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A dev quote attributed to Maurice Wilkes

Via the FreeBSD Questions mailing list:

By June 1949, people had begun to realize that it was not so easy to get a program right as had at one time appeared. It was on one of my journeys between the EDSAC room and the punching equipment that the realization came over me with full force that a good part of the remainder of my life was going to be spent in finding errors in my own programs.


A dodgy USB key

I was having trouble with a USB 3.0 Kingston DataTraveller drive on my MacBook Pro. I was willing to assume it was a dodgy USB C adaptor cable, so I plugged it into my FreeBSD tower, like a gentleman. I hadn’t seen dmesg output like this in a long time:

uhub_reattach_port: giving up port reset - device vanished
uhub_reattach_port: giving up port reset - device vanished
uhub_reattach_port: giving up port reset - device vanished
uhub_reattach_port: giving up port reset - device vanished
uhub_reattach_port: giving up port reset - device vanished

I had three other identical keys, so I tried another one:

ugen1.2: <Kingston DataTraveler 3.0> at usbus1
umass0 on uhub0
umass0: <Kingston DataTraveler 3.0, class 0/0, rev 3.10/0.01, addr 1> on usbus1
umass0:  SCSI over Bulk-Only; quirks = 0xc100
umass0:7:0: Attached to scbus7
da0 at umass-sim0 bus 0 scbus7 target 0 lun 0
da0: <Kingston DataTraveler 3.0 > Removable Direct Access SPC-4 SCSI device
da0: Serial Number [blah]
da0: 400.000MB/s transfers
da0: 14755MB (30218842 512 byte sectors)
da0: quirks=0x2<NO_6_BYTE>

And the other two worked the same. Plugged that first one back in, and the same reattach_port errors.

I’m amazed that for all the dozens – perhaps hundreds – of keys I’ve had over the years, I’ve only had one other one brand new one fail in this way. It’s super impressive.


Social media demands we not have nice things

I’ve been watching a lot of Doug DeMuro on YouTube, as you can likely tell by now. I’m not even that into cars; he’s just such an engaging and interesting reviewer with an admirable attention to detail.

But his recent video defending his purchase of a Land Rover Defender got me thinking a bit meta. Among the many reasons social media now shits me is the fact swaths of the population can’t tolerate you buying something that’s useful for you or makes you happy, and boy can’t they wait to tell you why.

Take electric shavers. I treated myself to a Braun last year. Disposable and cartridge razors were wasteful, and straight razors irritate my skin. I’d tried them all, with training, and with every conceivable combination of creams, foams, and gels. This electric Braun gives me a surprisingly close shave, in less time in the bleary-eyed morning, with minimal effort, and my skin doesn’t burn. It’s a win on every metric.

The uproar this generated on Twitter was matched only by my admission to using an American Express to top up an Opal card, or using a Mac back in the day. It wasn’t sufficient to tell me I wasted money, I was told in the most patronising ways possible that I should use real razors. Something something real men something something.

Doug shouldn’t have been forced to make that video. And I shouldn’t have had to explain why I went electric. Yet here we are.

If there’s any takeaway from Doug’s experience, it’s to be positive yet thorough in one’s repudiation. And if the knee-jerk whingers are still not satisfied, well, sucks to be them.




Fate/Grand Order whales

I know of mobile game whales, but not their etymology. Philipp on the Arqade StackExchange explained:

The term “Whale” is borrowed from the casino industry, where it is used to describe a rich gambler who bets extraordinarily large amounts of money. Just like in the game industry, casinos want to “catch” the most high-betting whales, because they provide a lot of income for comparably little expense. Casinos often go out of their way to form personal connections with whales and provide them with personalized service to ensure their loyalty and make sure they lose their money in their casinos and not those owned by the competition. Some game companies in the microtransaction business are also known to do this.

The casinos, in turn, took the term from the Poker community which has a tradition of using fish-themed terms for different categories of players, like “fish” for weak players and “shark” for strong players who prey on the “fish” in order to take their money. A “whale” is what every “shark” hopes to find: a very large fish* who has a lot of money and likes to play high-stakes games despite not being skilled enough to compete in them.

*Yes, I know that whales are mammals and not fish.


IBM selling Lotus

IBM is selling Lotus, presumably to empty some seats from Red Hat. User hey! on Slashdot wrote a great comment I have to quote verbatim:

Remember [Lotus Notes] it was originally designed to handle the CIA’s email back in the 1980s. It had strong encryption, distributed directory management, digital signatures, distributed certificate management, and a host of other capabilities that were decades ahead of its time.

Every time you received a Notes email (or indeed any kind of document) from another Notes user, it was automatically authenticated; no imposture was possible, and this was at a time when it was normal for SMTP to accept any input from any source that knew the IP address. At the time I was training people on this new email thing, and I’d open up a telnet session to the server and show them how I could forge an email from “The Lord God Almighty” with the subject line “Don’t believe anything you read here.”

Notes was never a bad email system. It had a very awkward client UI and a server that required a more than room temperature IQ to administer, but you got things in return that people in the 90s didn’t understand to be important yet. Things like two factor authentication and local encryption. If you lost your laptop, the data in Notes would result in a data breach. People still haven’t figured out how to prevent that in a way that is affordable and simple to use and administrate. So while it was inexcusable that they never hired some HCI experts to clean up the archaic user interface, you still got a very modern set of capabilities all the way back in 1990s. People were frustrated with the complexity, but to be fair while Notes was asking you to handle things like generating and signing crypto certificates, you didn’t even have the option with anything else back when it was introduced.

For all the hate Notes got, I preferred it over Exchange back in the day. You’re not supposed to admit that.


Australia’s #AABill

This post was roughly adapted from a letter I’ve sent to my local MP and senators. I’m releasing this post into the public domain; copy as much as you want if you find it useful.

Update, Monday 10th December: The Twitters are awash with hot-takers claiming the bill isn’t about breaking encryption. How technological measures can be implemented without back doors or weakened encryption eludes me, but it does highlight further absurdity with how ambiguous and unworkable this hurried legislation is. And can we all please just agree this is a horrid idea without the government dividing and conquering us for your social media karma… again?

The Australian Government passed its anti-encryption bill last week, thanks to the utter capitulation of our weak as piss opposition. With it, we’ve become the first developed country with laws that can compel a company employee to install technological backdoors, and without being able to disclose to their employer or clients.

Thanks to the Greens, Centre Alliance, and independents who voted against it in the Senate and House of Representatives. The former have earned another year’s membership from me.

Pardon the French, but I am fucking furious. I know I’ll be preaching to the choir here, but its for the following reasons:

  1. It’s a step backwards for civil liberties. In the words of Thomas Jefferson from my friends in the US, those who sacrifice security for privacy deserve neither. These steps damage us more than any terrorist could; an irony utterly lost on these halfwits.

  2. It’s unenforcable, and mathematically impossible if cryptographic systems were done correctly. If there’s any silver lining here, the government are unaware of this, willfully or otherwise.

  3. It’s a poison pill for Australian IT. Already reeling from the shambles of the NBN, now we have to contend with the image of having a government hostile to privacy and business.

  4. It’s ripe for abuse. Government and law officials have already been caught abusing metadata, and they will certainly do here too.

  5. It’s another mathematical certainly that you can’t build a back door without also letting in bad actors through the same door. Terrorists couldn’t have engineered a weakening of our systems as effective as this.

  6. It puts secured communications at risk. Banking is the obvious example. So much for the centre-right Liberal party being business friendly.

  7. It concedes all our moral high ground when engaging diplomatically with regimes that implement draconian laws. Though in the defence of the Government, this hasn’t bothered them before.

  8. Scope creep is an absolute certainly, given the governments track record with similar legislation.

  9. It will drive away privacy-minded companies like Apple. Australia has fewer than 30 million people — smaller than California — so if presented with an untenable situation, they’ll just leave.

  10. And the icing on the cake, the legislation will allow learned data to be exported to jurisdictions that enforce the death penalty. I just learned of this a few minutes ago. Fucking unbelievable.

Afterword

If I were forced at gunpoint to play devil’s advocate, the opposition Labor party knows they’ll easily win the election next year. They were already being blamed for siding with terrorists, so agreeing on the bill until next year disarms the government of an attack point. Then when they’re in, they can reverse or change the law.

This strikes me as incredibly optimistic, but Daniel Andrews’ decisive recent win for Labor in the Victoria state election shows they’re capable of staring down terrorism postulations. I hope he can bring Bill Shorten into line by next year.

In the meantime, it is our duty and responsibility to disseminate as much information about this bill as we can. An informed, engaged populace will be our only defence.


Goodbye FastWay Supermarket

Photo outside the now-abandoned Fastway Supermarket in North Sydney

Today we bid farewell to the FastWay Supermarket in North Sydney. It opened in early 2018, but didn’t last long before the Woolworths opened less than a block away on Miller Street.

Truth be told I barely shopped there, but the cheerful clipart paper bag made me smile every time. Even though his store is but a twisted mess of empty shelving now, he still lights up each evening.

It’s a shame he couldn’t hold on, I’ll bet he would have had more customers by the time the new Victoria Cross Metro station opened across the street.


The Hawker Siddeley Nimrod

Photo of a Hawker Siddeley Nimrod MR2, by Dale Coleman.

Today I learned the de Havilland Comet had a military version. From Wikipedia:

The Hawker Siddeley Nimrod is a maritime patrol aircraft developed and operated by the United Kingdom. It was an extensive modification of the de Havilland Comet, the world’s first operational jet airliner.

The photo above shows a Hawker Siddeley Nimrod MR2, taken by Dale Coleman in 2005 when it was still in service. The vertical and horizontal stabalisers are unrecognisable, though there’s no mistaking those engine intakes.

I’m only interested in civil aviation, but it would have been fun to see a relative of the Comet in service in my lifetime; even one fitted out to resemble a narwhal.