Laptop, tablet, smartphone, or phone?

Serge Matveenko asked on Mastodon which of the above you could live with exclusively for a year, if given the choice. I chose laptop without a second thought, and I still stand by it after a day of rumination. Or sit by it, depending on the table I’m using.

I tolerate my relationship with smartphones. Leaving aside my privacy qualms with Android, and usability issues with iOS, I don’t like what they represent now. They used to be fun portable computers, now they’re just another invasive but necessary distraction with seemingly-arbitrary limits that make their use impractical for things they otherwise could excel at. They certainly have the processing power now to do what the likes of the OQO attempted, but their hobbled IO and lack of UI maturity keeps them from achieving it.

I work on laptops, but I also write on them, play games, tinker with them, and I’m interested in desktop/server OSs to an extent that I’m not with mobile OSs. That might just be my age showing, though. Laptops might be cheaper and lower spec’d than certain smartphones now, but they’re infinitely more functional and fun. I can also fire up a SIP tunnel, or a GoToMeeting bridge to take calls. There’s also the novelty and fun that I’m literally carrying around a full computer environment around with me. My childhood CRT desktop built to a cost couldn’t have ever been plonked down at a coffee shop!

Tablets are an interesting case. My work iPad is indispensable for iRL meetings, because I can take notes in front of people without looking rude. Laptop displays have the ergonomic advantage of being pointed at us, but meeting attendees can’t tell whether you’re paying attention or reading something else. Tablets are also nice to catch up on long-form content like the Nikkei Asia Review and The Atlantic, for example. But all of this could be replaced with a laptop and physical paper. And I still find their mobile OSs as frustrating and limiting to use for anything more substantial than note taking or reading. Again though, that might be my age showing.

As for regular or non-smart phones, I think I’d prefer a pager. It gives you a number to call back if you’re available, but it’s asynchronous nature would feel far less intrusive. I suppose that’s what voicemail is… kinda. I never had one, but I could tell my dad preferred it to the phone he ended up getting in the 1990s.

Umar Getagzaov helps me fix things

At the start of the month I talked about discovering and archiving my Audioboom files with a Perl script. Umar emailed to let me know that I’d mixed up a few variables, which confirmed for me that I’d uploaded the wrong version to my lunchbox!

Umar was back at it again on Monday, by finally pointing me in the direction of a bug that has existed in my RSS feed for a while. Here’s what the commands look like on my recent Minecraft post:

# pkg remove openjdk8
# pkg install openjdk16

But this is what shows on my RSS feed:

# pkg remove openjdk8# pkg install openjdk16

I like having clean HTML and XML syntax, but in my haste to programmatically remove whitespace and fix indentation, I’d inadvertently moved text in pre elements to a single line. Regular HTML doesn’t respect whitespace or indentation, but these blocks sure do!

Thanks to Umar for helping me out. 👍

Happy International Webloggers Day 2021

No, it’s not official in any formal capacity. Yes, it’s also called Blogging Day, Blog Day, International Day of Bloggers, and various other things. I almost forgot all of them, but Antranig Vartanian reminded me on Mastodon with kind words that will will not go unchallenged!

Back in 2002, Dave Winer defined the blogChannelModule namespace, which can still be seen declared on a few RSS feeds:

<rss version="2.0" 

The URL no longer resolves, like much of RSS’s early infrastructure. But fortunately Feedforall documented some of the elements. My favourite is blink:

The url of a blog the blog publisher is promoting

Antranig’s English RSS feed will now be what my own RSS feed blinks at for the rest of June. This might become a regular, recurring feature here where I showcase someone I admire and respect.

It’s my hope that someone, somewhere, has implemented a UI for this feature in their reader or aggragator, and see this link pop up. A side project I’m working on right now sure does! But discussion of that is for another time.

Inline links to videos with play buttons

You know the adage that the cobbler’s son walks barefoot? It describes the phenomena where the care and attention we accord our professional lives don’t always translate into our personal ones. Nowhere is this more obvious than the scripts I use to create this site, which are a mishmash of gaffer tape, outdated knowledge, and temporary fixes!

Wouter Groeneveld of the excellent Brain Baking site (RSS feeds here) asked me on Mastodon how I generate thumbnails with play buttons for external videos, instead of using iframes. I’m sure it’d be trivial to add this to my Hugo CMS install, but I farm this off to a shell script called that sits in my blog repo. It uses youtube-dl to download the video thumbnail, overlays a transparent PNG play button with ImageMagick, and spits out HTML with the correct srcset attribute for grainy and Retina/HiDPI displays.

(At some point I want to replace this with a more robust Perl script using PerlMagick, WWW:YouTube::Download, and Text::Template, so I can handle different image sizes and other niceties, but this has worked surprisingly well for the last few years).

