving our documentation, get in touch with our team.  We rely on your feedback to keep Lenny in good shape and work towards making Squeeze even better for all users of Debian on the Eee PC.

Bits from the Debian Eee PC team, autumn 2008

Some brief highlights of the last three months of Debian Eee PC development.

Thermal and ACPI breakage resolved in 2.6.26-7

We’re pleased to see that in the upload to Sid of linux-image-2.6.26-1-686 version 2.6.26-7, the pair of 2.6.26 bugs we’ve been tracking that have made it difficult for Eee users to upgrade their systems have been resolved. Since then 2.6.26-8 has been uploaded and is expected to enter Lenny this week due to a freeze exception. Once the new kernel has migrated we will move quickly to build and release a new installer that includes it.

Ath5k wifi works on Eee PC in Linux 2.6.27

Jean-Christophe reports that ath5k works in Linux 2.6.27 on the Eee PC 701, and just needs a small patch to work with our eeepc-acpi-scripts package. This is good news for those of us with models 701, 900, 900A and 1000HD who have been wanting to get off of the non-free Madwifi drivers and onto DFSG free drivers.

New Eee PC model 701SD wifi support in the works

Users of the new Eee PC Model 701SD have just started showing up looking for support in mainstream Linux distros. Martin Filtenborg confirmed using our Eee PC Live image with the GPL’d rtl8187se driver from Realtek that we can at least use it to connect to an unencrypted AP, get an IP address and ping other hosts.

Of course, it is one thing to have a working vendor-supplied driver and quite another to have mainstream support. We’ll make do with what we have now, but will be seeking a mainstream solution as soon as possible.

We’re seeking more testers and developers to work on this. To date, an ITP has not been filed, as it is not yet clear who is going to carry this work forward.

Chasing the 5 second boot

An interesting discussion on Arjan van de Ven and
Auke Kok’s work to get an Eee 901 to boot in 5 seconds
took place this month. While the Debian Eee PC team is not making work on this a priority, we’ll keep an eye on it to see if Debian can incorporate some or all of the techniques they used so that our users can benefit without making radical changes to their systems.

Working towards mainstream support for rt2860

Our filing of an ITP for rt2860 (the wifi driver for models 901, 1000 and 1000H) was followed by discussion about how to separate out the GPL’d driver from the embedded non-free firmware so that it can at least go into contrib. Glenn Saberton has been working on rewriting the build system around kbuild and separating out the firmware.

Numerous improvements to ACPI scripts

Since my last progress report, there have been numerous improvements to the eeepc-acpi-scripts package to deal with all of the various models we now support and make the scripts more robust and flexible. Check out the changelog for details.

Bits from the Debian Eee PC team, summer 2008

As always, we’re doing lots of interesting and significant things and have more good ideas than we have people to do the work.  If you have an Eee PC or are planning to get one, or are otherwise interested in our work, some of which has uses beyond just the Eee, here are some highlights:

Earliest Eee models supported in Lenny

Lenny will release with the atl2 ethernet driver and the non-free madwifi-source now works with the earliest Eee models as well, so our patched version is no longer needed.  This means Lenny will work with all of the earliest models of the Eee PC: 701 (2G and 4G surf, 4G, 8G) and 900! All we need now for full support in Lenny is to replace the non-free wireless driver with the free ath5k driver when it is ready.

Free drivers

Nick Kossifidis has submitted patches on linux-wireless supporting the Eee models currently supported only by the non-free madwifi in ath5k.  This means we’ll soon realize our goal of a completely DFSG free system for the earliest models of the Eee.  By 2.6.27, or at the latest 2.6.28, these models will be supported.  Then we will see about making a patch to support whichever kernel makes it into Lenny.

New models

Model 901, 1000 and 1000H users are now able to install using the atl1e ethernet driver from eeepc.debian.net.  Support for wireless and other aspects of the new hardware will follow soon.  The debian-kernel team was prompt to add atl1e to 2.6.26 which has just been uploaded to sid.  We hope 2.6.26 makes it into Lenny.

Wireless installer

Glenn Saberton has been doing an upstanding job adding wireless support to our custom Debian-installer.  We have supported WEP authentication for several releases, now, and a beta version supports WPA.  Glenn is also making progress with these patches upstream so that non-Eee Debian users will benefit from our work.

LXDE is in Lenny

LXDE has entered Lenny, thanks to Andrew Lee.  It is a quite lightweight desktop environment that is made with the Eee PC in mind.

Live images

Two flavours of Debian-live USB images are available: a demo of the LXDE desktop and a minimal console-only image for rescue/backup.  The images are still in alpha stage of development.  If you’d like to help, give us a shout.

More interesting things are planned for the future that benefit Debian as a whole.  With a small amount of work patching live-helper, anyone will be able to make a live image that includes a customized Debian-installer.

Mobile device initiative

This month on debian-devel, there was some interesting discussion about Debian support for the Intel Atom processor and a possible mobile net device initiative.  That’s something we could get behind, if anything comes of it.

Wiki translation

Robert Epprecht has been keeping the German wiki translation in good shape, but we could always use some more help with any of the translations.

New members welcome

If you’d like to join us, check out our site at http://wiki.debian.org/DebianEeePC and drop us a note on our list or join our irc channel and talk to us about what you’d like to do.

 

 

Install Debian on your Eee PC over wireless

Installing Debian on your Eee PC is even easier now, as the option to install over wireless is now present in our custom debian-installer image. Also, the new installer automates installation of many more things than prior releases, so wireless, acpi hotkeys and suspend all ‘just work’ out of the box.

Two barriers remain to including wireless support for the Eee in Debian main. The first is the lack of wireless support in the official d-i installer. The second is the dependency on the non-free madwifi driver. I have no illusions about this being ready for Lenny, but I hope in Lenny + 1 this will be realized.

The good news is that Nick Kossifidis is working on getting support for the Eee into ath5k. For patches, see: http://kernel.org/pub/linux/kernel/people/mickflemm.

I have created a stub page FreeYourEee in our wiki about making a completely DFSG free install of Debian on the Eee. I encourage anyone going this route to contribute.