Letter to my MP on racism in the US and UK

Here is the text of a letter I wrote to my MP today via writetothem.com:

Dear [],

I am writing to you to express my growing horror at the ongoing police violence and brutality Black protesters are facing in the US, and the UK’s disturbing silence on the matter.

These protests, begun as peaceful demonstrations against the state-enabled murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department, have been escalated by the US police, who are using excessive force against protesters practising their civic rights. If this were a non-white country, Western countries would have denounced this brutality; instead, the UK has elected to remain silent.

I am painfully aware that the UK itself suffers from many racist structures. Thanks to systematic injustice, the recent pandemic has impacted BAME people at a vastly higher rate than white people. The death of Belly Mujinga, caused by a racist attack and by her presence at work despite underlying conditions that should have resulted in paid leave, was horrifying and preventable, and the dropped inquiry utterly disgraceful.

I ask you personally to:
– write to the Foreign Secretary asking for a strong statement of condemnation of police brutality in the US,
– make it a personal priority to address the systematic injustice of unfair outcomes for BAME people in the UK,
– ensure that the government responds materially to the report on BAME COVID-19 deaths,
– insist on a full enquiry into the circumstances surrounding Belly Mujinga’s death.

Yours sincerely,

Inspired by: @anahitrooz.

Example Android project with repeatable tests running inside an emulator

I’ve spent the last couple of days fighting the Android command line to set up a simple project that can run automated tests inside an emulator reliably and repeatably.

To make the tests reliable and independent from anything else on my machine, I wanted to store the Android SDK and AVD files in a local directory.

To do this I had to define a lot of inter-related environment variables, and wrap the tools in scripts that ensure they run with the right flags and settings.

The end result of this work is here: gitlab.com/andybalaam/android-skeleton

You need all the utility scripts included in that repo for it to work, but some highlights include:

The environment variables that I source in every script, scripts/paths:

PROJECT_ROOT=$(dirname $(dirname $(realpath ${BASH_SOURCE[${#BASH_SOURCE[@]} - 1]})))
export ANDROID_SDK_ROOT="${PROJECT_ROOT}/android_sdk"

Creation of a local.properties file that tells Gradle and Android Studio where the SDK is, by running something like this:

echo "# File created automatically - changes will be overwritten!" > local.properties
echo "sdk.dir=${ANDROID_SDK_ROOT}" >> local.properties

The wrapper scripts for Android tools e.g. scripts/sdkmanager:


set -e
set -u

source scripts/paths

"${ANDROID_SDK_ROOT}/tools/bin/sdkmanager" \
    "--sdk_root=${ANDROID_SDK_ROOT}" \

The wrapper for avdmanager is particularly interesting since it seems we need to override where it thinks the tools directory is for it to work properly – scripts/avdmanager:


set -e
set -u

source scripts/paths

# Set toolsdir to include "bin/" since avdmanager seems to go 2 dirs up
# from that to find the SDK root?
AVDMANAGER_OPTS="-Dcom.android.sdkmanager.toolsdir=${ANDROID_SDK_ROOT}/tools/bin/" \
    "${ANDROID_SDK_ROOT}/tools/bin/avdmanager" "$@"

An installation script that must be run once before using the project scripts/install-android-tools:


set -e
set -u
set -x

source scripts/paths

mkdir -p "${ANDROID_SDK_ROOT}"
mkdir -p "${ANDROID_AVD_HOME}"

# Download sdkmanager, avdmanager etc.
test -f commandlinetools-*.zip || \
    wget -q 'https://dl.google.com/android/repository/commandlinetools-linux-6200805_latest.zip'
unzip -q -u commandlinetools-*.zip
cd ..

# Ask sdkmanager to update itself
./scripts/sdkmanager --update

# Install the emulator and tools
yes | ./scripts/sdkmanager --install 'emulator' 'platform-tools'

# Platforms
./scripts/sdkmanager --install 'platforms;android-21'
./scripts/sdkmanager --install 'platforms;android-29'

# Install system images for our oldest and newest supported API versions
yes | ./scripts/sdkmanager --install 'system-images;android-21;default;x86_64'
yes | ./scripts/sdkmanager --install 'system-images;android-29;default;x86_64'

# Create AVDs to run the system images
echo no | ./scripts/avdmanager -v \
    create avd \
    -f \
    -n "avd-21" \
    -k "system-images;android-21;default;x86_64" \
    -p ${ANDROID_SDK_ROOT}/avds/avd-21
echo no | ./scripts/avdmanager -v \
    create avd \
    -f \
    -n "avd-29" \
    -k "system-images;android-29;default;x86_64" \
    -p ${ANDROID_SDK_ROOT}/avds/avd-29

Please do contribute to the project if you know easier ways to do this stuff.