Here’s a recent music example about Esther Golton:

Play All The Room I Need

My motivation for doing this was to remove external dependencies, tracking, and JavaScript from this site. It has the side effect of making my site faster and simpler, but the real reason was that I didn’t think it was ethical to force external sites onto people they didn’t opt-in to. Or you might only use certain sites at arms length, such as via a VPN or proxy to protect your privacy.

A video thumbnail is static, hosted locally here, and linked to an external site that you can open yourself in a new tab. It doesn’t have the instant gratification of inline playback, but then I think videos are best viewed on the target site at larger size anyway.

Firefox 89’s Proton UI

Mozilla Firefox introduced a new theme starting with version 89, dubbed the Proton UI. Here’s a screenshot running on macOS Big Sur:

Screenshot showing Firefox 89, with barely discernable UI elements and thin, difficult to read icons.

It’s telling that much of the press coverage has been dedicated to describing how to turn it off. I love Firefox and have been using it (with brief forays into Mozilla Camino) since the Phoenix days, but it hasn’t had a good UI for years.

But here’s Resigned Ruben speaking: I can empathise with Mozilla’s position. Apple, Microsoft, and Google have been trending away from accessibility, contrast, and functional design for a while now with macOS, Windows 10, and Chrome. Firefox had to look the same, or it’d look outdated.

A part of me wishes Mozilla would have a Jean Luc Picard moment from First Contact, and say “here, no further!” though. A browser making a stand for privacy and accessibility would be fantastic. Being similar to other browsers doesn’t seem to be improving their market share.

Mori Calliope’s new loading screen is dope!

From her latest collab with Gawr Gura:

Screenshot showing Cali judging us with her scythe.
Cali with her drip shades and a smile. I'm still a bit scared.

The @davewiner does a bank experiment

Dave posted this last Thursday:

Experiment: call your bank. Tell them you have a security issue. See how long it takes to freeze the account.

I’ve found that credit card companies are very tuned into security. If you call them up with a security issue, within a minute they have put a freeze on the account, and send you a new card. I generally get the new card the next day. And by "a minute" I mean a minute after the phone rings, not after navingating voicemail hell, getting upsold and hung up on, and being reminded your call is important to us, and did you know that you can get all the information you need on the web? Please hold and an operator will be with you soon. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Not to mention the follow-up email where they say how likely are you to recommend this to your friends and family, basd on this arbitrary and unqualified numeric metric? Card securtiy is an interesting case, because its a financial instrument directly tied to your credit score and legislation. IT is still the Wild West by comparison.

My experience hasn’t always matched his, unfortunately. I used to be with Bankwest in Australia, back when I thought I’d be living the Australia-Singapore commute for longer and figured I’d eventually want to move to Perth to make that easier. I had my card skimmed, and Bankwest refused to dishonour the charges until I’d filed a police report. Amex, by comparison, did it almost immediately.

pkgin’s manpage

I can get behind this:

We’re hunting them.

Wait, you mean you’re not using pkgin or pkgsrc for your package management needs? Or worse, you are, but you haven’t contributed to the NetBSD Foundation? There’s still time to correct this :).

Updating to Minecraft 1.17 in FreeBSD

Part one of Caves and Cliffs update is out! I updated the Minecraft server in Clara’s and my FreeBSD jail, but got this error:

Error: A JNI error has occurred, please check your installation and try again Exception in thread “main” java.lang.UnsupportedClassVersionError: net/minecraft/server/Main has been compiled by a more recent version of the Java Runtime (class file version 60.0), this version of the Java Runtime only recognizes class file versions up to 52.0

This was quite the runtime leap! Acording to The Java Version Almanac, “60” is Java 16. Thankfully the tireless FreeBSD ports maintainers had our back:

# pkg remove openjdk8
# pkg install openjdk16

Now it works. Time for Clara and I to get some axolotl friends!

What Americans don’t understand about Australia

Brenda Beenken summarised twenty things Americans don’t know about Australia for PaperCut’s blog. It’s fun reading things written from an outsider looking in; I had to relearn so much of this when I moved back from Singapore myself. At least Singapore and Australia both use Commonwealth spelling.

I can’t fault almost any of her list. Except point 1, you’re more likely to hear “hey mate” thesedays. I also don’t think an Australian invented the Tim Tam Slam, just like none of us had ever heard of bloomin‘ onions until American TV shows starting talking about a fast food chain over there.

I also would have added root among things you probably don’t want to say over here. Rooting for someone in America is wishing them success. Rooting in Australia is to fornicate, which perhaps you might want to be less liberal about suggesting in public.

The American predilection for month/day/year dates continues to baffle me too. The day/month/year everyone else uses also isn’t as good as ISO 8601, but at least it logically ascends.

That’s not to say Australians are always logical. Singapore uses floor 1 to refer to floor 1, like the US. Australian buildings insist on floor 1 being ground, which sounds fine until you realise they insist on floor 2 being floor 1. Therefore, a ten-story building will go up to floor 9. At the very least, ground should replace floor 1, not shift them up.