What I’m excited about

Merlin Mann says he loves asking people what they’re excited about, as opposed to what they’re interested in, or what they’re doing. People are happier and more engaging when they start talking about it. I’ve also found it to be a great social lubricant to overcome social awkwardness.

  • Using and upgrading to FreeBSD 12.1, at the cloud company that I work at, and on my personal machines. I feel this is the best point release in terms of features and goodies that we’ve had in a while.

  • Upgrading and making our home nicer for Clara and I. Finally getting new tables, nicer computer chairs, and organising things better.

  • Learning everything I can about oksh(1), the portable Kornshell variant from the OpenBSD project. It does so much cool stuff, especially the auto-completions.

  • Packaging and selling stuff on eBay, after a long reprieve. I had convinced myself that nobody would want my second-hand wares, or that they wouldn’t pay enough to justify the time or cost. But I’m already up a couple hundred dollars for stuff I haven’t used for years.

  • Resuming my RDF archiving project, and my silly light novel and sci-fi books I started a decade ago and never finished. This has lead to all sorts of bizarre but fascinating world-building research, like whether there’s a standard labcoat length, and what size a firehose would need to be to blast sufficient water pressure to lift a hapless operator into the sky.


And now, Sydney thunderstorms!?

On Tuesday the dry bushfire smoke in Sydney was bad, and yesterday managed to get even worse.

Then this evening, we had a thunderstorm. It was a beautiful walk in the rain after choking dry heat and smoke all week.


Open source being a Trojan Horse

I’ve been seeing more threads on social media asserting the open source software (OSS) movement is a Trojan Horse, designed and backed by commercial interests to deliberately muddy the waters for their own interests. We were all suckers for buying into it, and now we’re paying the price.

These Turns Out! tweets are always popular, but if they sounds familiar, they follow a well-trodden path. The Free Software Foundation have long maintained that OSS is ambiguous, as it conflates the availability of source code with the freedom to adapt and change it. Critics point out that Free Software is equally problematic, as it confuses freedom and cost.

But it’s dawning on people now that while it’s brought tremendous benefit to the world, the social movement aspect of free software has been far more limited in practice. Most businesses just treat free and open source software as a cost-saving free lunch. The GPL is routinely violated, and most of the largest tech companies that benefited from it are now strategically deploying it to debase journalism and democracy, and spy on us at a scale that would make the Stasi blush.

None of this occurred because OSS diverted attention away from the FSF, nor the fact it encompasses a broader range of licences. Even if the former never existed, we’d be dealing with the same fundamental, sinister problems.

Also, use a BSD or other copy centre licence ^_^;


Another smoky Sydney morning

Photo looking down a street near Wynyard Station in Sydney, showing smoke shrouding the buildings on the next block.

Today makes Tuesday look like a walk in the park. Which it was, because I have to walk through the park in the Domain to get to work. I couldn’t even see the skyline or the Opera House coming across the Harbour Bridge this morning.

Stay safe everyone, and maybe carry a gas mask.


Site updates, late November 2019

They say the shoemaker’s children go barefoot. This sysadmin has been treating his own perosnal site and cloud servers a bit better, but they’ve been needing some TLC for a while. I’ve been such a scrub.

  • The main webserver has been upgraded from 11.x to 12.1. We’re spoiled with freebsd-update and pkg upgrade now; aside from a minor config file conflict in a third party tool it was painless.

  • I’ve gone back to building nginx myself rather than using packages. I can remove most of the stuff I don’t use which reduces dependencies, and include more_headers.

  • Post dates and categories are now directly under headings, rather than at the end of the post. I’ve had multiple people tell me they never saw them, so this hopefully makes it clearer.

  • I’ve found a different RSS reader that uses Postgres as a backend instead, which I’ve enthusiastically adopted. MySQL has been fine, but I’m more familiar with Postgres. This will be in a future post.


A smoky Sydney morning

Bushfires continue to ravage the east coast of Australia this morning, and Sydney is now down wind of it. The view below was from my morning commute from Martin Place train station. Normally I can see the buildings in the background as clear as the ones in front.

The Australian Red Cross are accepting donations for disaster relief efforts. They’re also maintaining a register for those living in rural areas to let friends and family know people are safe. Please help them out if you can.

Photo near Martin Place station showing buildings obscured by thick air


Chaining addresses in FreeBSD ipfw

Between bhyvecon Tokyo talks last year I overheard some of the guard discussing how ipfw offered higher equivalent throughput than pf on FreeBSD. There may have been a caveat or part of the discussion I missed, but I took this as an excuse and opportunity to finally learn it.

Today I was trying to figure out how to only enable a port for a specific set of IP addresses. The easiest way is to specify two rules in your ipfw.rules:

ipfw -q add 00500 allow tcp from x.x.x.x to me 43210 in via $WAN
ipfw -q add 00501 allow tcp from x.x.x.y to me 43210 in via $WAN

But rules can also contain multiple addresses. From the manpage(8):

Additionally, sets of alternative match patterns (or-blocks) can be constructed by putting the patterns in lists enclosed between parentheses ( ) or braces { }, and using the or operator.

So the alternative for my above could be this:

TRUSTED="x.x.x.x or x.x.x.y"
ipfw -q add 00500 allow tcp from \{ $TRUSTED \} to me 43210 in via $WAN

Sure enough, when you ipfw list:

==> 00500 allow tcp from { x.x.x.x or x.x.x.y } to me 43210 in via $WAN

Aside from being easier to read and update, it also means you avoid needing to iterate a rule number in your scripts.

(Funny story, I blogged about OpenBSD’s ported pf on FreeBSD years ago, and the visceral comments from certain Linux folks were severe enough that I deleted it and self-censored BSD posts. Two months later, and I’d even turned off blog comments. I feel a mix of trepidation and cautious optimism posting about firewalls on the BSDs again).


Music Monday: Walk in the Rain

It’s Music Monday time. Each and every Monday without fail, except when I fail, I post a piece of music in the hopes we can share in its musicness. I shouldn’t write these so early in the morning.

Today’s song is Walk in the Rain, one of the especially beautiful songs from Michael Franks’ 1999 album Dragonfly Summer. You can peruse its Wikipedia page if you so wish, I wrote it!

Play A Walk In The Rain

I mention it today because I realised I’ve misheard one of the lyrics for two decades. Wow, is that how long it’s been since 1999? I had always thought he was singing with our umbrellas, but an inspection of the liner notes reveals it’s without umbrellas.

It’s just like when I got my first monitor headphones, and I heard instruments in some of his music I’d never heard before.


Pronouncing Project like Progress

Michael Shermer described the Mandella Effect for eSkeptic in 2015:

The first student TED talk was by Taryn Honeysett on something called “The Mandela Effect,” of which I was unfamiliar. The name comes from the mistaken belief that the great statesman and civil rights activist Nelson Mandela (1918–2013) died while in prison in the 1980s, and it is characterized by a group of people who all misremember something in a similar manner.

The effect gained a cultural toehold in an Internet forum discussion over the proper spelling of a popular children’s book and television series called The Berenstain Bears, when a number of people insisted the correct spelling was Berenstein.

It’s a popular topic on the Overnightscape Underground. I can’t say I ever thought Nelson Mandella died in prison; he had such a huge effect on South Africa and the course of global history. And they were always the Berenstain Bears to me.

The closet I’ve come to this effect is the pronunciation of Project. Before our family moved to Singapore from Australia, I felt as though everyone pronounced it the same was as Progress, with the first syllable rhyming with grow. Since coming back, everyone I meet in Australia rhymes it the American way with frog. It’s surreal.

John Gruber linked to an old article by Major Keary in PC Update:

American English relies on the sound of a word to determine where it should be broken. The English first turn to etymology, and then to sound. That may seem to be a very minor difference, but there can be marked variations in pronunciation which produce quite different points of division. Progress is an example. In American English the first syllable rhymes with frog and is the accented part of the word. Progress as a noun is pronounced in the U.K. and Australia with equal emphasis on both syllables and the first rhymes with throw. The result is that prog/ress is the correct U.S. point of division, but pro/geess [sic] is correct British usage.

So the way I’ve always said project would be pro-ject. But the American way, and the way all my friends and colleagues in Australia now say it, it’s proj-ect. Even though Australians (and the Brits) haven’t changed the way they pronounce progress to match. It makes no sense.

Does that count as a Mandella Effect?


The letter versus spirit of the law

One of the most powerful concepts explained to me growing up was the difference between the letter of the law, and the spirit of the law. I can point to that one evening having a chat with my mum after an interesting Law and Order episode as being one of those watershed moments that had a huge impact on me.

I’m realising a lot of the helpful but not helpful advice of which the Internet is awash is just a variation on this theme. Telling someone they shouldn’t do X, or asking them why they’re not doing Y, could be technically correct, but clearly not in the spirit of the person’s question. And if it’s not the latter, what’s the point of the precise, useless comment?