Creating a tiny Docker image of a Rust project

I am building a toy project in Rust to help me learn how to deploy things in AWS. I’m considering using Elastic Beanstalk (AWS’s platform-as-a-service) and also Kubernetes. Both of these support deploying via Docker containers, so I am learning how to package a Rust executable as a Docker image.

My program is a small web site that uses Redis as a back end database. It consists of some Rust code and a couple of static files.

Because Rust has good support for building executables with very few dependencies, we can actually build a Docker image with almost nothing in it, except my program and the static files.

Thanks to Alexander Brand’s blog post How to Package Rust Applications Into Minimal Docker Containers I was able to build a Docker image that:

  1. Is very small
  2. Does not take too long to build

The main concern for making the build faster is that we don’t download and build all the dependencies every time. To achieve that we make sure there is a layer in the Docker build process that includes all the dependencies being built, and is not re-built when we only change our source code.

Here is the Dockerfile I ended up with:

# 1: Build the exe
FROM rust:1.42 as builder
WORKDIR /usr/src

# 1a: Prepare for static linking
RUN apt-get update && \
    apt-get dist-upgrade -y && \
    apt-get install -y musl-tools && \
    rustup target add x86_64-unknown-linux-musl

# 1b: Download and compile Rust dependencies (and store as a separate Docker layer)
RUN USER=root cargo new myprogram
WORKDIR /usr/src/myprogram
COPY Cargo.toml Cargo.lock ./
RUN cargo install --target x86_64-unknown-linux-musl --path .

# 1c: Build the exe using the actual source code
COPY src ./src
RUN cargo install --target x86_64-unknown-linux-musl --path .

# 2: Copy the exe and extra files ("static") to an empty Docker image
FROM scratch
COPY --from=builder /usr/local/cargo/bin/myprogram .
COPY static .
USER 1000
CMD ["./myprogram"]

The FROM rust:1.42 as build line uses the newish Docker feature multi-stage builds – we create one Docker image (“builder”) just to build the code, and then copy the resulting executable into the final Docker image.

In order to allow us to build a stand-alone executable that does not depend on the standard libraries in the operating system, we use the “musl” target, which is designed to be statically linked.

The final Docker image produced is pretty much the same size as the release build of myprogram, and the build is fast, so long as I don’t change the dependencies in Cargo.toml.

A couple more tips to make the build faster:

1. Use a .dockerignore file. Here is mine:


2. Use Docker BuildKit, by running the build like this:

DOCKER_BUILDKIT=1 docker build  .

Keeping track of podcast times with a simple bash script on Linux

I was recording some podcast audio tonight and wanted to be able to press a single key when I reached a significant moment, so I could add the times to the show notes.

I couldn’t find anything that already did this, so I wrote a tiny bash script. I ran this script and pressed Enter whenever I wanted a time recorded:

while sleep 1; do
    echo -n -e "\e[1A"
    echo $(($T / 60))m $(($T % 60))s
    T=$(($T + 1))

The output looks like this:

$ ./times.bash 
0m 41s
6m 16s
9m 59s
13m 30s

The time ticks along, and when you press Enter that time stamp is recorded. You can copy this text out of your terminal to use in show notes. On most terminals you can copy text by selecting it with the mouse and pressing Ctrl-Shift-v.

Custom Bash tab completion for my program

I love Bash tab completion, and I want it for the command I am writing, so it can automatically complete parts of the command line when I run my program.


Here is the script (install-bash-completion) I wrote to set it up (no need to be root – it installs in ~/.local):


set -u
set -e


mkdir -p ${DIR}

cp _myprogram ${DIR}

The actual completion script (_myprogram) it installs looks like this:

    local cur prev opts
    opts=$(bash -c "./myprogram --commands")

    COMPREPLY=( $(compgen -W "${opts}" -- ${cur}) )
    return 0
complete -F _myprogram_commands ./myprogram


To install it, run:


Then log out and log in again.

Now when you type ./myprogram and press TAB a couple of times, you should see the possible completions listed.


The completion script must be named to match the program name, with a leading underscore.

If I wanted it to work when it was installed in my PATH, I would need to change ./myprogram to just myprogram in 2 places.

Notice the line opts=$(bash -c "./myprogram --commands") – it actually runs my program to get the list of completions. This means my program needs to accept a --commands option which prints the valid commands. Alternatively, I could have hard-coded it by replacing that line with just:

opts="cmd1 cmd2 --help --etc"

More info: