Tribblix m24 available

Xmas came early this year! My favourite illumos distribution Tribblix hit milestone m24 last Saturday, and the images are available for download.

From the about page:

Tribblix is an operating system distribution derived from OpenSolaris, OpenIndiana, and illumos, with a retro style and modern components. The base kernel and commands are from illumos, with a few components currently repackaged from OpenIndiana (mostly X11, some other oddments); pretty much everything else has been rebuilt from scratch.

SunOS was my first commercial UNIX, and part of the reason I love using FreeBSD now is owing to its tooling and design that have been influenced from the Solaris world. I have yet to use Tribblix in production anywhere, but I keep it around in a VM for tinkering. It’s excellent.

Thanks to Michael Dexter for recommending it at AsiaBSDCon 2018 :).


Feedback on my blog-as-a-business post

I didn’t realise what a chord I’d struck with my post yesterday about blogging platforms advertising themselves as getting you more business from audience. Almost makes me wish I’d spent more than five minutes smashing it out in response to seeing a single line of text on a hero image cough.

@hikupro retweeted a few quotes which I appreciate! Lukas V also chimed in with one of the best emails I’ve had in a while:

The appeal of reading blogs for me comes from people’s passions being displayed on screen. I don’t care much for photography, but seeing a chrisjones.io post in my RSS feeds puts a smile on my face. I always know I can find some interesting reading material from ohhelloana.blog’s monthly bookmark posts. And, of course, seeing the rubenerd.com appear in the reader sidebar is a clear sign of some fun topics to come! Sadly, the only way to reliably find these kinds of websites are from blogrolls, obscure communities like those around the Gopher protocol, and whitelisted search engines like https://searchmysite.net.

It’s true… except for the fun topics from that Rubenerd.com guy, he’s a bit dodgy. I’ve touched on one of the supposed golden rules of blogging that you were never supposed to deviate from a single topic, which even back in the blogosphere days I thought was bunk. Merlin Mann has said he loves reading and watching people passionate about things he doesn’t know about because its infectious; I like it too because I learn new things about fields I otherwise wouldn’t have explored or entertained.

I also quickly touched on the declining quality of so many blogs, which he identified with an especially pernicious example:

I saw your post about audiences, blogs, and businesses and it struck a chord with something I’ve noticed as I’ve been increasingly interested in personal blogging: spammy meta-blog blogs*. You know the ones I’ve talked about. The ones with headlines like:

  • “10 ways to increase your SEO”
  • “how to go from one visitor a week to over 5000”
  • “our hottest 6 tips for blogging about XYZ!!”

Glancing at Reddit’s “r/blogging” shows just how big of a problem this is. Every post is about visitor numbers and revenue. These kinds of topics make it near impossible to find new blogs written based on people’s interests instead of their wallets.

Rebecca Hales also chimed in:

ARE YOU EXERCISING?

It is so obvious when a blog is written because somebody is interested in something, and not just because they are paid to write it.

The former is definitely happening, but it’s taken the form of late-night walks where I can avoid people, not in the pool. Though it might be good as it gets warmer. The pool, not people churning out PR for a blog.


“Turn your audience into a business”

I’ve recommended people check out the Ghost blog platform for a couple of years now. I statically generate my site with Hugo, but I appreciate that not everyone wants to live in their text editor and Git. Frankly, there are times where I long for a simple to use, server-based blogging platform myself too! Ghost is easier to set up and run than WordPress, even though it runs on Node.

But I was disappointed, though not surprised, to see this hero image on their landing page this morning:

Turn your audience into a business.

I see why they pitch this. Ghost also comes in a paid, hosted version like WordPress.com, and they need to emphasise the fact it’s a potential revenue centre, not a sunk cost. It’s those paying customers that subsidise their free, open source version of the software that I host for people, and we should want them to be successful. Still, it makes me sad seeing it as their primary pitch.

Blogging shouldn’t only be about business, it should be about creativity. Or anything you want it to be. The web for the last decade has been so conditioned to think social media is the place for people to write ideas, and blogs have become another channel to crank out PR or poorly-written tutorials to wrap with hundreds of low-value ads. I don’t begrudge people needing to make money and, you know, eat. But the framing of blogging in the industry, and even blogging software itself, has shifted away from people who write their ideas and thoughts and into a business tool, and we’re all the poorer for it.

Which is my second issue: summarising your readers as an audience. This is subtler, and I’m willing to admit I’m bringing my own biases into what that means. Audience to me is only a step above saying people who read your blog are customers. The phrase blogosphere became a source of ridicule over the years, but it describes something we’ve lost: a community. Audiences are passive consumers. I’d like to think that with tools like RSS and blogging platforms, we’re more like federated writers. (I don’t like that phrase either, I’m trying to think of something better).

Back in 2005 I remember Doc Searls hosting a panel for BloggerCon entitled Making Money which has stuck with me ever since. His central argument was that we didn’t buy our phones to make money, we bought them as a tool to help us. The analogy doesn’t entirely hold in 2020 given how many people literally run their businesses and computing off their smartphones, but it’s still an interesting way to frame it. A good blog is a sales tool by virtue of it having great content.

(There’s a wider discussion about how low-quality sites and bad actors are incentivised over honest people, but how that pertains to blogging specifically is a topic for another post!)


Neptunia fig re-releases, and Yuru Camp

I sure spend a disproportionately large amount of my time looking at dust collectors for someone claiming to abstain from their procurement in the interests of saving money and shelf space. It’s not that our shelves are sagging under the weight of these slabs of gold-pressed latinum cleverly disguised as anime characters, so much as their physical dimensions not being wide or deep enough to contain additional ones without stacking.

The first two off the shelf—hah!—are Alter’s re-releases of Purple and Black Heart from the inexplicably fabulous Hyperdimension Neptunia series. Alter are Clara’s and my favourite fig company by far; and Neptunia’s premise is so wonderfully absurd. I wonder if the likes of Netgear realise they are anthropomorphic versions of their hardware set in a surreal universe with Random Access Memory and all their friends. Look at me go with all these adverbs we’re not supposed to be using anymore!

Purple Heart (left) and Black Heart (right)

Regardless of whether you know or are interested in the series, I can’t get over the obsessive detail in figs like this. The level of material science manufactures would have had to go through to produce these, and have them literally stand the test of time is something else, especially with all those top-heavy parts. The west doesn’t do anything close.

(Funny story, I was at a SMASH! or similar convention one year—remember conventions?—and I was waiting in line for something with someone cosplaying as Purple Heart. I was in one of my Gundam uniforms. I remember looking at each other and laughing; she worked at an auditing firm, and I was in IT. “Is this what grown-ups do on their days off?")

But the one I’m most excited for is Inuyama Aoi from Yuru Camp. That series should have been released this year to help us all cope; it was chill, fun, and the characters and sets were all wonderful. It’s easily one of our favourite anime series of all time. And she has Japanese curry and a removable hat!

With and without hat!

Anyone have some spare shelves?


Ann Reardon on viral fake, food videos

I spent so long on the title for this before giving up and removing doubt with extra commas. Was it a viral video about fake food, or the fakeness was viral, or the viral fake food had a video? I suppose all of them apply.

Ann Reardon of How to Cook That is Clara’s and my favourite food scientist on YouTube, and she posts from Australia! She has made some spectacular things, including a chibi anime cake for Final Fantasy, and my current favourite 3D optical illusion. She’s also known for her well-researched, thorough, and fair debunking videos where she takes some of the most atrocious “five minute hacks” and the like that we’ve all seen recommended to us at some point, and schools us on why they’re either vague, misleading, or outright lies.

One of the most important antidotes we have to bad information is good information, and I appreciate all the effort people like Ann put into this. Someone with her skills could easily make more money doing, as we would say here, dodgy shit. Which gets us to the core issue: readers here would know I’m always interested in understanding and deconstructing the motivation to behave like this. Ann breaks it down towards the end of this Blossom debunking video:

This sort of stuff is getting promoted by [YouTube’s] algorithm. I think unless the algorithm itself changes; unless the platforms Facebook and YouTube take responsibility for what they’re promoting, there’s just going to be more of this… because it works. It would have made them so much money because they’ve got so many views. So that tells other companies *we should try and deceive and do fake stuff because that’s going to get us views.

Ann doesn’t have a computer science or information system background, and yet she still easily observed the trend. We’ve reached the point where these platforms can’t feign ignorance anymore; people will continue to upload lies as long as recommendation engines make it financially lucrative to do so. We all know it.

Ann Reardon discussing fake food video outlets on How to Cook That

As to whether these fake food videos are harmful, Ann also had a point I didn’t consider. In my younger and more cynical years—some of which coincide with the first few years of this blog, gulp!—I would have scoffed at the idea because it assumes people aren’t applying critical thinking. I still think this is true to an extent; we need to educate people about how to think. But here’s another angle to consider:

I had so many comments in that previous video of kids who’d spent their pocket money buying ingredients to cook one of the “So Yummy” recipes and then failing again and again, and they thought that they couldn’t cook and they’d stopped baking.

This is tragic. Extrapolate this out further, and how many other people are being lied into thinking they’re not capable of something? Paint this issue however you want, but motivation and a sense of agency are powerful forces, especially to impressionable children.


How we respond to crises

From Respectful Memes:

Bad things are going to happen. That's not negotiable. What is, is how you deal with it


The media's culpability in the NBN

Jeremy Ray pulled no punches in his retrospective on Australia’s National Broadband Network for The Shot earlier this month:

In 2013, Australia reached a fork in the road. One side, Kevin Rudd’s governing ALP, had a truly world-class proposal for the future of the country’s internet. The other, Tony Abbott’s LNP Coalition, did not. And our mainstream media fucked it up colossally. Not just Murdoch, all of it.

[..] Communications technology was a less sensational issue buried amongst all the borders and the boats. The NBN was a chance for politicians to do their businessman impersonations, using focus-grouped phrases like “Multi-Technology Mix” while hoping journalists wouldn’t ask why they were allergic to fibre – moral or otherwise. And the caper worked. The fourth estate slept on Australia’s future and we hurtled to our copper fate.

He also discussed the ABC’s dispicable treatment of Nick Ross, who had the audacity to write qualified articles and correct predictions about the Coalition’s more expensive, sub-par NBN alternative.

It seemed everyone in the industry was warning about how bad it was at the time, yet the general press ignored us. The Coalition’s lines went unchallenged, and the voting public took it as fact that Labor’s plan would have been worse. We’re now living with the consequences.

It reminds me of my dad talking about how grumpy he’d get reading about his industry in the media, and how many details they routinely got wrong. His lightbulb moment was realising that if they could get his industry wrong, do they ever get anything right? I don’t think it’s as bleak as that, though this NBN coverage—or lack thereof—has been illustrative in how the press handles technical issues their financial backers want buried. If I’ve seen it play out in my own niche, where else is it happening?

About all I took exception with in the original article was Jeremy’s chariterisation:

Rare is the meaningful difference between Australia’s two major political parties

They really are more meaningfully different than people think, though the same media that buried the NBN would have us believe they’re the same. As the case with the NBN, we can’t let them get away with that.


Friedrich Nietzsche on purpose

From Ecce Homo, 1888:

My time has not yet come either; some are born posthumously.


Trying OpenZFS 2 on FreeBSD 12.2-RELEASE

OpenZFS 2 is a huge achievement, and makes me bullish about the long term prospects for the world’s most trustworthy and nicest to use storage system. You can even use try it today on FreeBSD 12.2-RELEASE, though I recommend tracking -CURRENT for these sorts of features.

The rule of thumb for packages with drivers or kernel extensions is to see when they were built. IIRC at the time of writing the current openzfs and openzfs-kmod packages were built for 12.1-RELEASE, so you won’t be able to boot with them with 12.2. But they’re easy to install from ports.

First make sure you have base source for your release:

# svnlite checkout https://svn.FreeBSD.org/base/releng/12.2 /usr/src 

Then download the latest ports tree, either with portsnap or subversion:

# svnlite checkout https://svn.FreeBSD.org/ports/head /usr/ports

You can build the ports with the usual make install clean, but I still use portmaster(8) after all these years:

# portmaster sysutils/openzfs
# portmaster sysutils/openzfs-kmod

Now enable, assuming this has been set to YES:

# sed -i '.backup' 's/zfs_enable/openzfs_enable/' '/boot/loader.conf'

Then update your path to use the new userland tools in /usr/local/sbin, and reboot. You may need to reimport your pools created with these tools each reboot, or use this rc.d script that PMc raised in the FreeBSD forums. That caught me out the first time.

The only other caveats are to be careful when trying new features if you intend to share pools with other -RELEASE machines. ZFS does a good job with backwards compatibility, but older versions won’t recognise an encrypted OpenZFS pool, for example. 12.2-R also doesn’t support encrypted zroot boot volumes. By reading this post you acknowledge this responsibility!

Refer to the OpenZFS website and FreeBSD Handbook for more information about the process, and for the canonical documentation.


Felicia Day’s rant about RSS

Update: Josh of The Geekorium pointed out that Felicia Day wrote the below passage on her blog, but was not the author of the plugin with which I’m rather enamoured, and linked to below. Thank you for letting me know!

The author of the essential RSS Firefox plugin shgysk8zer0 quoted Felicia Day’s amazing RSS rant:

A long time ago (especially in Internet time), Firefox used to have an icon that showed up in the Awesome Bar when a website had RSS or Atom feeds available for subscribing. This add-on replaces the icon, so you don’t have to add a button that will be constantly visible and taking up space. It will only be visible when there is a feed to subscribe to.

RSS is a way to consume a LOT of information very quickly, and STORE it in nice categories if you miss it. So I can catch up with a small blog’s output at the end of the week and, if I so choose, read EVERY article easily in one sitting. You think on Friday I’m gonna go browse that same site’s Twitter feed on their page (digging through all the messy @ replies) and see what they did that week?! Or go to their Facebook page that is littered with contests? No way dude, I’m too busy for that!

I feel like small blogs cut their own throat by taking away the RSS capability. I give this analogy a lot, but social media outlets are INFO COLANDERS! 5% of your followers will see anything you post, and that’s probably only within 20 minutes of posting. That’s the way it is and it’s gonna only get worse. Apart from email lists, RSS is the best way you can collect stuff across the internet to read quickly, and I am so irritated when that choice is taken from me. /rant


Talking about chips

Hughsey, I understand that Samboy Chips are back. Is that good news for Australians?
It is for Australia

Ah Australia, even your infomercials are amazing.


Toodles and Michael Tsai on OLED iPhones

Michael Tsai reviewed the iPhone 12 Mini. He loved the form factor and camera, but added this caveat:

I don’t like the OLED display. I’m not running into the accessibility issues that some are, but I just don’t like the way text looks. Black and gray text has a colored halo reminiscent of ClearType, which I never saw on iPhones with LCD displays.

I’m so happy and relieved to see this being called out by someone respected and widely-read in Apple circles. I’ll continue to post about it because even normally-critical Apple writers and podcasters never discuss how nasty, shimmery, and grainy OLED screens look, and how they’re a serious accessibility regression. Yet talk about a headphone jack or missing chargers and suddenly everyone is up in arms. It’s bizarre.

Michael links to this comment by Toodles on his blog back in October:

The only thing I am interested in knowing about iPhone 12 is how good or bad the PWM is on the all OLED lineup. I had to return an iPhone 11 Pro to get the iPhone 11 with LCD because the PWM on the Pro OLED was making my eyes and head hurt so bad that it was intolerable to use.

This is a clear Accessibility issue and given that PWM negatively impacts something like 27% of people, I would expect this to be discussed

And Erik said in the same thread:

Is Apple, the king of accessibility, ignoring a not insignificant user base to please OLED crazy reviewers? Reviewers said the XR wouldn’t do well with its “subpar” display, but it was the best selling iPhone at the time.

Either Apple have calculated that the market for people with photo-sensitivity to OLEDs is too small to care about, or they haven’t done accessibility testing and market research. I highly doubt the latter given the company’s size.

My earlier posts:


Ques Q’s VR 1/7 Mashu figure

Clara and I were only just in town looking at this beautiful scale fig of everyone’s favourite eggplant from the Fate/Grand Order mobile game and franchise, so it was monumentally serendipitous seeing her appear again as a AmiAmi preorder. I want it known that even though Umu is one of my all-time favourite characters, Mashu was my reintroduction into the Fate universe and holds a special place.

We collected enough figs over the years to have informed opinions about the quality, value, and faithfulness of specific manufacturers, but I didn’t recognise Ques Q. Turns out they’ve had a hectic release schedule, I’ve just drifted out of touch. They pretty much own the Touhou space, and have also done plenty of Fate characters I recognise.

I also didn’t recognise the sculptor Aru Momiji; all I could find of hers was a Passionlip fig from the same game. But I think she’s done a beautiful job rendering Mash’s reserved expression and the motion of her hair. Compare her to the most popular versions of her Stronger-brand figs with and without her skirt armour; they’re just as detailed but I don’t see a resemblence in her face at all. This is a bugbear of mine.

But here’s the thing: I’m still undecided how much of a fan I am of Mashu’s Ortinax costume, as much as it pains me to admit. I like the electronic, cyperpunk’esque touches on her new shield, and appreciate her VR goggles are above her eyes so we can see actually see them here. But her disproportionately-chunky boots aren’t exaggerated; that’s how she looks in her next ascension. And those weird, bladder-shaped things around her leotard look even more superfluous and strange in 3D… I half expect her to pull out a straw like a cyclist.

That said, is a phrase with two words. The photographer of these press photos did a great job! I need to experiment more with distinct light sources; I always find them more interesting than just a diffuser in a bright room. Maybe I can do it with the Mashu fig Clara and I did end up buying second hand in Ōsaka a few years ago. Remember travel?


Cory Wong: Ketosis (feat. The Hornheads)

Today’s Music Monday is proof of Rubenerd’s Second Law: Everything is better with brass! Cory Wong is fantastic; you should definitely support him on Bandcamp.

Play Cory Wong // Ketosis (feat. The Hornheads)


Starting with FreeBSD jails

Update: An earlier verison of this post didn’t include the output from jls, and I had mismatched paths for the jail dataset. Thanks also to Ashy for correcting the zfs create line.

A reader by the name of Mitchell asked me to discuss FreeBSD jails, given how often I’ve mentioned the feature here over the years. I was ready to refer him to an earlier post before realising I never introduced them here before. Whoops!

Jails are a lightweight, fast form of virtualisation and process isolation invented by the imitable Poul-Henning Kamp that, once you first use them, you miss them everywhere else. Each jail operates with its own chroot file system environment and network configuration, similar to a Solaris Zone.

(Aside: Hey, it’s Ruben here, from the future. Resist the temptation to assert correct spelling with “gaol” in your pools and scripts. You feel great creating them, and you pay for it for years afterwards. The system calls them jails; make your life easier and use broken spelling too)!

Much has been written about the potential security benefits of isolating processes, but I shamelessly use them foremost to keep my ports clean. My Plex jail has everything for video encoding, the Minecraft jail is the only one with a JDK runtime. Conflicts aren’t an issue, they’re simple to update without unintentionally breaking something else, and it keeps individual attack surfaces small.

Photo of Hololive EN's Gawr Gura, for whom the following jail is named for

There are specialised tools like iocage and the older ezjail to make building and managing fleets of jails easier, but lately I’ve gone back to building them manually. The provided tooling is already excellent, and ZFS features like snapshots make generating new ones simple. I still think it’s the best way to learn, as well.

It’s easy to carve out space for your jails if you’re using ZFS, then a new dataset for your first jail, which I’ve named for everyone’s favourite cute shark. These can be anywhere you want:

# zfs create -o mountpoint=/jail zroot/jail
# zfs create zroot/jail/gura

You can extract a base.txz from a FreeBSD installer image or download via svn—wow I love FreeBSD!—but bsdinstall will handily install it for us too:

# bsdinstall jail /jail/gura

Now we need the config. Here’s a minimal /etc/jail.conf:

mount.devfs;
exec.clean;
exec.start="sh /etc/rc";
exec.stop="sh /etc/rc.shutdown";    
    
path="/jail/${name}";
host.hostname="${name}.myhost.lan";    
    
gura {
    ip4.addr="10.8.8.81";
}

Note the handy $name variable. This is surprisingly populated with the name of the jail, so we can keep config consistent. The only jail-specific config I want for gura in this case is her IP. Check the well-written jail.conf(5) manpage for all the options.

