Skip navigation

Category Archives: Personal

I had mentioned plans for it earlier, and in fact already pondered the idea on and off while being at the old house: Do I really need a car? And as a corollary: Do I need my own car?

The answer started to be a resounding No at least for the second question, after we moved to Hamburg. Which ever way I was looking at it:

  • Convenience – someone needs to drive the thing, I can’t hack or read email while doing so. I therefore prefer trains. Also, it needs the occasional service, wheels swapping, washing etc, so it adds to your chores
  • Economically – a car that just sits there still has a chunk of fixed cost per annum associated. Also, it is a comparatively expensive asset, that given the value, depreciates quickly
  • Ecology – owning an item or not certainly has an impact on one’s ecological footprint; trusting the University of California’s math, a car’s production entails the emission of roughly 7 tons of carbon dioxide (using it is even worse, but that would not be a fair comparison).

So with our usage pattern, and the above rationale, clearly we’d be well-served with one of the many budding car sharing offers that are available these days in Europe’s metropoles. If you pick a supplier that is either big enough, or managed to sign joint-ventures with sharers in other cities, you even have the added benefit of taking high-speed inter-city connects (train or plane), and getting into a car for local transport at your destination (for much less than the usual car rental will cost you).

But I admit that owning your car has some amount of emotions associated (damn you, marketeers!), so I’m happy to report this had been catered for: the appartement house we’re now living in not only has two shared cars exclusively available for the tenants, but they’re in addition pure electric vehicles!

The cars available are a Smart ED and a Renault Zoe, both in the 2013er version. Coming from a BMW, I can’t but mention that especially the Smart ED is pure fun to drive. While nominally, 55 kW power / 130 newton metres torque and a curb weight of a bit less than 1 metric ton does not sound exactly like a sports car, this thing kicks pure butt at every traffic light in the city. The engine characteristic is entirely different from a combustion engine – no gear box, no clutch, no automatic transmission, no revving up the engine before it generates enough power – just pin down the accelerator, and you instantaneously have full torque on your rear wheels. Still makes me smile. Therefore emotionally, I was sold as well (and so was my beloved BMW E39 touring, October last year already).

Life has again been busy around here, so this post will be a bit longer. Event-wise, this year so far was packed with good stuff for me, let me therefore pick a few cornerstones:

After the habitual FOSDEM and CeBIT, there was a new event, the Dresden Impress sprint. Thanks to the generous sponsoring from the Dresden Technical University Institute for Applied Photophysics around Prof. Karl Leo!

Following that I went to LinuxTag in Berlin for a workshop and a meeting around LibreOffice certification, and was honoured to listen in to Jimmy Schulze’s updates on getting German parliament stand up against software patentability:

Jimmy Schulz at LinuxTag

Jimmy Schulz at LinuxTag

(he and his fellow party member Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger being named by others already as the only LibDems to be dearly missed in German Bundestag, after the defeat of their FDP at the recent general election)

Then came the annual LibreOffice Hamburg HackFest, this time generously organised (and diligently documented) by my fellow HHHackers Bjoern and Eike – while I was busy moving house and showing up basically for eating pizza. :-)

Which was one of three turning points so far this year – after almost exactly ten years of living in small-town Buxtehude, we followed the beckoning of the big city and moved back to Hamburg (almost) downtown. The reasons for that are numerous, but two of them I’d like to point out here: childcare offers for people who want to work fulltime is still largely a mess in western Germany (Hamburg being a very notable exception) – you’ll see below why this suddenly became relevant; and secondly because the public transport system is just soooo much better, to the point that I currently ponder getting rid of my car entirely.

What came next was a short trip to the Masters of Rock festival in Vizovice – despite more than 1000 km away and us camping out there, festivals are really a recreational thing for me. Let’s see if we manage to go in the upcoming years. Some impressions:

Sadly, for the currently-ongoing LibreOffice conference 2013 in Milano, I could only attend a mere day. Apologies to all whom I missed to say hello to, chatted with only briefly, or did not bid goodbye properly – the timing this year (see below) had me straddling between two things very close to my heart. Still, it was wonderful to be there and meet you guys – clearly also helped by great food and drinks. ;-)

Dining in Milano

Dining in Milano

And definitely, from past (double-) experience, the most live-changing event in 2013 clearly was this little guy here – can’t say how happy I am to have you now, Alan Benjamin!

Benni

Benni

Oh, and – the focus of my dayjob has shifted away from LibreOffice, over to datacenter topics like virtualization and cluster filesystems. But don’t you worry, I’ll stick to this project that I helped building – now in a purely volunteer capacity, like so many other contributors that still make a hell of a difference, in this wonderful community! :)

Still life

Mugs, Thinkpad W530, Emacs, Arabica

So this is about a long-term gripe I have, working (mostly) from a Linux desktop since well over 15 years now – and that is, getting email to work as “it’s supposed to be”. Which is a royal pain in the rear.

Let me elaborate. Before smtp server admins became really anal about spam and were blacklisting dial-up and random IP addresses, you simply used your default sendmail or postfix setup that came with your distro and everything was fine and dandy. Email clients just delegated sending to that MTA subsystem. After that good old time was over, you usually needed a smarthost to authenticate against – if you were lucky, it accepted arbitrary From-addresses, so you could even use it for both work and private mail, or share your box’s setup with your room mate.

When those last loopholes got closed, using a system-wide MTA for outgoing mail on a desktop machine quite apparently became a very, very bad idea (conceptually, and in terms of effort involved to make it work). I guess that was when everybody but die-hard Unixers switched over to all-in-one solutions like Thunderbird, Evolution, or KMail – which came with built-in MTA support. Still, there were corner cases – like mailing out patches from git or quilt, or dishing out signed gpg keys after the last keysigning party, that were, um, kinda hard to make work.

Not surprisingly therefore, the command line utilities used for that, initially nicely adhering to the Unix toolkit approach, soon grew MTA features like a hacker grows a beard. With varying levels of quality, and feature-completeness – and usually – the horror! – with the option (or the requirement), to store mail passwords in cleartext configuration files.

I personally plead guilty of tweaking/enhancing TLS support in caff (CA fire-and-forget – a nice script for signing and mailing gpg keys), because I was using Gmail for my private mail, which required that. Similarly, folks added TLS support to git-send-email, and surely tons of other not-primarily-MTA programs.

The bad news? Well, at least the two examples I gave don’t verify the server’s TLS cert at all, exposing you to trivial man-in-the-middle attacks. Or have you never used those programs in a hotel WLAN, or on a conference?

The next nice feature of a proper MTA, namely queueing mail if there’s temporarily no net, or the remote SMTP server is down, is even harder to achieve for those little tools – usually, people just queue meta-tasks then (like “TODO: re-run caff when I finally get out of this plane / send out patches to Jeff, he needs it by Monday”) – what a sucky state of affairs, in this day and age.

So, how to fix that? Well, don’t replicate MTA features all over the place – use a local, per-user MTA, plus a mail queue, and have all those tools, and your MUA, use that. After playing with sendEmail a bit (and even adding TLS cert fingerprint verification), I re-discovered msmtp, which does one thing extremely well – sending email. Plus, it has built-in support for Gnome Keyring and the Mac OS X Keychain, so you neither have to constantly type your passphrase on the terminal, nor store it plaintext. And it does TLS validation, and also (optionally) fingerprint checking. And it comes with a script to manage a local, per-user mail queue.

Well, I didn’t so much like that script, for all the wrong reasons – mostly, I probably was looking for excuses to tear it down into pieces and hack up my own solution – being two much shorter (and admittedly almost feature-less) variants thereof, enqueue.sh and runqueue.sh. The former just grabs all command line arguments, plus all of stdin, and stuffs it into a maildir-like queue – employing another little gem called safecat. The latter periodically processes all files in the queue, and then calling msmtp using the canned args and standard input. And sleeps when you’re offline.

Have now happily configured all of mutt, caff and git-send-email to just use enqueue.sh as their “sendmail” equivalent -

~/.gitconfig:

 [sendemail]
	envelopesender   = Thorsten 
	smtpserver       = /home/me/bin/enqueue.sh
	aliasesfile      = /home/me/.mutt/aliases
	aliasfiletype    = mutt

~/.caffrc:

 $CONFIG{'mailer-send'} = [ 'mailer', 'enqueue.sh -a gmail -f mail@for.me -- ' ];

~/.muttrc

 set sendmail="enqueue.sh -a gmail "

There were two rather minor bumps, first was a missing safecat for opensuse – I resuscitated an old spec file from cthiel, and added it to my opensuse buildservice repo. Debian of course has a package. Next was that opensuse’s msmtp did not have gnome keyring support enabled, presumably because it drags in some subset of the gnome stack as requirements. Naturally, on my desktop system, that’s an ignorable concern, so that’s now forked and added to my buildservice repo, too.

Was in Gelsenkirchen again this year, for what seems to be the rock festival hitting the sweet spot between band relevance (i.e. not entirely arcane or unknown), and size (i.e. you don’t need to walk one hour from your tent to the stages). What should I say – it was a blast. Rain stopped on Thursday, and sun was shining the whole weekend. My favourites this time: Bloodbath, Accept, Kreator, Nevermore, Orphaned Lands, Rage + orchestra. Honorable mention: Mambo Kurt, for doing a really funny gig on a home organ + C64, in front of a very demanding audience.

Impressions:

(dawn in the amphitheater – Kreator’s Miland „Mille“ Petrozza – 3 behind the mixing desk – shower, festival-style – part of the venue – Orphaned Land from Israel, surprisingly good – stunts in mid-air – Rage + strings)

I'm going to FOSDEM, the Free and Open Source Software Developers' European Meeting

I’m actually even presenting!

As usual, FOSDEM was a blast. Sadly I missed the Friday beer event this year, due to my current over-loadedness I went to Brussels (very early) Saturday morning. Gave a little talk about what I considered cool (and felt competent enough to talk about) in OOo’s gsl/graphics area together with Janneke, who really deserves (and actually got) the thunder about this awesomely cool dialog layouting implementation.

fosdem_small

For the curious, the slides are here (but we really talked & demoed a lot in between).

Having changed my employer, I found it appropriate to move away from the blogs.sun.com company facility. I liked the WordPress engine the most, so I’m here now – with the help of this little XSLT script (took this feed), even my old postings followed me, without the comments, but WTH.

Via Russel Coker of Debian fame, the Boston Globe reports that 55 percent of the world’s installed photovoltaic power is in: Germany. Yay! With my solar roof contributing, if even only the tiniest amount…

Guess it’s about time to post some update to my photovoltaic roof thingy. The generator is now running for 6 months, without any downtime, and produced ~700 kWh during that period. Right now, that’s about 10 percent below the estimated yield (based on a simulation, which in turn is based on the mean from 20 years of local weather recordings), and has saved the athmosphere around 88 kg of CO2 exhaust (well, not really. First of all, the generator has to earn the energy it has used up for producing and mounting it. This might take some years).

Currently, with the May providing a cloudless sky one day after the other, we’re reaping 20 to 25 kWh per day (could be even more, if it wasn’t so damn hot for the season – thermal effects in the panels now cancel even more of the electrons).

All in all: feels really good.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.