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I joined the Debian project in late 1994, well before the first stable release was issued, and have been involved in various ways continuously ever since. Over the years, I adopted a number of packages that are, or at least were at one time, fundamental to the distribution.

But, not surprisingly, my interests have shifted over time. In the more than quarter century I've contributed to Debian, I've adopted existing packages that needed attention, packaged new software I wanted to use that wasn't yet in Debian, offered packages up for others to adopt, and even sometimes requested the removal of packages that became obsolete or replaced by something better. That all felt completely healthy.

But over the last couple weeks, I realized I'm still "responsible" for some packages I'd had for a very long time, that generally work well but over time have accumulated bugs in functionality I just don't use, and frankly haven't been able to find the motivation to chase down. As one example, I just noticed that I first uploaded the gzip package 25 years ago today, on 2 December 1995. And while the package works fine for me and most other folks, there are 30 outstanding bugs and 3 forwarded bugs that I just can't muster up any energy to address.

So, I just added gzip to a short list of packages I've offered up for adoption recently. I'm pleased that tar already has a new maintainer, and hope that both sudo and gzip will get more attention soon.

It's not that I'm less interested in Debian. I've just been busy recently packaging up more software I use or want to use in designing high power model rockets and the solid propellant motors I fly in them, and would rather spend the time I have available for Debian maintaining those packages and all their various build dependencies than continuing to be responsible for core packages in the distribution that "work fine for me" but could use attention.

I'm writing about this partly to mark the passing of more than a quarter century as a package maintainer for Debian, partly to encourage other Debian package maintainers with the right skills and motivation to consider adopting some of the packages I'm giving up, and finally to encourage other long-time participants in Debian to spend a little time evaluating their own package lists in a similar way.

Posted Wed Dec 2 20:33:40 2020 Tags:

I learned something new yesterday, that probably shouldn't have shocked me as much as it did. For legacy reasons, the "creation time" in the Exif metadata attached to digital camera pictures is not expressed in absolute time, but rather in some arbitrary expression of "local" time! This caused me to spend a long evening learning how to twiddle Exif data, and then how to convince Piwigo to use the updated metadata. In case I or someone else need to do this in the future, it seems worth taking the time to document what I learned and what I did to "make things right".

The reason photo creation time matters to me is that my wife Karen and I are currently in the midst of creating a "best of" subset of photos taken on our recently concluded family expedition to Antarctica and Argentina. Karen loves taking (sometimes award-winning) nature photos, and during this trip she took thousands of photos using her relatively new Nikon COOLPIX P900 camera. At the same time, both of us and our kids also took many photos using the cameras built into our respective Android phones. To build our "best of" list, we wanted to be able to pick and choose from the complete set of photos taken, so I started by uploading all of them to the Piwigo instance I host on a virtual machine on behalf of the family, where we assigned a new tag for the subset and started to pick photos to include.

Unfortunately, to our dismay, we noted that all the photos taken on the P900 weren't aligning correctly in the time-line. This was completely unexpected, since one of the features of the P900 is that it includes a GPS chip and adds geo-tags to every photo taken, including a GPS time stamp.

Background

We've grown accustomed to the idea that our phones always know the correct time due to their behavior on the mobile networks around the world. And for most of us, the camera in our phone is probably the best camera we own. Naively, my wife and I assumed the GPS time stamps on the photos taken by the P900 would allow it to behave similarly and all our photos would just automatically align in time... but that's not how it worked out!

The GPS time stamp implemented by Nikon is included as an Exif extension separate from the "creation time", which is expressed in the local time known by the camera. While my tiny little mind revolts at this and thinks all digital photos should just have a GPS-derived UTC creation time whenever possible... after thinking about it for a while, I think I understand how we got here.

In the early days of Exif, most photos were taken using chemical processes and any associated metadata was created and added manually after the photo existed. That's probably why there are separate tags for creation time and digitization time, for example. As cameras went digital and got clocks, it became common to expect the photographer to set the date and time in their camera, and of course most people would choose the local time since that's what they knew.

