Interdependence in Debian, how to suffer less from it

Listening to Martin Krafft’s talk at Debconf (related to his PhD) shed some new light on the idea that I expressed last year — I wanted that each maintainer regularly answers a questionnaire so that he has to ask himself whether he does a good enough job with his packages.

When thinking of this idea, I only saw the QA side of ensuring good maintenance on all packages, however I believe that the root problem lies further and this project would not be enough: we are interdependent but we are not equipped to deal with this reality. Martin’s only merit has been to mention that we are interdependent, but it’s worth analyzing a bit.

Our organization is centered around individuals acting as package maintainers, and in theory each package maintainer can work on his corner and all goes well. We know that this model doesn’t hold any more: transitions to testing require coordination of uploads and timely fixes of RC bugs, keeping up with the work frequently requires several volunteers that have to coordinate, etc. More and more of the work requires a level of availability that a single individual can’t offer, yet in our day-to-day work we mainly interact with individuals. Wouldn’t it be better if we could immediately know what we can expect from any Debian developer:

  • mean time to reply to Debian mail (reading every day or once a week is not the same);
  • amount/periods of time spent on Debian (knowing that they spend up to 4 hours mainly on Saturday can be useful);
  • current availability for Debian (if they are currently busy with life, we should be able to know it, if they know when it will end, it would also be good to share);
  • best way to get in touch for issues (they might have preference between IRC or mail);
  • kind of relationship they have with packages where they are listed in Maintainer/Uploaders (an active maintainer that uses the software daily is not the same than a passive maintainer that only packaged the software because it was a build-dependency for some other software that they care about);
  • any other information that the maintainer wants to share (about his habits/constraints/values/goals/whatever).

All this information should be shared by all Debian maintainers (some of it is already available but either not publicly or not in any machine-parseable way) and we should actively use it. Here are some examples of use: for each RC bug report, you could look up if at least one maintainer is available and you could ping him explicitly if needed. When you plan an NMU, you could look up if the maintainer is likely to respond in the next day or not, and possibly adjust the number of days spent in the DELAYED queue. When organizing a large-scale transition, you could extract a list of packages whose maintainers are not available and arrange immediate NMUs.

Furthermore there are many cases where the project’s usual expectation exceed what the maintainer is ready to do. Documenting what part of the job is done (or not) by the maintainer makes it clear for volunteers whether their help is needed and whether they could/would be a better maintainer for a given package.

Designing solutions to all these problems is going to be the scope of the DEP2 that I reserved some time ago. It’s likely to be some sort of dedicated web interface. I would welcome supplementary drivers for this DEP, so if you’re interested, get in touch with me.

Flights for Debconf

I have booked my flights for Debconf9 in July. I will arrive in Madrid on July 23th at 10:30 from Lyon Saint-Exupéry (LYS-MAD, flight AF5891) and I will leave on July 31th at 17:40 (MAD-LYS, flight AF5892). I plan to use the train to go to Cáceres but it’s too early to buy tickets on I also have no idea how far the train station is (from the airport) but it looks like I will have several hours transit time anyway. There aren’t so many trains for Cáceres. The train tickets will likely cost around 30 EUR each.

I’m glad that I can attend again this year. I’m sure it will be very productive. At least concerning dpkg it will be good to meet Guillem Jover IRL.

Release Lenny GR

This is the worst vote that has come up since I’m part of Debian. And Manoj — the secretary — has refused to listen to the remarks of many developers about the misleading titles/summaries, about the unjustified 3:1 ratio, and worst of all, about the mixing of multiple questions in a single ballot.

I have ranked misleading options (“Reaffirm social contract“ at least) lowest and below “Further discussion“ and sorted all the other options according to my preference, and ranked some of them equally when the choices answer different questions (where I can not prioritize any preferred outcome). I’m not yet sure if I put “Further discussion“ first or not.

There’s some hope that the vote will be cancelled and redone with separate ballots but I’ve lost trust in Manoj’s abilities to do his job properly. I’m sure he’s convinced that he’s doing the right thing but that doesn’t help at all, on the contrary. It also means we probably should fix the constitution to make it crystal-clear how the secretary should decide whether 3:1 ratio is needed for a given resolution or not. Not really the kind of thing I enjoy within Debian, but that’s the price to pay if we want to continue to work together. On this and much more I agree with Russ Alberry.

Update: Manoj resigned as secretary. I want to thank him for having taken this hard decision. And I sincerely hope he doesn’t resign from Debian completely as our strength is also in our diversity of opinions.

Dell Latitude E4300 with Debian

So I replaced my Latitude D410 with a shiny new Latitude E4300 (Intel Core 2 Duo SP9400 2.4 Ghz with 4 Gb RAM). Here are some notes about this laptop that might be interesting for others.

