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On responsibilities

I feel like in my Debian projects I have two roles: the person with the responsibility of making the project happen, and the person who does the work to make it happen.

As the person responsible for the project, I need to keep track of vision, goals, milestones, status. To make announcements, find contributors, motivate them, deal with users and bug reports, maintain documentation, digest feedback.

As the person who does the work to make it happen, I need quiet time, I need to study technology, design code, write unit tests, merge patches, code, code, code, ask around about deployment information, more code.

I have a hard time doing both things at the same time: the first engages my social skills and extroversion, requires low-latency interaction, and acting when outside things happen. The second engages my technical skills and introversion, requires quiet uninterrupted periods of flow, and acting when inspiration strikes. I never managed to make good use of "gift bugs" or "minions": I often found the phrase "it's easier for me to do than to explain it" sadly relevant. Now I understand that it's not because of the objective difficulty of explaining or doing things, nor about the value of doing or of involving people. It's about switching from one kind of workflow to another. If I rephrase that as "it's easier for me to stay in flux and fix it, than to switch my entire attitude to ask for help".

Of course this does not scale: we've all been saying it since I can remember.

Looking at the situation from the point of view of those two roles, however, I now wonder if those two roles shouldn't really require two people. In other worlds they are: the project managers, taking responsibility for making the project happen, and the software designers, artists, and all other kind of artisans doing the work to make it happen.

Of course I don't want the kind of project manager that shifts responsibilities to artisans, does nothing and takes the credit for the project: not in paid work, not in Debian.

Project management is something else.

I would be interested instead in having the kind of project manager that takes responsibility for the project, checks how the artisans are doing and communicates what is happening to the rest of the world, deals with the community, motivates more people to help, test, try, use, give feedback on things as they happen. A project manager / community manager.

So that while I'm flux there is someone who tags bugs as "gift", mentors people to find code and documentation, and remembers to write an announcement if I implemented three cool things in a row and I'm already busy working on the fourth.

So that I don't write cool ideas in my todo list where nobody can read them, but I can share them to a mailing list where someone picks up a relevant one and finds someone to make it happen while I'm busy refactoring old code that only I can understand.

So that if I say "sorry, paid work calls, I won't be able to work on this project for a month", I'll be able to completely forget about that project for a whole month, without leaving the community out there to die.

That's an interesting job for non-uploading DDs: please take over my projects. Let's share a vision, and team up to make it happen. Give me the freedom of being the craftsman I enjoy being, and take away from me those responsibilities that I've never asked for.

The worst project managers are those that never asked to be one, but were promoted to it. Let's not repeat that mistake in Debian.

A good part of the credits for this post go to Francesca Ciceri, for the discussions we had on our way back from MiniDebConf Barcelona 2014.

P.S. I'm seeing how a non-uploading DD could be in the Maintainer field for one or more packages, with uploading DDs being, well, uploaders. Food for thought.

Posted Tue Mar 18 16:58:58 2014 Tags:


Beware of habits. I've seen them turn into expectations over time, without any kind of negotiation.

Posted Thu Feb 13 01:22:59 2014 Tags:

An absolute truth

Every time people phrase their own opinions as absolute truths, they look grotesque and they incite violence.

If you now feel like stabbing me, then you may be seeing my point.

Posted Tue Feb 11 14:33:18 2014 Tags:

Original sin

I feel that I was somewhat born innocent, an animal with sound, primal instincts. But if I remained that way, I wouldn't be able to function in a complex society, so I got education. Education taught me what is expected from me in order to be accepted by my peers[1].

Education taught me more than that: it also taught me to enjoy what a complex society can give me: art, science, history, philosophy, adding depth of meaning and correlations to my perceptions and memories.

Education wasn't perfect, though. Some of my educators obsessed about some of the expectations, and gave me rules to follow that aren't really needed to interact with a society. Sit down for hours in silence without complaining. Don't talk back to figures of authority, even when they are abusing me. Don't ever feel that my efforts in a task have been enough, because there is always something more that I could have done. Do what people expect me to do, regardless of what I wish to do. Do what I need to do, not what I want to do.

So I grew up with a set of arbitrary expectations that weren't needed to function in a society, and weren't in any way meeting any of my needs, yet I still felt them as a part of me, putting every effort into meeting them that I would put in making myself happy. I like to call this set of learned arbitrary, unneeded expectations "neurosis".

I like this as an interpretation of the "original sin" myth: in order to go from an innocent animal to a member of a complex society, I acquired a set of neuroses that make me behave in a meaningless way. Or, rephrased going along with the myth, that rob me of my innocence.

In some environments like BDSM, many have a name for an unnegotiated practice forced on a person: they call it "abuse". It made sense to accept that I have been abused many times while being educated, because my educators also had their own baggage of parasite expectations, of neuroses. And since I don't currently know how I can ever be sure that I freed myself from all my neuroses, I feel like I should accept that it is possible that I do and will abuse others; by accepting it as a possibility, I hope at least to be able to realise as soon as possible that I am doing it, and try to stop.

I have now realised that my life is far simpler and more rewarding when expectations are negotiated between all the parties involved. I have recently spent a substantial amount of my energy in recognising and renegotiating many of the expectations and the neuroses that I had learnt while growing up, and, who knows, perhaps this effort will continue throughout my life.

So there you go, an agnostic atheist freeing himself of his original sin, and regaining his paradise lost one step at a time, alive, on earth.

And enjoying every moment of it.

[1] I suspect that is why people educated in a high class society tend to be accepted more easily by a high class society: they conform to the right set of expectations. But I digress.

Posted Sat Feb 8 17:48:27 2014 Tags:


What I like the most about being a Developer is building tools to (hopefully) make someone's life better.

I like it when my software gets used, and people thank me for it, because there was a need they had that wasn't met before, and thanks to my software now it is being met.

I am maintaining software for meteorological research that is soon going to be 10 years old, and is still evolving and getting Real Work done.

I like to develop software as if it is going to become a part of human cultural heritage, developing beyond my capacity, eventually surviving me, allowing society to declare that the need, small as it was, is now met, and move on to worry about some other problem.

I feel that if I'm not thinking of my software in that way, then I am not being serious. Then I am not developing something fit for other people to use and rely on.

This involves Development as much as it involves Operations: tracking security updates for all the components that make up a system. Testing. Quality assurance. Scalability. Stability. Hardening. Monitoring. Maintenance requirements. Deployment and upgrade workflows. Security.

I came to learn that the requirements put forward by sysadmins are to be taken seriously, because they are the ones whose phone will ring in the middle of the night when your software breaks.

I am also involved in more than one software project. I am responsible for about a dozen web applications deployed out there in the wild, and possibly another dozen of non-web projects, from terabyte-sized specialised archival tools to little utilities that are essential links in someone's complex toolchain.

I build my software targeting Debian Stable + Backports. At FOSDEM I noticed that some people consider it uncool. I was perplexed.

It provides me with a vast and reasonably recent set of parts to use to build my systems.

It provides me with a single bug tracking system for all of them, and tools to track known issues in the systems I deployed.

It provides me with a stable platform, with a well documented upgrade path to the next version.

It gives me a release rhythm that allows me to enjoy the sweet hum of spinning fans thinking about my next mischief, instead of spending my waking time chasing configuration file changes and API changes deep down in my dependency chain.

It allows me to rely on Debian for security updates, so I don't have to track upstream activity for each one of the building blocks of the systems I deploy.

It allows me not to worry about a lot of obscure domain specific integration issues. Coinstallability of libraries with different ABI versions. Flawless support for different versions of Python, or Lua, or for different versions of C++ compilers.

It has often happened to me to hear someone rant about a frustrating situation, wonder how come it had never happened to me, and realise that someone in Debian, who happens to be more expert than I can possibly be, had thought hard about how to deal with that issue, years before.

I know I cannot be an expert of the entire stack from bare iron all the way up, and I have learnt to stand on the shoulders of giants.

'Devops' makes sense for me in that it hints at this cooperation between developers and operators, having constructive communication, knowing that each side has their own needs, trying their best to meet them all.

It hints at a perfect world where developers and operators finally come to understand and trust each other's judgement.

I don't know that perfect world, but I, a developer, do like to try to understand and trust the judgement of sysadmins.

I sympathise with my sysadmin friends who feel that devops is turning into a trend of developers thinking they can do without sysadmins. Reinventing package managers. Bundling dependencies. Building "apps" instead of components.

I wish that people who deploy a system built on such premises, have it become so successful that they end up being paid to maintain them for their whole career. That is certainly what I wish and strive for, for me and my own projects.

In my experience, a sustainable and maintainable system won't come out of the startup mindset of building something quick&dirty, then sell it and move on to something else.

In my experience, the basis for having sustainable and maintainable systems have been well known and tested in Debian, and several other distributions, for over two decades.

At FOSDEM, we thought that we need a name for such a mindset.

Between beers, that name came to be "debops". (It's not just Debian, though: many other distributions get it right, too)

Posted Tue Feb 4 18:52:39 2014 Tags:

On political correctness

I am reading "Four ways to forgiveness" by Ursula Le Guin. This is how the book begins:

“On the planet 0 there has not been a war for five thousand years,” she read, “and on Gethen there has never been a war.” She stopped reading, to rest her eyes and because she was trying to train herself to read slowly, not gobble words down in chunks the way Tikuli gulped his food. “There has never been a war”: in her mind the words stood clear and bright, surrounded by and sinking into an infinite, dark, soft incredulity.

What would that world be, a world without war? It would be the real world Peace was the true life, the life of working and learning and bringing up children to work and learn. War, which devoured work, learning, and children, was the denial of reality. But my people, she thought, know only how to deny. Born in the dark shadow of power misused, we set peace outside our world, a guiding and unattainable light. All we know to do is fight. Any peace one of us can make in our life is only a denial that the war is going on, a shadow of the shadow, a doubled unbelief.

That made me realise that several times I perceived political correctness as "only a denial that the war is going on".

Last night I watched this video, which I felt was very relevant to this.

Indeed, I have more respect for someone who listens to me and makes a good effort to understand what I said, then rudely disagrees, than for someone who is very politely ignoring everything I am trying to say.

This is how I feel like this experience can be distilled into an actionable item:

Replying to an email is probably going to be useless, unless I am willing to make an effort to understand what the other person is trying to say, from their own point of view.

Posted Wed Jan 29 10:44:14 2014 Tags:

Quest for a terminal emulator

The requirements

I need a terminal emulator. This is a checklist of the features that I need:

  • Foreground colour: #aaaaaa.
  • Background colour: black.
  • "Linux console" colour palette.
  • Font: Monospace-10.
  • Alt+Fnn to directly switch to one of the first 12 terminals, like in the Linux console.
  • F11 to toggle fullscreen.
  • Alt+'+', Alt+'-', Alt+'0' to control font sizes.
  • All other keybindings disabled, so that terminal programs are free to use them.
  • I occasionally need to switch to black-on-white for presentations.
  • Tabs.
  • When I open a new tab it needs to contain a shell opened inside the same directory of the last tab I was in. The way I normally start working is something like: cd workdir; x-terminal-emulator -e vim todolist and then I start opening new tabs.
  • I need -e to work. In fact, I need the terminal to work as x-terminal-emulator -e cmd args...
  • I need to conveniently pick a URL in a terminal and open it in Chromium, and not any other browser. Even better, open it in x-www-browser

My experience is that getting all of this to work is not being as easy as it seems, so I'm creating this page to track progress.


I've been happily using this for years, and it did everything I needed, until some months ago it started to open new tabs in the terminal's working directory instead of the last tab's working directory. This is a big point of frustration for me.

It also started opening https urls with Firefox, although the preferred browser was Chromium. There seemed to be no way to control it: I looked for firefox or iceweasel in all gconf and dconf settings and found nothing.

The browser issue was fixed by accident when I used Xfce4's settings application to change the browser from Chromium to Firefox and then back to Chromium.

update, thanks to Mathieu Parent, Josh Triplett, Peter De Wachter, Julien Cristau, and Charles Plessy:

It is also possible to restore the "new tab opened inside the same directory of the last tab I was in" behaviour, by enabling "run command as a login shell" so that /etc/profile.d/ is run (thanks Mathieu Parent for the link).

That in turn spawned extra cleanup work in my .bashrc/.bash_profile/.profile setup, which has been randomly evolving since even before my first Debian "buzz" system. I found that it was setting PROMPT_COMMAND to something else to set the terminal title, conflicting with what wants to do.

With regards to loading /etc/profile.d/ by default, Peter De Watcher sent pointers to relevant bugs: here, here, and here.

An alternative strategy is to work using the prompt rather than PROMPT_COMMAND; an example is in Josh Triplett's .bashrc from git://

Josh Triplett also said:

To fix the browser launched for URLs, you either need to use a desktop environment following GNOME's mechanism for setting the default browser, or edit ~/.local/share/applications/mimeapps.list and make sure x-scheme-handler/http, x-scheme-handler/https, and x-scheme-handler/ftp are set to your preferred browser's desktop file basename under [Added Associations].

All my issues with gnome-terminal are now gone and I'm only too happy to go back to it.


urxvt took some work. This is where I got with configuration:

URxvt.font: xft:Monospace-10:antialias=true
URxvt.foreground: #aaaaaa
URxvt.background: black
URxvt.scrollBar_right: true
URxvt.cursorBlink: true
URxvt.perl-ext-common: default,matcher,tabbedex
URxvt.url-launcher: /usr/bin/x-www-browser
URxvt.matcher.button: 1
URxvt.perl-lib: /home/enrico/.urxvt/perl
URxvt.color0: black
URxvt.color1: #aa0000
URxvt.color2: #00aa00umask
URxvt.color3: #aa5500
URxvt.color4: #0000aa
URxvt.color5: #aa00aa
URxvt.color6: #00aaaa
URxvt.color7: #aaaaaa
URxvt.color8: #555555
URxvt.color9: #ff5555
URxvt.color10: #55ff55
URxvt.color11: #ffff55
URxvt.color12: #5555ff
URxvt.color13: #ff55ff
URxvt.color14: #55ffff
URxvt.color15: #ffffff

I got all of the tab behaviour that I need by "customizing" the tab script (yuck github :( ).


  • Bold fonts only work if I set TERM=rxvt
  • The implementation for opening a new tab in the directory of the current tab is rather fragile.
  • Resizing the terminal window causes an annoying flicker


Configuration is in .config/sakura/sakura.conf and these bits help:

font=Monospace 10


  • Alt+Fnn to directly switch to one of the first 12 terminals, like in the Linux console. Sakura hardcodes using numbers for switching, and only allows to change the modifier.
  • Alt+'+', Alt+'-', Alt+'0' to control font sizes.
  • Tabs are huge and take way too much screen space.


Configuration is in .config/lxterminal/lxterminal.conf and this is relevant to me:

fontname=DejaVu Sans Mono 10

Also, to open a url directly you control+click it.


  • Alt+Fnn to directly switch to one of the first 12 terminals, like in the Linux console.
  • F11 to toggle fullscreen.
  • Alt+'+', Alt+'-', Alt+'0' to control font sizes.
  • I occasionally need to switch to black-on-white for presentations: this is inconvenient, as it requires to set foreground and background separately each time.


Configuration is in .config/terminator/config and this is relevant to me:

  use_custom_url_handler = True
  custom_url_handler = x-www-browser
  inactive_color_offset = 1.0
  close_term = None
  close_window = None
  copy = None
  cycle_next = None
  cycle_prev = None
  go_down = None
  go_next = None
  go_prev = None
  go_up = None
  group_all = None
  group_tab = None
  hide_window = None
  move_tab_left = None
  move_tab_right = None
  new_tab = None
  new_terminator = None
  new_window = None
  next_tab = None
  paste = None
  prev_tab = None
  reset_clear = None
  reset = None
  resize_down = None
  resize_left = None
  resize_right = None
  resize_up = None
  rotate_ccw = None
  rotate_cw = None
  scaled_zoom = None
  search = None
  split_horiz = None
  split_vert = None
  switch_to_tab_1 = <Alt>F1
  switch_to_tab_2 = <Alt>F2
  switch_to_tab_3 = <Alt>F3
  switch_to_tab_4 = <Alt>F4
  switch_to_tab_5 = <Alt>F5
  switch_to_tab_6 = <Alt>F6
  switch_to_tab_7 = <Alt>F7
  switch_to_tab_8 = <Alt>F8
  switch_to_tab_9 = <Alt>F9
  switch_to_tab_10 = <Alt>F10
  toggle_scrollbar = None
  toggle_zoom = None
  ungroup_all = None
  ungroup_tab = None
  <span class="createlink">default</span>
    palette = "#000000:#aa0000:#00aa00:#aa5500:#0000aa:#aa00aa:#00aaaa:#aaaaaa:#555555:#ff5555:#55ff55:#ffff55:#5555ff:#ff55ff:#55ffff:#ffffff"
    copy_on_selection = True
    icon_bell = False
    background_image = None
    show_titlebar = False


  • I need -e to work. In fact, I need the terminal to work as x-terminal-emulator -e cmd args.... #734655 but should be fixed soon
  • New windows start with the title bar visible, even if I configured it not to show. It disappears as soon as the window gets focused, causing the terminal contents to resize. It is just a glitch, but oh so annoying!

update: Richard Hartmann pointed out that terminator's upstream maintainer now changed after the old one didn't have time any more, and it should have a release with a ton of improvements anytime soon.


Configuration is in .config/xfce4/terminal, and this is relevant to me:


FontName=Monospace 10


(gtk_accel_path "<Actions>/terminal-window/goto-tab-1" "<Alt>F1")
(gtk_accel_path "<Actions>/terminal-window/goto-tab-2" "<Alt>F2")
(gtk_accel_path "<Actions>/terminal-window/goto-tab-3" "<Alt>F3")
(gtk_accel_path "<Actions>/terminal-window/goto-tab-4" "<Alt>F4")
(gtk_accel_path "<Actions>/terminal-window/goto-tab-5" "<Alt>F5")
(gtk_accel_path "<Actions>/terminal-window/goto-tab-6" "<Alt>F6")
(gtk_accel_path "<Actions>/terminal-window/goto-tab-7" "<Alt>F7")
(gtk_accel_path "<Actions>/terminal-window/goto-tab-8" "<Alt>F8")
(gtk_accel_path "<Actions>/terminal-window/goto-tab-9" "<Alt>F9")
(gtk_accel_path "<Actions>/terminal-window/goto-tab-10" "<Alt>F10")
(gtk_accel_path "<Actions>/terminal-window/goto-tab-11" "<Alt>F11")
(gtk_accel_path "<Actions>/terminal-window/goto-tab-12" "<Alt>F12")

update: Yves-Alexis Perez points out that to disable the F1 for help in the terminal, you need to remove the accelerator. I tried this and this and didn't have success, but I confess I did not dig too much into it.

Although xfce4-terminal -e does not work as I expect, xfce4-terminal registers a wrapper for x-terminal-emulator that does the right thing with respect to -e (also thanks Yves-Alexis Perez).


  • Alt+'+', Alt+'-', Alt+'0' to control font sizes.
  • All other keybindings disabled, so that terminal programs are free to use them. I could not find a way to disable F1 for help.
  • I occasionally need to switch to black-on-white for presentations. I can switch to a "Black on white" preset, but there is no "Gray on black" to switch back to. I can switch back to "White on black", but then I need to manually set the text colour to #aaaaaa. update: Yves-Alexis Perez found that you can add presets to .local/share/colorthemes taking examples from /usr/share/xfce4/terminal/colorschemes; next time I consider switching to xfce4-terminal I'll try that.


Configuration is in .config/ split in several files corresponding to profiles. This is a reasonable starting point for me:


[roxterm profile]


[roxterm colour scheme]


[roxterm shortcuts scheme]
File/New Window=
File/New Tab=
File/Close Window=
File/Close Tab=
Tabs/Previous Tab=
Tabs/Next Tab=
View/Zoom In=<Control>plus
View/Zoom Out=<Control>minus
View/Normal Size=<Control>0
View/Full Screen=F11
View/Scroll Up One Line=
View/Scroll Down One Line=
Edit/Copy & Paste=
Search/Find Next=
Search/Find Previous=
File/New Window With Profile/Default=
File/New Tab With Profile/Default=


[roxterm options]


Nothing of my initial requirements seems to be missing, really, so I'm sticking to it for a while to see what happens.

The first itch to scratch is that when the menubar is hidden, the popup menu becomes the entire menubar contents, which does not fit the general use case to have a contextual menu with the most common shortcuts. I'll just declare it useless and get myself used to some new hotkey for starting a new terminal.

update: after fixing my issues with gnome-terminal I've switched back to gnome-terminal: its interface feels less clunky as I'm already used to it.

Other references

Guillem Jover made a similar analysis in 2009, it can be found here.

Thomas Koch mentioned that termit should be able to do all I need, and is scriptable in Lua. I like the sound of that, and it's definitely one I should look next time I find myself shopping for terminal emulators.

Posted Mon Jan 20 20:41:04 2014 Tags:

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