Upcoming Fedora Elections

Yes, it’s that time of year again.  Rain is falling, another Fedora release is about to conquer the known world, and volunteers everywhere are busy preparing their ideal Fedora Mission Statements to captivate the electorate.  Fedora’s Winter Election is upon us.

The first order of business is to find an Election Coordinator.  For the last 2 election cycles I have volunteered for this role, with the able assistance of John Rose (inode0), and Thorsten Leemhuis (thl) and others.  This cycle, I would like someone besides myself from the Fedora community to volunteer as Election Coordinator.  Raise your hand, don’t be shy!  If you have been harboring a secret (or public) list of all my mistakes, here’s your chance to set things right!

As Election Coordinator, you will have the opportunity to:

  • propose, get buy-in, and finalize the schedule
  • schedule forums (traditionally IRC and with FUDCon Toronto, Live)
  • seek forum moderators
  • if desired, gather questions from the electorate, distribute to the candidates, gather and post their answers.
  • coordinate with Infrastructure to be sure the elections app is ready.

Second, a schedule will need to be set.  At the Board meeting this week, we agreed that it would be nice to hold in-person forums at FUDCon Toronto, December 5-7, for those who can attend.  Our election rules require us to complete the election within 30 days of the Fedora 12 release, so must end by December 17.  Per Nigel Jones, author of
our voting system, most of the votes cast were within the first 2-3 days, so running it Dec 8-17 would be sufficient.

Before these, we typically hold nominations for 2 weeks, and a week for IRC Town Halls to be scheduled.  Thorsten also requested after the last election that we have a few days between end of nominations and beginning of the town halls, to allow time for candidates to be given a set of questions, and sufficent time to answer.

Third, we need to be sure of all the committees who are holding an election.  The committee chairs can assist here.  I believe that the Board, FESCo, and Ambassadors are electing members, and that the Fedora 13 naming election will happen too.  Are there any I missed?

Feedback on prior elections, ideas for how to improve this cycle, and volunteers for Election Coordinator all welcome on the fedora-advisory-board list.

Fedora is Self-Hosting

Fedora 12 (Beta available now), is self-hosting.

What does this mean? Simply put, it means that you can use a copy of Fedora 12 to rebuild, from source, all* of Fedora 12 again.

Why is this important? One of the key tenets of Free and Open Source software is that anyone can get a copy of the source code, make modifications to it, built it, an use the modified version. Simply publishing the source code, without also allowing people a way to rebuild and use that code, doesn’t accomplish this goal.

Source code tends to bitrot over time. Libraries that your code uses will change, get updated, add features and bugfixes. Compilers improve and update to later standards. Your code needs to keep up. So, for each Fedora release, we run an “Fails To Build From Source” pass, which rebuilds every package in the distribution, using the packages in the distribution. We started the Fedora 12 development cycle with about 400 packages which couldn’t build (still, less than 5% of the total packages) for various reasons. Over the last few months, members of the Fedora Packager community have been whittling away at these, fixing their packages, sending patches to their respective upstream projects, and therefore improving the quality of the open source ecosystem as a whole.

The result?  You see immediate improvements (smaller package sizes due to new compression methods being used, future-proof security through the use of stronger hashes to guarantee package integrity), and increased flexibility should you wish to remix Fedora for your own purposes.

Thank you packagers!

* Truth in advertising: All in this case means 8448 of the 8485 packages in the Fedora 12 tree. There are 37 problematic packages (0.4%), none critical to a vast majority of users, which still need some love.

Installing Fedora 12 and saving the environment

If you’re like me, chances are you have a system or three with DVD / CD burners in them.  Aside from their use for backups, I have tended to use my burners to create Linux install DVDs, done my install, and then given it to someone else, or (ashamedly) thrown it away.  What a waste.