SSD disk

I now use an SSD drive for my main disk (Dell Ultra Performance SSD, it’s the second generation of Samsung SSD) and I’m satisfied with that choice, I can boot (an unmodified Debian desktop install) from the SSD in less than 30 seconds while the same system booting from a traditional hard-disk takes more than 45 seconds.

X server

The Intel GM45 graphic card is not auto-recognized by Xorg 7.3 (or rather by xserver-xorg-video-intel 2.3.2 which is in lenny) so you end up with the vesa driver by default. It’s possible to force the usage of the intel driver by adding a “Driver “intel”” line in the device section of xorg.conf but I have opted to use Xorg 7.4 (available in experimental). With this version, I can successfully use the DVI output in the associated dock and I have working suspend/resume. It does create some interesting problems however since that version of the xserver relies on HAL to detect the keyboard layout and doesn’t use the Keyboard section of xorg.conf. You have to create /etc/hal/fdi/policy/10-keymap.fdi by using /usr/share/hal/fdi/policy/10osvendor/10-keymap.fdi as template and reload HAL then restart X.

Wifi support

The Intel 5100 Wifi chipset requires Linux 2.6.27 at least for the new iwlagn driver. This driver also needs a new firmware (the iwlwifi-5000 one) that is not yet integrated in the non-free package firmware-iwlwifi (see #497717).

Sound support

It works ok with alsa and the version integrated in linux 2.6.27 but it still has some rough edges when used in combination with the dock. Using the output jack connector on the dock doesn’t stop the output in the integrated loudspeakers and the volume on that connector is so low that you could think that it doesn’t work at all if you don’t pay attention. Using the microphone works fine.

For reference, if you play in the mixer, “Front mic” means the microphone connected on the dock while “Mic” means the one connected on the laptop. Each “Analog loopback X” option goes pairwise with the corresponding “Input source X” setting. In order for the recording to work, I have to set “Digital Input Source” to “Analog Input”, “Digital” must be activated and “Input source 1” defines the default input used for the recording.

Bluetooth support

Contrary to the previous laptop, Dell offered no choice on the bluetooth chipset, they only propose the “Dell 365 Bluetooth™ Card” so I took it but it doesn’t seem to work out of the box. In fact I can’t even see it with lspci or lsusb so I wonder if they did something wrong during the assembly. Googling on the topic didn’t gave me any good result, let me a comment if you know how to get this working.

Update: so apparently the bluetooth component is there (ID 0a5c:4500 Broadcom Corp.), it just appears as an USB hub so it’s somewhat difficult to guess that it’s effectively a bluetooth card.

Freezes, in particular with an amd64 installation

I first installed the system in 64 bits mode (amd64 architecture) but I had very regular freezes of the system (I couldn’t finish a single kernel compilation for example). Since I switched to an i386 installation, the system is more stable but I still get an occasional freeze every other day. It might be that a more recent kernel fixes this or maybe it will be fixed with a future Dell Bios update… we’ll see, but it’s my biggest complaint with this laptop so far.


Lucas Nussbaum bought the same laptop, you might want to read his remarks as well.

More details

Load the full article only if you want to see the lspci and lsusb output on this laptop.
[Read more…]

Debian membership reform

Following Ganneff’s post to debian-devel-announce, several discussions have again started on the topic of Debian’s membership and several proposals have been made. Unfortunately none of these proposals try to resolve the underlying trust problem that has been growing over the years. Despite the NM process (or maybe due to it), we managed to give DD status to people who are motivated but whose technical skills are doubtful (at that point people ask for an example, and as much as I hate fingerpointing, here’s an example with #499201. The same maintainer created troubles with libpng during the etch release cycle and tried to take over a base package like mawk recently).

With our current model, all DD can sponsor, NMU, introduce/adopt/hijack packages without review. This is fine as long as we trust the body of DD to contain only skilled and reasonable people. I believe that premise to be somewhat broken since Debian has become too big for people to know everybody and since the NM process had no way to grant partial rights to volunteers who were motivated but that clearly had not shown their ability to handle more complex stuff than what they had packaged during their NM period (like some trivial perl modules for example).

Thus I strongly believe that any membership reform must provide a convincing answer to that trust problem before being implemented. I took several hours to draft a proposal last Friday and I’ve been somewhat disappointed that nobody commented on it. I hope to draw some attention on it with this blog post.

The proposal builds on the idea that we should not have “classes” of contributors but simply two: a short-term contributor and a long-term contributor (those are called Debian Developers and have the right to vote). But all contributors can be granted “privileges” as they need them for their work and each privilege requires the contributor to fulfill some conditions. The set of privileges and the conditions associated all need discussions (but I have personal opinions here, see below). There’s however one privilege that is somewhat particular: it’s the right to grant privileges to other contributors. Handling it as a privilege like another is on purpose: it makes it clear that anyone can try to get that privilege and the procedure is clear. In practice, imagine that set of people as a big team encompassing the responsibilities split over DAM/AM/FD/DM-team and where all members can do all the steps required to grant/retire a privilege provided that 2 or 3 members agrees and that nobody opposes (in case of opposition a specific procedure is probably needed). I called that set of people the Debian Community Managers. It should contain only skilled and dedicated developers.

One of their main duties would be to retain the trust that the project as a whole must have in all its members. They would have the powers to retire privileges if they discover someone that has not acted according to the (high) expectations of the project.

Among the privileges would be “limited upload rights” (like DM have currently), “full upload rights” (like DD have currently although it might be that we want to split that privilege further in right to sponsor, right to package new software, right to maintain a package of priority > standard, etc.) and “developer status” (email + right to vote, once you can prove 6 months of contribution).

There’s lots of stuff to discuss in such a proposal (like how to decide who gets what privileges among existing DD) but I think it’s a good basis and need some serious consideration by all the project members. The NM process is there only so that we can collectively trust that new members are as good as we expect them to be and trust can only be built over time so it’s good that we can grant privileges progressively.

Some people believe that I’m reinventing a new NM process that will end up to be very similar to the current one. My answer is that the conditions associated to each privilege should be based on the work done by the contributor and the advocations that he managed to collect. It should not be a questionnaire like “Task and Skills”. This, together with the distribution of the power/work on many people, would render this system very different from today’s NM process.

Some people believe that I’m copying Ubuntu when designing this since it’s somewhat similar to the process to become MOTU and/or get upload right to Ubuntu’s main component. Let me say that I’m not copying deliberately at least, I simply took the problem from the most important side. But remember that many aspects of Ubuntu have been designed by Debian developers that tried to avoid known pitfalls of Debian, and maybe they got some things right (or better at least) while doing this.

Git, CIA and branch merging

Dear Joey, we also had this problem for dpkg, that’s why I hacked the /usr/local/bin/git-commit-notice script that we’re using on Alioth to do something like this instead:

while read oldrev newrev refname; do
    [ "$branchname" = "master" ] && branchname=""
    for merged in $(git rev-parse --not --branches | grep -v $(git rev-parse $refname) | git rev-list --reverse --stdin $oldrev..$newrev); do
         /usr/local/bin/ $merged $branchname

It will stop git rev-list each time that it encounters a commit that is available in any of the other branches present in the repository and thus when you merge a branch, you only see the merge commit in CIA.

You should also note that the script is smarter as it calls CIA only for branch updates, not for tag creation (and other kinds of updates) where it only leads to strange errors IIRC.

This time of the year again

Yes, it’s DPL election time again. On the good side, we’ll spend less time this year than we used to thanks the constitution change. On the bad side, it seems that almost nobody is interested to run for DPL (even HE is not sure yet!).

I’ve been relatively satisfied by the work done by sam (although one can always do better) and it looks like many share this feeling… and when this is the case, we just expect the DPL to run again. But sam clearly said that he won’t run again. What a pity.

I also don’t plan to run this year[1] but I’m always interested in leadership issues and I’d gladly be part of a DPL team. Hopefully someone will provide such an alternative on the ballot this year.

Right now, I’m more in the mood of implementing some real changes (like the symbol based dependencies that I added to dpkg-shlibdeps) instead of trying to convince others to do them. When you associate this to some support of the leadership in place, it can give very good results.

Now back to real work, I still have to test and polish the dpkg-source rewrite which adds support of several brand new source package formats. Feel free to check out our progress in the sourcev3 git branch.

[1] Feel free to convince me otherwise by adding some comments here.

The DSA dilemma

For once, Clint blogged on something that I can understand. :-)

I don’t buy everything he says, but in the case of DSA, the part where he says “you cannot have a functional and respectable subgroup if it maintains autonomy like that” is a real problem.

The leadership problem I mentioned is real. And it can theoretically be solved by undelegating one of the problematic side of this DSA-internal dispute. But which one? Given the unwillingness of Joey to discuss the problems, he makes an easy target… which would leave DSA up to Ryan, James and Phil.

But is that a desirable thing? If DSA is perceived as being an “autonomous” group which is not involved in Debian’s main discussions and which is somewhat disconnected from Debian’s day-to-day life, it’s largely due to the behavior of James and Ryan. E-mail communication with them is very difficult as they’ll respond only if they really care about something. And despite the setup of the request tracker, they have barely been able to make proper usage of it… the idea was to use RT tickets to track everything that DSA does but they don’t use it as such. For example, James setup a “wikiadm” group and he never reported anything to the related ticket (#194) (I did it myself once I found out). Also there’s an internal ticket about the replacement of (that I created because ftp.d.o ran out of space regularly) and AFAIK Jeroen has been in touch with James to setup that replacement, but nothing got reported to the tracker. Ryan promised me once to put his DSA TODO list in the tracker so that other people can jump in and help out. He never did.

So while Joey is definitely a pain for DSA, at least he’s a visible participant of the team and he interacts with the community. James and Ryan are not, they interact only through private channels and do not share their opinions or their vision of Debian.
I believe this is a real problem. On the other hand, most of the interesting changes in the last months are the results of James’s work. But he’s also implicitly blocking addition of new members as long as the leadership problem is not solved.

I tried to fill the communication void of the DSA team by various means. I follow everything as closely as I can so that I can report changes on other channels, mailing lists when needed. I made efforts to document stuff on the wiki page, etc. But this is not a long term solution, the communication issue must be fixed within the team.

The path ouf of this mess is still not very clear, but something is going to change soon. Not quite sure what though. What would you suggest? And if you were DPL, what would you do?

Since private discussions and negotiations lead nowhere, it’s tempting to bring the issue in the public area. In theory, they have no way to escape discussions and they’ll have to communicate their grudges against the other side if they want to have some fair judgment between both parties. Unfortunately, given the habits of James and Ryan, they probably won’t participate in any public discussion and either resign or stay where they are waiting for any decision…

Comments welcome.

DSA needs a leader

Seriously. Now that we have been using the request tracker for quite some time, it’s even more obvious that the DSA team is not up to its task.

Use login “guest” and password “readonly” if you want to check the RT tickets linked in this article.

The facts

  • 65 public tickets open (and 5 private tickets)
  • 68 tickets closed. Here are some unscientific and manual stats (I counted one each time that someone was involved for the work or for closing the ticket):
    • 27 for James Troup (elmo)
    • 26 for Phil Hands (fil)
    • 13 for me (buxy)
    • 3 for Martin ‘Joey’ Schulze (those I manually forwarded him)
    • 3 for Ryan Murray (neuro)
    • 3 for Matt Taggart (taggart)
    • 2 for Josip Rodin (he handles tickets concerning the mirrors until they have a dedicated queue in the RT)

Note that myself and Matt do not have the needed rights to fix most of the tickets, so we provided help on a best-effort basis. Otherwise we would have done more.

The communication problem

It’s a multi-level problem. Each of the members has some problems with one or more other members. Joey’s behavior has been part of the recurring problems mentioned: he doesn’t use the RT, doesn’t read the DSA email alias and doesn’t follow the DSA IRC channel but he still does stuff very regularly without reporting anything and obviously problems happen. Ryan and James tried to impose him a rule to document what he does, without success apparently. On the other side, as far as I know, Ryan and James also don’t impose themselves to document everything in a central changelog. Joey has refused to provide me an explanation for his behavior. He just reminded me that he holds grudges against James and Ryan because as ftpmasters they didn’t cooperate well with him while he was stable release manager.

In general, outside of all personal griefs that they might have, the DSA members do not communicate very much (at least not on their own official channels). Some examples have already been given concerning the request tracker, but it’s not much more effective on IRC. Most of the traffic on the channel is made up by local admins fixing the problems themselves without any intervention by any DSA.

I also use the channel to regularly ping some DSA about simple issues and/or stuff that they usually handle. It used to work somewhat but lately fil has been busy (with the kernel summit and other conferences) and I simply got no answer at all… for example I pinged elmo, neuro and fil several times in the last weeks in the hope that they handle the tickets of the security team (#150, #157, #164) without results.

There’s room for improvement.

The leadership problem

The team has no designated leader and every time that there’s a decision to take, they are blocked. Joey wouldn’t communicate and give his opinion, Ryan is extremely requiring and perfectionist, there’s not much room for compromise…

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Joey and elmo were friends. It’s even Joey who gave root rights to elmo. Nowadays, it’s rather James that is sort-of leading the team but he’s fed up of the situation and hasn’t managed to get out of this mess.

He refuses to take drastic measures by himself because he’s not clearly the leader and doesn’t solicit a decision of the Debian leader (or the project) because he believes that the DSA team is not under the scope of the constitution!

This can’t last any further. We’ll have to do something about it. Stay tuned.

Planet Debian for users ?

A few days ago I created a planet for French Debian users, and the interest is slowly growing. In fact, I just received a request to add an English-speaking blog!

So the question is: why not creating (and hosting) an English-speaking planet for Debian users that would allow only Debian-related articles. Developers are also users and if they have a feed dedicated to their Debian posts, they could add it of course. It would be handled like the current planet and a few volunteers could collect and process the requests to add new feeds for non-developers.

This would provide the much-requested alternative of filtering planet Debian… and also encourage some of our users to blog about Debian and how they use it.

What do you think of this idea?