Networking to jails can be as simple or complex as you want, which is really cool! You can use a network bridge like you would with a hypervisor and VM guests, or inherit the host’s networks with ip4=inherit. I employ the former in production, but for home setups I just use aliases against my primary interface. Note the address below matches our config above:

# ifconfig igb0 10.8.8.81/32 alias
# sysrc ifconfig_igb0_alias0="inet 10.8.8.81/32"

Now we can enable jails on boot, and optionally a list:

# sysrc jail_enable="YES"
# sysrc jail_list="gura"

Ready to start? Using service is the easiest, and use jls(8) to list:

# service jail start gura
# jls    
    
==> JID  IP Address  Hostname         Path
==> 1    10.8.8.81   gura.myhost.lan  /jail/gura

Huzzah! We could SSH into the VM at the IP provided, but we can also execute commands directly on the jail with jexec(8)… like a shell!

# jexec gura /bin/sh

I hope using ZFS sparked some creative thinking too. With ZFS you could easily create a template jail, then snapshot and promote to create new ones. You can do thin provisioning by sharing portions of the filesystem, but I always do thicc [sic] provisions; disk space is cheap, and it gives me more flexibility down the road.

This barely scratches the surface, but I hope I’ve given you some motivation to play around with this feature, and maybe give FreeBSD a try. They’re available on OrionVM as a template if you want to spin up to test; and they exist on more expensive, slower clouds with more complex UIs as well, not that I’m biased (disclosure: completely biased)!

The FreeBSD Handbook goes into more detail, and I seriously encourage you to buy Michael Warren Lucas' FreeBSD Mastery: Jails tome. I bought it for the third time yesterday as part of my move to the Kobo ebook platform, it’s that good.


CentOS, as we know it, ends

24th September 2019:

So, if you need a stable RHEL-like operating system, CentOS will still be there for you. But, if you need to keep up with your competitors who are building new cloud and container-based applications, CentOS Stream will work better for you. [..] Old school CentOS isn’t going anywhere. Stream is available in parallel with the existing CentOS builds. In other words, “nothing changes for current users of CentOS.”

8th December 2020:

The future of the CentOS Project is CentOS Stream, and over the next year we’ll be shifting focus from CentOS Linux, the rebuild of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), to CentOS Stream, which tracks just ahead of a current RHEL release. CentOS Linux 8, as a rebuild of RHEL 8, will end at the end of 2021. CentOS Stream continues after that date, serving as the upstream (development) branch of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

That didn’t take long.


The golden-headed cisticola

We haven’t had a Wikimedia Commons bird in at least a year. Yesterday Wikipedia featured this handsome speciman by JJ Harrison.

Photo of a golden-headed cisticola taken by JJ Harrison.

From its Wikipedia article:

The golden-headed cisticola (Cisticola exilis), also known as the bright-capped cisticola, is a species of warbler in the family Cisticolidae, found in Australia and thirteen Asian countries. Growing to 9–11.5 centimetres (3.5–4.5 in) long, it is usually brown and cream in colour, but has a different appearance during the mating season, with a gold-coloured body and a much shorter tail. It is an omnivore and frequently makes a variety of vocalizations. Known as the “finest tailor of all birds”, it constructs nests out of plants and spider threads. It mates in the rainy season. It has a very large range and population, which is thought to be increasing.

The bird is the word.


Trying WordPress again after a few years

This was originally written last weekend but failed to post; ironic given the subject matter!

I experimented with the latest WordPress again after a few years away from the platform. To borrow Bjarne Stroustrup’s words, “within [WordPress], there is a much smaller and cleaner [blog platform] struggling to get out”.

This blog was powered by WordPress from 2005 to 2015. I started blogging right at the tail end of Radio UserLand’s existence, and Movable Type had also gone commercial by that stage. I jumped around to a few different local and server-hosted tools before being swept up in the WordPress tide. It offered the killer combination of being:

  • affordable, in upfront cost and time to install
  • open source, so it was easy to hack on
  • widely used, so it was easy to find help
  • easy to run on shared web hosting, before I ran VMs
  • didn’t need anything more special than a LAMP stack in a VM
  • simple enough to use with a basic web UI
  • and I wasn’t tied to posting from just one machine

It worked surprisingly well. I knew this because I spent most of my time in WordPress writing, not tinkering. I had just learned of the majesty and fun of working from coffee shops by this stage, so some of the most fun I had in my 20s was drinking coffee, messing with VMs, and writing about my experience. The old WordPress admin interface made jumping in simple, and I loved seeing when they added new features. Remember when they added tag support? That was massive!

(Installing and upgrading WordPress is also easier than it’s ever been thanks to tools like Ansible and wp-cli. I can stand up a new blog on an OrionVM or Amazon AWS instance in two lines, on FreeBSD or Debian. My concerns in this post are more about the end-user experience).

But then something started to change. I roughly correlate it with when WordPress moved the admin tabs to a sidebar to accommodate all these new content management features it was starting to adopt. WordPress’s team clearly had ambitions for the platform beyond publishing blogs with simple landing pages and uploaded graphics. It always had certain CMS abilities, but time was you’d want to use Drupal or one of its ilk to run anything more complicated.

My early concern was this evolution fundamentally compromised its accessibility as a blogging platform. The installer gradually got larger and larger, the UI more complex, and the new features didn’t help with what used to be its core function: writing! Is it an unwritten rule of software that it has to follow this trajectory?

I moved my personal stuff off WordPress to static site generators to simplify my life a bit; a decision I still think was a mixed blessing. The WordPress sites I maintained for other people and non-profits now run the Node-powered Ghost, largely for the same reasons above. I bristle at running JavaScript server-side, but then I was never much of a fan of PHP either. And Ghost offers something that WordPress used to: it’s unapologetically a writing platform. Until they follow the above software trajectory and we move elsewhere again.

I bring all this up because I spun up a new WordPress install for the first time in ages to see where it had got up to. There’s still a lot to like, and I can see how the blocks feature would make creating flashy new pages—a deliberate word choice—easier. But the fact it even needs a distraction-free writing Mode now is telling. I wish it were just a lean, kickarse writing platform for word pressing again. But then, can you blame them? Most people lock up their writing on social networks, relegating most to being self-promotion tools that have to be beautiful now above all else. It’s all a tad superficial.

I used to joke that WordPress was simple to use and secure if you disabled half its features, either by overriding PHP, blackholing them with nginx config, forcing file system permissions, or running in a FreeBSD jail or a Linux chroot. There may be a need for me to run WordPress for someone at some point, in which case I might write a patch list for these sorts of things. I could call it WordPress for Writers! or something.


Block copy disk over SSH with gzip

We haven’t had a things you already know, unless you don’t installment since March. So many things have happened in the interim, not least the need to copy disks over a network:

$ dd if=$SOURCE | gzip -1 - | pv | ssh target 'gunzip dd of=$TARGET

This will copy a block device across SSH to a remote server, compressing with gzip to remove empty space, and pv to show progress.


Experience of flying back to the US

Abby Bloom’s article for the Guardian Australia on Monday put the difference more starkly than any I’ve read for a while:

Flying back to Sydney on US election day was momentous. It also felt like whiplash. The Australian governments swung into action even before we stepped off the plane in Sydney. Once in the terminal it was full-on with precise coordination across jurisdictions and levels of government – immigration, biosecurity, state health authorities, police, army, air force. It embarrassed me that an air force officer was pushing my baggage trolley as he escorted me to my [mandatory quarantine hotel] room. Of course this wasn’t a courtesy: he was there to make sure that I was securely locked in my room without a key, open window or balcony for escape.

Both the US and Australia are responding to the same pandemic but you would hardly know it. In the US magical thinking and the elevation of individual freedom above the public good has squandered precious time. The number of deaths each day in the US quadrupled in just the four weeks after I landed in New York. Today it is up 30% in the past 14 days. Hospitals are reaching capacity and beyond. In a little more than two months my mother will have completed an entire year in self-quarantine, isolated from loved ones except for outdoor visits while the weather permitted. She’ll probably turn 107 before both of us are vaccinated and can once again embrace. She has never met her first and only great-grandchild, born during the pandemic, and probably never will.

A colleague of mine recently had to spend Thanksgiving with his American wife in Australia, because they couldn’t go back home to see family. It’s the same story in so many places around the world, but the psychological impact of seeing the world’s most powerful country reduced to this is hard to overstate.

At least vaccine deniers complicit in the further spread of this disease, and who conflate freedom with freedom from responsibility, have gone from saying it’s mind control, to claiming the elites are hoarding it. Why would they if it doesn’t work? Whoever planted that brilliant seed might save more lives than anyone else.