Monday, February 22, 2010

Gentoo Mozilla Team meeting decisions

On Feb 21st, Sunday, the Gentoo Mozilla Team had an informal meeting to discuss some of the recent changes which have a large-ish impact on users. Below is a list of them and the decisions that were taken. After the list is a description of each decision.

SQLite with Firefox: Firefox will use the bundled sqlite by default. Users can select the system-wide sqlite by setting USE=system-sqlite.

Ebuilds for Extensions in-tree: The Gentoo Mozilla team will not ship ebuilds for extensions such as noscript and weave anymore. We will only have ebuilds for extensions which are linux-specific and compiled; such as enigmail.

Firefox and Thunderbird Alphas and Betas: In addition to the overlay, we are going to start placing alphas and betas of Firefox and Thunderbird in the tree with a package.mask and a big fat ewarn during installation. Adventurous users are encouraged try them out but report bugs only in the Gentoo bugzilla. Do not go to upstream unless we ask you.

NOTE: These ebuilds will not have language packs since upstream does not release packs for these.

NSS/NSPR Changes: This involves various cleanups to the ebuild, and moving of the libraries from ${libdir}/{nss/nspr} to ${libdir} and removal of the /etc/env.d/08{nss,nspr} LDPATH entries alongwith corresponding changes in firefox-bin and thunderbird-bin launchers. These changes should be completely transparent to the user.

Revival of #gentoo-moz @ FreeNode: The mozilla team has expanded in recent times, and with that we have decided to revive the ages-old #gentoo-moz irc channel. Users are welcome to idle, discuss, and ask for help on that channel. Come on over!

Why we made these decisions:

SQLite with Firefox: We've done flip-flops on using the system-installed sqlite for for XULRunner and Firefox. Initially, we used the internal one, but folks reported bugs about that (we prefer not to use bundled libraries), so we switched to the system sqlite.

Then with the next version of Firefox, people started reporting major bugs with using the system sqlite and we temporarily disabled it. Once the problems were resolved, we added USE=+sqlite to use the system-installed sqlite by default.

Recently, another issue cropped up: upstream mozilla was getting bug reports that the sqlite db was insecure, and trivial tools like grep could be used to get (private) deleted information from it. They traced that to distros using the system sqlite which didn't have support for SQLITE_SECURE_DELETE. They then made that a mandatory configure check with 3.6 (and we added a dep on the system sqlite for it). Soon, we started getting bug reports from people who did not want that enabled system-wide (since it zeroes out the data when deleting it, which has a performance penalty). Upstream made it clear that they would not make the check optional.

In the end, we decided to make firefox use the internal sqlite by default, and allow the user to select the system installed sqlite via USE=sytem-sqlite if they are ok with secure-delete being on system-wide.

Ebuilds for Extensions in-tree: We found that a number of extensions were being released at a very swift rate which meant two things:

  1. Bumping ebuilds was very tedious, which led to them becoming stale very quickly
  2. Judging whether an ebuild can go stable was not possible, and most often the extension developers just want the users to use the latest release.
This offset the benefit of users being able to install extensions system-wide and have it managed by portage. Users can still manually install and manage system-wide extensions if they so wish. They are also free to copy the old ebuilds to their local overlays and use them if they wish.

Firefox and Thunderbird Alphas and Betas: Mozilla Upstream has been complaining that their betas and release candidates don't get much testing on Linux since all the distros ship only the final releases. This means that bugs are caught very late, and aren't fixed till the next major version. To help with this, we've decided to revise our release strategy and give a bit more visibility to our alphas and betas (which are generally kept in the overlay) by pushing them to the tree under package.mask, and with large ewarns all over the place. Users are strongly advised NOT to report bugs with these directly to upstream. Please use the Gentoo Bugzilla.

NSS/NSPR Changes: the libraries for nss and nspr were installed in a prefix due to collisions with other packages (libssl.a for instance). Recently, Google decided to use portage for cross-compiling and managing ChromeOS. This combined with some bugs reported with NSS/NSPR led to some investigation, and a voluntary review of the ebuilds.