With the advent of GPS chips in cameras, the hardware now has access to an outstanding source of "absolute time". But the Nikon guys aren't actually using that directly to set image creation time. Instead, they still assume the photographer is going to manually set the local time, but added a function buried in one of the setup menus to allow a one-time set of the camera's clock from GPS satellite data.

So, what my wife needs to do in the future is remember at the start of any photo shooting period where time sync of her photos with those of others is important, she needs to make sure her camera's time is correctly set, taking advantage of the function that allows here to set the local time from the GPS time. But of course, that only helps future photos...

How I fixed the problem

So the problem in front of me was several thousand images taken with the camera's clock "off" by 15 hours and 5 minutes. We figured that out by a combinaton of noting the amount the camera's clock skewed by when we used the GPS function to set the clock, then noticing that we still had to account for the time zone to make everything line up right. As far as I can tell, 12 hours of that was due to AM vs PM confusion when my wife originally set the time by hand, less 1 hour of daylight savings time not accounted for, plus 4 time zones from home to where the photos were taken. And the remaining 5 minutes probably amount to some combination of imprecision when the clock was originally set by hand, and drift of the camera's clock in the many months since then.

I thought briefly about hacking Piwigo to use the GPS time stamps, but quickly realized that wouldn't actually solve the problem, since they're in UTC and the pictures from our phone cameras were all using local time. There's probably a solution lurking there somewhere, but just fixing up the times in the photo files that were wrong seemed like an easier path forward.

A Google search or two later, and I found jhead, which fortunately was already packaged for Debian. It makes changing Exif timestamps of an on-disk Jpeg image file really easy. Highly recommended!

Compounding my problem was that my wife had already spent many hours tagging her photos in the Piwigo web GUI, so it really seemed necessary to fix the images "in place" on the Piwigo server. The first problem with that is that as you upload photos to the server, they are assigned unique filenames on disk based on the upload date and time plus a random hash, and the original filename becomes just an element of metadata in the Piwigo database. Piwigo scans the Exif data at image import time and stuffs the database with a number of useful values from there, including the image creation time that is fundamental to aligning images taken by different cameras on a timeline.

I could find no Piwigo interface to easily extract the on-disk filenames for a given set of photos, so I ended up playing with the underlying database directly. The Piwigo source tree contains a file piwigo_structure-mysql.sql used in the installation process to set up the database tables that served as a handy reference for figuring out the database schema. Looking at the piwigo_categories table, I learned that the "folder" I had uploaded all of the raw photos from my wife's camera to was category 109. After a couple hours of re-learning mysql/mariadb query semantics and just trying things against the database, this is the command that gave me the list of all the files I wanted:

select piwigo_images.path into outfile '/tmp/imagefiles' from piwigo_image_category, piwigo_images where piwigo_image_category.category_id=109 and piwigo_images.date_creation >= '2019-12-14' and piwigo_image_category.image_id=piwigo_images.id;

That gave me a list of the on-disk file paths (relative to the Piwigo installation root) of images uploaded from my wife's camera since the start of this trip in a file. A trivial shell script loop using that list of paths quickly followed:

        cd /var/www/html/piwigo
        for i in `cat /tmp/imagefiles`
        do
                echo $i
                sudo -u www-data jhead -ta+15:05 $i
        done

At this point, all the files on disk were updated, as a little quick checking with exif and exiv2 at the command line confirmed. But my second problem was figuring out how to get Piwigo to notice and incorporate the changes. That turned out to be easier than I thought! Using the admin interface to go into the photos batch manager, I was able to select all the photos in the folder we upload raw pictures from Karen's camera to that were taken in the relevant date range (which I expressed as taken:2019-12-14..2021), then selected all photos in the resulting set, and performed action "synchronize metadata". All the selected image files were rescanned, the database got updated...

Voila! Happy wife!

