Say No to Slack, Say Yes to Matrix

Of all proprietary chatting systems, Slack has always seemed one of the worst to me. Not only it’s a closed proprietary system with no sane clients, open source or not, but it not just one walled garden, as Facebook or WhatsApp are, but a constellation of walled gardens, isolated from each other. To be able to participate in multiple Slack communities, the user has to create multiple accounts and keep multiple chat windows open all the time. Federation? Self-hosting? Owning your data? All of those are not a thing in Slack. Until recently, it was possible to at least keep the logs of all conversations locally by connecting to the chat using IRC or XMPP if the gateway was enabled.

Now, with Slack shutting down gateways not only you cannot keep the logs on your computer, you also cannot use a client of your choice to connect to Slack. They also began changing the bots API which was likely the reason the Matrix-to-Slack gateway didn’t work properly at times. The issue has since resolved itself, but Slack doesn’t give any guarantees the gateway will continue working, and obviously they aren’t really interested in keeping it working.

So, following Gunnar Wolf’s advice (consider also reading this article by Megan Squire), I recommend you stop using Slack. If you prefer an isolated chat system with features Slack provides, and you can self-host, consider MatterMost or Rocket.Chat. Both seem to provide more or less the same features as Slack, but don’t lock you in, and you can choose to either use their paid cloud offering, or run it on your own server. We’ve been using MatterMost at Collabora since July last year, and while it’s not perfect, it’s not a bad piece of software.

If you woulde prefer a system you can federate, you may be interested to have a look at Matrix. Matrix is an open decentralised protocol and ecosystem, which architecturally looks similar to XMPP, but uses different technologies and offers a richer and more modern baseline, including VoIP, end-to-end encryption, decentralised history and content storage, easy bot integration and more. The web client for Matrix, Riot is comparable to Slack, but unlike Slack, there are more clients you can use, including Weechat, libpurple, a bunch of Qt-based clients and, importantly, Riot for Android and iOS.

You don’t have to self-host a Matrix homeserver, since Matrix.org runs one you can use, but it’s quite easy to run one if you decide to, and you don’t even have to migrate your existing chats — you just join them from accounts on your own homeserver, and that’s it!

To help you with the decision to move from Slack to Matrix, you should know that since Matrix has a Slack gateway, you can gradually migrate your colleagues to the new infrastructure, by joining the Slack and Matrix chats together, and dropping the gateway only when everyone moves from Slack.

Repeating Gunnar, say no to predatory tactics. Say no to Embrace, Extend and Extinguish. Say no to Slack.


How to Stop Gnome-settings-daemon Messing With Keyboard Layouts

In case you, just like me, want to have a heavily customised keyboard layout configuration, possibly with different layouts on different input devices (I recommend inputplug to make that work), you probably don’t want your desktop environment to mess with your settings or, worse, re-set them to some default from time to time. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what gnome-settings-daemon does by default in GNOME and Unity. While I could modify inputplug to detect that and undo the changes immediately, it turned out this behaviour can be disabled with an underdocumented option:

gsettings set org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.keyboard active false

Thanks to Sebastien Bacher for helping me with this two years ago.


Manual Control of OpenEmbedded -dbg Packages

In December last year, OpenEmbebbed introduced automatic debug packages. Prior to that, you’d need to manually construct FILES_${PN}-dbg variable in your recipe. If you need to retain manual control over precisely what does into debug packages, set an undocumented NOAUTOPACKAGEDEBUG variable to 1, the same way Qt recipe does:

NOAUTOPACKAGEDEBUG = "1"
FILES_${PN}-dev = "${includedir}/${QT_DIR_NAME}/Qt/*"
FILES_${PN}-dbg = "/usr/src/debug/"
FILES_${QT_BASE_NAME}-demos-doc = "${docdir}/${QT_DIR_NAME}/qch/qt.qch"

P.S. Knowing this would have saved me and my colleagues days of work.


Migrate to Systemd Without a Reboot

Yesterday I was fixing an issue with one of the servers behind kallithea-scm.org: the hook intended to propagage pushes from Our Own Kallithea to Bitbucket stopped working. Until yesterday, that server was using Debian’s flavour of System V init and djb’s dæmontools to keep things running. To make the hook asynchronous, I wrote a service to be managed to dæmontools, so that concurrency issued would be solved by it. However, I didn’t implement any timeouts, so when last week wget froze while pulling Weblate’s hook, there was nothing to interrupt it, so the hook stopped working since dæmontools thought it’s already running and wouldn’t re-trigger it. Killing wget helped, but I decided I need to do something with it to prevent the situation from happening in the future.

I’ve been using systemd at work for the last year, so I am now confident I’m happier with systemd than with dæmontools, so I decided to switch the server to systemd. Not surprisingly, I prepared unit files in about 5 minutes without having to look into the manuals again, while with dæmontools I had to check things every time I needed to change something. The tricky thing was the switch itself. It is a virtual server, presumably running in Xen, and I don’t have access to the console, so if I bork break something, I need to summon Bradley Kuhn or someone from Conservancy, who’s kindly donated the server to the project. In any case, I decided to attempt to upgrade without a reboot, so that I have more options to roll back my changes in the case things go wrong.

After studying the manpages of both systemd’s init and sysvinit’s init, I realised I can install systemd as /sbin/init and ask already running System V init to re-exec. However, systemd’s init can’t talk to System V init, so before installing systemd I made a backup on it. It’s also important to stop all running services (except probably ssh) to make sure systemd doesn’t start second instances of each. And then: /tmp/init u — and we’re running systemd! A couple of additional checks, and it’s safe to reboot.

Only when I did all that I realised that in the case of systemd not working I’d probably not be able to undo my changes if my connection interrupted. So, even though at the end it worked, probably it’s not a good idea to perform such manipulations when you don’t have an alternative way to connect to the server :)


Phulud? No, Phulad.

If you bought an North India travel guide by Vanessa Betts and Victoria McCulloch, and tried to figure out where is ‘Phulud’ and how to get there from Deogarh (and how to get to Deogarh itself from Udaipur), don’t waste your time googling, as it’s not Phulud, but Phulad.

It does seem that the narrow gauge journey from Deogarh to Phulad is indeed beautiful:

Meanwhile, I have also found this very interesting post by Mary Anne Erickson: Impressions of India: Udaipur to Deogarh. I’m not yet sure we’re going to follow that route, but it seems promising.

P.S. Despite what the guide said about the airport in Jaisalmer, which is due to open in 2013, according to the reports, it is still not open, so we have to skip that city. Oh well.

EDIT: The guide actually also says, on page 10: Fly from Jaisalmer back to Delhi to connect with your flight home. Fact checking? No, who needs that? :)


Community Time at Collabora

I haven’t yet blogged about this (as normally I don’t blog often), but I joined Collabora in June last year. Since then, I had an opportunity to work with OpenEmbedded again, write a kernel patch, learn lots of things about systemd (in particular, how to stop worrying about it taking over the world and so on), and do lots of other things.

As one would expect when working for a free software consultancy, our customers do understand the value of the community and contributing back to it, and so does the customer for the project I’m working on. In fact, our customer insists we keep the number of locally applied patches to, for example, Linux kernel, to minimum, submitting as much as possible upstream.

However, apart from the upstreaming work which may be done for the customer, Collabora encourages us, the engineers, to spend up to two hours weekly for upstreaming on top of what customers need, and up to five days yearly as paid Community days. These community days may be spent working on the code or doing volunteering at free software events or even speaking at conferences.

Even though on this project I have already been paid for contributing to the free software project which I maintained in my free time previously (ifupdown), paid community time is a great opportunity to contribute to the projects I’m interested in, and if the projects I’m interested in coincide with the projects I’m working with, I effectively can spend even more time on them.


Public Transport Map of Managua

Holger Levsen writes about the public transport map of Managua, Nicaragua, which is, according to him, the first detailed map of Managua’s bus network:

If you haven’t been to Managua, you might not be able to immediatly appreciate the usefulness of this. Up until now, there has been no map nor timetable for the bus system, which as you can see now easily and from far away, is actually quite big and is used by 80% of the population in a city, where the streets still have no names.

Having had a look at the map they produced, I have to admit I quite liked it: MapaNica.net, Rutas de Managua y Ciudad Sandino

MapaNica, the community behind said map, are raising funds to make lives of locals easier by publishing a printed version of the map and distributing it. They have already raised more than $3300 of their $7500 goal. Every further donation will help them print more maps.

Please go to support.mapanica.net and support their initiative!


Support Software Freedom Conservancy

The Software Freedom Conservancy are desperately looking for financial support after one of their corporate supporters have stopped their sponsorship. This week, there’s an anonymous pledge to match donations from new supporters.

Becoming an SFC supporter will help them fight for our software freedom. I have signed up for a monthly donation, and I suggest you do so too here.


Power Button and Logind

If you have configured your laptop’s power button to act as sleep button using acpid, then installed systemd or systemd-shim and pressed the button only to find your laptop to shut down after it wakes up from sleep, set these options in /etc/systemd/logind.conf:

[Login]
HandlePowerKey=ignore
HandleSuspendKey=ignore
HandleHibernateKey=ignore
HandleLidSwitch=ignore

UI Translation Tools and Version Control

Today I decided to try some translation tools I could install on my laptop locally to translate Kallithea, so I’d not need to be on-line to use Michal Čihař’s wonderful Weblate.

The first tool I tried was Gtranslator. I edited about 5 strings, and then wanted to commit my changes. To my surprise, the diff was huge. Apart from obvious changes in the file header, like changing the team address or X-Generator field, Gtranslator has reformatted almost every other entry in the file, adding meaningless line breaks or reflowing the strings I didn’t edit.

@@ -3092,8 +3093,8 @@ msgstr ""
 
 #: kallithea/templates/admin/permissions/permissions_globals.html:72
 msgid ""
-"Write permission to a repository group allows creating repositories "
-"inside that group."
+"Write permission to a repository group allows creating repositories inside "
+"that group."
 msgstr ""
 
 #: kallithea/templates/admin/permissions/permissions_globals.html:77

Apart from that it has quite a dumb user interface, so I most probably won’t ever use it again unless things improve.

Well, I thought, I need to try Lokalize which I understand is a Qt4 port of KBabel, which I remember was quite a reasonable translation tool.

Just as with Gtranslator, I created a project, edited one line and hit ‘Save’. As I expected, Lokalize updated the file header, and also changed the formatting of some entries, though the number of changes was significantly lower.

Yet the winner of this competition is Weblate, which indeed avoids unnecessary changes as much as it can, just as advertised. Probably, I’ll just stick with it, setting up a local instance.