This led to a number of changes which included disabling static libraries for NSS and NSPR, and moving the rest to ${libdir}. Further details on the changes and their "why" are listed on the review bugs linked above.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Gift of Attention

I cannot stress this enough. When someone asks you to listen, listen to them. When they ask you to listen to their favourite song, or to a song they think is beautiful, listen to them and listen to it. When they show you something that moves them, look at it and try to see how it moved them. They find it special, and are sharing it with you because they find something in you that is special. Don't squander that special gift away. Spend a little time. You'll understand them better.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Haruki Murakami

When I was a kid, in 2nd grade, my dad was posted in the Himalayas. Families weren't allowed there, so I used to live with my mother at her mother's house. Right above the bed where I used to sleep with my grandmother, was this strange painting of a house. The canvas was a dark cloth, and the painting was made of light-grey outlines of a hill with a house on it. It had a slanting roof and a chimney with a hand coming out of it. I used to stare at this terrifying picture every night while going to sleep. It was much later that I realised it was actually smoke that was coming out of the chimney. Smoke that looked very convincingly like a hand.

Whenever I think of this picture, feelings of horror are mixed with the beautiful memories of living with my grandmother. Listening to the watchman making his rounds around the houses, listening to tales spun by my grandma, peeking outside the vertical-tilting window to see the moonlit houses. That green Russian folktales book I had, and Baba-Yaga. Chasing dust-mites in beams of light, playing with a 1991 calendar; with faint memories of something big going on. The house in the painting itself must have featured in many of my dreams and my nightmares. All these memories mix and mingle to evoke feelings from every corner of my brain. I am left with tears in my eyes, heaviness in my heart, and regret in my mind that all of it is now gone.

And somehow, everytime I finish a short story by Haruki Murakami; all these feelings rush up to me. Whether the story had a happy ending, or challenged my stomach; the nostalgia, the beauty, the love, all rushes up to me. Each story reminds me of my love for thunderstorms. For stormy nights, that are spent alone. Loneliness that I cannot bear, but the feeling of which I love.

I remember so much that I just want to lose myself in my memories.

That is Haruki Murakami for me.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A New Haven for Journalists

I'd always imagined that change in human society is conservative by default. That radical change can only happen under radical circumstances. Unfortunately, I've also seen that one should never underestimate human idiocy (see republican senators in the US).

In the middle of enormously counter-productive responses to the Financial Crisis that overwhelmed economies all over the world, we have Iceland. Iceland was probably the worst-hit in the chaos. Bankruptcy for the citizens, rioting in the streets; a little better than the worst that can happen.

These extreme circumstances, along with the role WikiLeaks played in uncovering the reasons for the hard fall the Iceland economy took have now led to the government proposing legislation which will make it a safe haven for free speech and journalism. Go ahead and read the articles linked in this blog post.

I'm no journalist, but I know the importance of keeping whistle-blowers safe.

EDIT: Pointed out by sid0; FAQ about the legislation. A must-read.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Infibeam Rocks.

Some of you who follow me on twitter might remember something I tweeted about on Feb 6th:

Crap. Bought the wrong book on Infibeam and there's no way to cancel after making payment. Worse, I already have this book x-( #fail

This is essentially what happens when you buy stuff on the Internet at 5am after not sleeping all night preparing for an exam. I selected the (wrong) book, paid for it using Paypal, and soon afterwards, realised that I wanted the second part of this book (Foundation Analysis). Checked their FAQ to find to my dismay that they don't support cancellation of orders after payment has been made.

Needless to say, I'm a student, and students are poor(er). So I was sitting around semi-depressed wondering how to sell the book off at a minimal cost loss after I get it. On a whim, I decided to tweet about it (I generally don't tweet much; mostly passive reading).

After giving my exam, I noticed two missed calls on my phone from a strange number. I decided to wait for them (whoever they were) to call me again. A couple of hours later, I get another phone call; but this time it gets cut before I can pick it up. A few minutes later I get the following email:

Dear Nirbheek Chauhan ,

Order Id : [REMOVED]


We have received your request for cancellation of above order through So we are offering you your ordered amount as prepaid credit to your Infibeam account which can be used for next purchase.

Please allow us for the same. So we can credit your account accordingly.

We also tried to reach you through given no. [REMOVED MOBILE NO.], but could not get response.

Thank you for shopping with us! You can contact us anytime using

Sincerely, Customer Service
Fresh Way to Buy, Sell and Rent

My reaction -- :O :D :O :D

Yesterday evening, they cancelled my order and refunded the amount I had paid as prepaid-credit which I can now use to buy the other book that I wanted to buy!

I don't know about you, but I'm very impressed by their customer service. The fact that they took the initiative to monitor twitter for tweets mentioning "Infibeam" for any problems that users face is a strong indication that they aren't just some random E-Store. They have definitely made permanent customer out of me!

On a related note, I've found that their book prices are usually less than or equal to those on . Another reason to use them ;)