Posted Fri Jan 24 02:09:46 2020 Tags:

In the early days of the collaboration between Bdale Garbee and Keith Packard that later became Altus Metrum, the software for TeleMetrum was crafted as an application running on top of an existing open source RTOS. It didn't take long to discover that the RTOS was ill-suited to our needs, and Keith had to re-write various parts of it to make things fit in the memory available and work at all.

Eventually, Bdale idly asked Keith how much of the RTOS he'd have to rewrite before it would make sense to just start over from scratch. Keith took that question seriously, and after disappearing for a day or so, the first code for AltOS was committed to revision control on 12 April 2009.

Ten years later, AltOS runs on multiple processor architectures, and is at the heart of all Altus Metrum products.

Posted Fri Apr 12 22:24:26 2019 Tags:

When I woke up this morning, my first conscious thought was that today is the 25th anniversary of a project I myself have been dedicated to for nearly 24 years, the Debian GNU/Linux distribution. I knew it was coming, but beyond recognizing the day to family and friends, I hadn't really thought a lot about what I might do to mark the occasion.

Before I even got out of bed, however, I learned of the passing of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. I suspect it would be difficult to be a caring human being, born in my country in my generation, and not feel at least some impact from her mere existence. Such a strong woman, with amazing talent, whose name comes up in the context of civil rights and women's rights beyond the incredible impact of her music. I know it's a corny thing to write, but after talking to my wife about it over coffee, Aretha really has been part of "the soundtrack of our lives". Clearly, others feel the same, because in her half-century-plus professional career, "Ms Franklin" won something like 18 Grammy awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and other honors too numerous to list. She will be missed.

What's the connection, if any, between these two? In 2002, in my platform for election as Debian Project Leader, I wrote that "working on Debian is my way of expressing my most strongly held beliefs about freedom, choice, quality, and utility." Over the years, I've come to think of software freedom as an obvious and important component of our broader freedom and equality. And that idea was strongly reinforced by the excellent talk Karen Sandler and Molly de Blanc gave at Debconf18 in Taiwan recently, in which they pointed out that in our modern world where software is part of everything, everything can be thought of as a free software issue!

So how am I going to acknowledge and celebrate Debian's 25th anniversary today? By putting some of my favorite Aretha tracks on our whole house audio system built entirely using libre hardware and software, and work to find and fix at least one more bug in one of my Debian packages. Because expressing my beliefs through actions in this way is, I think, the most effective way I can personally contribute in some small way to freedom and equality in the world, and thus also the finest tribute I can pay to Debian... and to Aretha Franklin.

Posted Thu Aug 16 11:26:54 2018 Tags:

When I was younger, and worked in an "old HP" test and measurement division, I sometimes sat at lunch in the cafeteria with a group of older co-workers who I grew to have immense respect for. They told great stories. I learned a lot of practical electronics from them... and other things too.

Each carried on their person a copy of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, and most also had a "concealed carry" permit, which they would refer to as their "redneck license". I quickly learned that they weren't all gun fanatics... at that time, the vetting process for such a permit was a bit daunting, and having one was their way of "proving" that they were honest, law-abiding citizens. Citizens who knew their rights. Who enjoyed debating boundary conditions in those rights inspired by current events at the lunch table. I miss those guys and those conversations.

I mention this because it's one of those things that I realize now had a significant formative impact on my adult values and world view. Freedom matters. That's why, despite my long-standing appreciation for and support of the organization's activities, I'm embarrassed to admit that it wasn't until this week that I personally joined the American Civil Liberties Union and sent them a donation.

Posted Tue Jan 31 15:42:51 2017 Tags:

At the end of August 2012, I announced my Early Retirement from HP. Two years later, my friend and former boss Martin Fink successfully recruited me to return to what later became Hewlett Packard Enterprise, as an HPE Fellow working on open source strategy in his Office of the CTO.

I'm proud of what I was was able to accomplish in the 25 months since then, but recent efforts to "simplify" HPE actually made things complicated for me. Between the announcement in late June that Martin intended to retire himself, and the two major spin-merger announcements involving Enterprise Services and Software... well...

