My Gear Post

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Whenever I encounter people as I travel, they are often curious about my luggage. It seems to be invisible. They’ll often ask where my bag is, assuming that it must have gotten lost in transit. Their eyes go wide and confusion sets in when I tell them that the bag on my back is the only one.

It is my estimation that at least some people would be curious about what gear I travel with. They ask how I’m able to pack all the necessities into such a small space. There is no great secret to traveling light. All it takes is a little research and compromise in creature comforts. If you have browsed the postings of other nomadic hackers, there might be little to be gleaned from this post. Here’s a basic rundown, with almost each article deserving its own article.

It should go without saying that nobody paid for me to write this post, and likewise nobody as sent me any products to test.

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Working around flaky internet connections

In many parts of the world a reliable internet connection is hard to come by. Ethernet is essentially non-existent and WiFi is king. As any digital nomad can testify, this is ‘good enough’ for doing productive work.

Unfortunately not all WiFi connections work perfectly all the time. They’re fraught with unexpected problems including dropping out entirely, abruptly killing connections, and running into connection limits.

Thankfully with a little knowledge it is possible to regain productivity that would otherwise be lost to a flaky internet connection. These techniques are applicable to coffee shops, hotels, and other places with semi-public WiFi.

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The cost of ‘free’ relocation cars in New Zealand

Raspberries on the lawn of the Christchurch Riccarton Bush farmers market
Raspberries on the lawn of the Christchurch Riccarton Bush farmers market

As many of my friends know, I’ve been spending the last few weeks in New Zealand. Primarily it’s been for a small holiday, but also in preparation inimitable Linux.conf.au 2015 conference. Leading up to that, one of the goals of my visit was to experience the variety of places across both islands.

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Finding the perfect ancillary travel device

Hackerbeach attendees at the upper dining table
Hackerbeach attendees at the upper dining table

As would be familiar to anybody who knows me, I’m always interested in new tech, especially when it’s running free software and portable enough to be in my every-day carry arsenal.

For the past month or so I’ve been looking at a few devices as a secondary to my laptop to carry with me. In a few weeks I’ll be joining those already there at third installment of Hackerbeach, on the Caribbean island of Dominica.

I wanted an embedded Linux system that could do everything. The scope of this device just kept getting bigger the more I thought about it.

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September ’14 Mercurial Code Sprint

A week ago I was fortunate enough to attend the latest code sprint of the Mercurial project. This was my second sprint with this project, and took away quite a bit from the meeting. The attendance of the sprint was around 20 people and took the form of a large group, with smaller groups splitting out intermittently to discuss particular topics. I had seen a few of the attendees before at a previous sprint I attended.

Joining me at the sprint were two of my colleagues Gregory Szorc (gps) and Mike Hommey (glandium). They took part in some of the serious discussions about core bugfixes and features that will help Mozilla scale its use of Mercurial. Impressively, glandium had only been working on the project for mere weeks, but was able to make serious contributions to the bundle2 format (an upcoming feature of Mercurial). Specifically, we talked to Mercurial developers about some of the difficulties and bugs we’ve encountered with Mozilla’s “try” repository due to the “tens of thousands of heads” and the events that cause a serving request to spin forever.

By trade I’m a sysadmin/DevOps person, but I also do have a coder hat that I don from time to time. Still though, the sprint was full of serious coders who seemingly worked on Mercurial full-time. There were attendees who had big named employers, some of whom would probably prefer that I didn’t reveal their identities here.

Unfortunately due to my lack of familiarity with a lot of the deep-down internals I was unable to contribute to some of the discussions. It was primarily a learning experience for me for both the process which direction-driving decisions are made for the project (mpm’s BDFL status) and all of the considerations that go into choosing a particular method to implement an idea.

That’s not to say I was entirely useless. My knowledge of systems and package management meant I was able to collaborate with another developer (kiilerix) to improve the Docker package building support, including preliminary work for building (un)official Debian packages for the first time.

I also learned about some infrequently used features or tips about Mercurial. For example, folks who come from a background of using git often complain about Mercurial’s lack of interactive rebase functionality. The “histedit” extension provides this feature. Much like many other features of Mercurial, this is technically “in core”, but not enabled by default. Adding a line in the “[extensions]” section your “hgrc” file such as “histedit =” enables it. It allows all the expected picking, folding, dropping, editing, or modifying commit messages.

Changeset evolution is another feature that’s been coming for a long time. It enables developers to safely modify history and be able to propagate those changes to any down/upstream clones. It’s still disabled by default, but is available as an extension. Gregory Szorc, a colleague of mine, has written about it before. If you’re curious you can read more about it here.

One of the features I’m most looking forward to is sparse checkouts. Imagine a la Perforce being able to only check out a subtree or subtrees of a repository using ‘–include subdir1/’ and –exclude subdir2/’ arguments during cloning/updating. This is what sparse checkouts will allow. Additionally, functionality is being planned to enable saved ‘profiles’ of subdirs for different uses. For instance, specifying the ‘–enable-profile mobile’ argument will allow a saved list of included and excluded items. This seems like a really powerful way of building lightweight build profiles for each different type of build we do. Unfortunately to be properly implemented it is waiting on some other code to be developed such as sharded manifests.

One last thing I’d like to tell you about is an upcoming free software project for Mercurial hosting named Kallithea. It was borne from the liberated code from the RhodeCode project. It is still in its infancy (version 0.1 as of the writing of this post), but has some attractive features for viewing repositories, such visualizations of changelog graphs, diffs, code reviews, a built-in editor, LDAP support, and even a JSON-RPC API for issue tracker integration.

In all I feel it was a valuable experience for me to attend that benefited both the Mercurial project and myself. I was able to lend some of my knowledge about building packages and familiarity with operations of large-scale hgweb serving, and was able to learn a lot about the internals of Mercurial and understand that even the deep core code of the project isn’t very scary.

I’m very thankful for my ability to attend and look forward to attending the next Sprint in the following year.

Concerning Hackers and Beaches

I’m excited to hear that Hackerbeach will be happening again this year. Last year was an amazing and unique experience, and I can’t wait to go again. This year the village hosting us will be Lamu, Kenya.

For the uninitiated, Hackerbeach involves a group of hackers (historically 15-20) gathering in a tropical location for a month to hack on various open source projects. It can be thought of as a month-long hackathon or code sprint for nomadic open source developers. All of the code so far has been focused on the open web ecosystem.

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Hiring an Auto in Bangalore

Over the past week I’ve spent in Bangalore, I’ve come to appreciate the humble auto rickshaw, or ‘auto’ for short. For the uninitiated they are similar to a Tuk Tuk in other countreies. That is to say they are small three-wheeled covered vehicles used to ferry two to three passengers around busy streets and through traffic. This is half due to their diminutive size and the other half due to their driver’s propensity for disregarding both traffic laws and courtesy to their fellow road-sharers. Bangalore has the busiest (and narrowest) streets in India, and the auto drivers are notorious for trying to take advantage of unwitting customers.

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