I also prefer to do network-based installs, where I don’t have to download a whole 4GB DVD image, or even 700MB CD image, and burn it.  Instead, I download the 160MB “netinst” network install ISO, burn that to a CD, boot that CD, and point the installer at a Fedora mirror to grab all the packages.  This works great, but still, I’m left with a netinst CD when I’m done that I may no longer need.

Enter isohybrid, new in Fedora 12 (Beta).  I’ve got a few USB keys of various sizes, most larger than 160MB.  Instead of burning a CD (which I can still do, the process is unchanged), I can write the netinst ISO file directly to a USB key, and boot it.  Amazing!

Give it a try when you install Fedora 12 Beta, and save one more CD from becoming landfill.

$ wget http://download.fedoraproject.org/pub/fedora/linux/releases/test/12-Beta/Fedora/x86_64/iso/Fedora-12-Beta-x86_64-netinst.iso
$ sudo dd if=Fedora-12-Beta-x86_64-netinst.iso of=/dev/sdc bs=1M
$ eject /dev/sdc

Replace /dev/sdc with the actual device name of your USB key. You will want to unmount any file systems that are mounted on that key before writing to it.

Then boot that USB key, and you’re off to the races. When prompted for which local file system contains your install image, simply click “Back”, select the “URL” install method, and use a URL of your favorite mirror.

Special thanks to H. Peter Anvin for writing isohybrid and including it in syslinux.

TPMs are good for something

TPMs (Trusted Platform Modules) have long been avoided on Linux, given that their primary use cases have historically been around licensing and Digital Rights Management, concepts which are mostly foreign to Free and Open Source software.  However, as new use cases, such as “trusted boot” have emerged, developers have added TPM device drivers to the Linux kernel to enable these uses.  One often-overlooked feature of the TPM is that it has a hardware pseudo-random number generator.

A while back, Jeff Garzik and others were discussing this on the linux-kernel mailing list (summarized on LWN.net), where it was suggested that the TPM could be used to feed the rngd (random number gathering daemon) tool, just as it reads from other hardware random number generators.  The rngd program reads from hardware-based random number generators and feeds entropy into the kernel’s entropy pool.  Easy in concept, but lacking in TPM implementation.

As it happens, quite a few Dell systems include a TPM chip, including the PowerEdge 11G servers such as the R610 and R710.  So, I asked Dell’s crack team of Linux developers to see what they could do.  The result: a patch to rngd which adds the TPM as another source of random numbers for feeding the kernel’s entropy pool.

We’re working with Jeff to get this patch applied to the rng-tools upstream sources, and from there into the various distributions as their schedules permit.

So, should you find yourself running out of entropy on your servers, and not having a keyboard or mouse attached as ways to feed the entropy pool, you can run enable the TPM in BIOS SETUP, run rngd, and never lack for randomness again.

Google Voice: Why do I need a home phone?

For the past 3 months I’ve been using Google Voice, and I must say, I like it.  But I’m not exactly using it as intended.

I’ve had the same home phone number for 10 years.  A lot of people have that number.  Not a lot of people call it (what that says about my popularity I don’t really want to know), and we don’t make that many outgoing calls a month, but the thought of changing it everywhere is daunting.  More so for anyone with a number for even longer.  I’ve started doing so, but only opportunistically.

What to do?  I don’t want to give up my home number, and I can’t yet transfer my number to Google Voice.  And in theory, I get a discount on my phone/cable/internet by having all three, they’d charge even more for having just two.

My trick?  Time Warner offers unlimited free call forwarding.  So, my home number forwards to GV.  GV then forwards to my cell phone, email, Celeste’s cell phone, etc.  I dropped the voicemail from TW, as now GV takes care of that.  And I can drop the long distance with TW and use GV for that too.  Everything works great.

At some point, when I can transfer my home number to GV and have two numbers for the account (old home number and new GV number I’ve been giving out), and if TW’s rates change again so it’s cheaper to drop their phone service, I will.  Or they will get enough competition to realize that for a couple dozen calls a month, charging $$ for phone service won’t work and they just throw it in for free.  Here’s to hoping.