The bottom line is that today, 30 September 2016, is my last day at HPE.

My plan is to "return to retirement" and work on some fun projects with my wife now that we are "empty nesters". I do intend to remain involved in the Free Software and open hardware worlds, but whether that might eventually involve further employment is something I'm going to try and avoid thinking about for a while...

There is a rocket launch scheduled nearby this weekend, after all!

Posted Thu Sep 29 22:23:05 2016 Tags:

I'm pleased to announce that, at long last, the ChaosKey hardware random number generator described in talks at Debconf 14 in Portland and Debconf 16 in Cape Town is now available for purchase from Garbee and Garbee.

Posted Wed Aug 3 15:17:55 2016 Tags:

I woke up this morning and realized that for the first time since 17 April 2001, I am no longer a member of the Debian Technical Committee.

My departure from the committee is a consequence of the Debian General Resolution "limiting the term of the technical committee members" that was passed amending the Debian Constitution nearly a year ago. As the two longest-serving members, both over the term limit, Steve Langasek and I completed our service yesterday.

In early March 2015, I stepped down from the role of chairman after serving in that role for the better part of a decade, to help ensure a smooth transition. Don Armstrong is now serving admirably in that role, I have the utmost respect for the remaining members of the TC, and the process of nominating replacements for the two now-vacant seats is already well underway.

So, for the Debian project as a whole, today is really a non-event... which is exactly as it should be! Debian has been a part of my life since 1994, and I sincerely hope to be able to remain involved for many years to come!

Posted Fri Jan 1 11:39:25 2016 Tags:

Keith and I are pleased to announce the immediate availability of EasyMega v1.0!

EasyMega is effectively a TeleMega without the GPS receiver and radio telemetry system. TeleMega and EasyMega both have 6 pyro channels and enough sensors to lock out pyro events based on conditions like tilt-angle from vertical, making both boards ideal solutions for complex projects with air start or multi-stage engine ignition requirements. Choose TeleMega for a complete in-airframe solution including radio telemetry and GPS, or EasyMega if you already have a tracking solution you like and just need intelligent control of multiple pyro events.

EasyMega is 2.25 x 1.25 inches (57.15 x 31.75 mm), which means it can be easily mounted in a 38 mm air frame coupler. The list price for EasyMega is $300, but as an introductory special, you can purchase one now through Labor Day for only $250! This special is only good for in-person purchases at Airfest and orders placed directly through Bdale's web store.

Altus Metrum products are available directly from Bdale's web store, and from these distributors:

All Altus Metrum products are completely open hardware and open source. The hardware design details and all source code are openly available for download, and advanced users are invited to join our developer community and help to enhance and extend the system. You can learn more about Altus Metrum products at http://altusmetrum.org.

Posted Thu Aug 28 21:12:51 2014 Tags:

A year ago today, on 11 June 2013, daughter Elizabeth and I smelled smoke, kicking off an adrenalin-pumped afternoon evacuating our home, which was located very close to the point of origin of the Black Forest Fire. The short version is that we ended up losing our house and most of our "stuff", but all the people, pets, and a few of our most prized possessions escaped unscathed. If you need more details, I told a longer version of the story at Linux Conf Australia in Perth this January.

This has been an experience I would not wish on my worst enemy... but a year later, I'm pleased to report that life is largely back to normal and things are moving along just fine! The 2-bedroom apartment we found to live in while rebuilding has been sufficient to our needs, but we can't wait to move in to the new house under construction on our property in a couple more months. And after graduating from Oberlin College with a degree in physics and minor in the classics, we're very pleased that Elizabeth is back with us for a while this summer before she starts the next phase of her life as a research assistant and PhD candidate at the ASU Center for Science and the Imagination in August. And Altus Metrum, LLC is successfully back in business producing some cool new toys...

We owe an immense debt of gratitude to you, our many friends both near and far, who have shown us so much caring and support in the last year. Thank you!

Posted Wed Jun 11 09:09:09 2014 Tags: