Historic Kyōto in 2010

Photo of a dark street at night full of signs.

The above photo in Ponto-chō was taken by Mstyslav Chernov in 2010. Kyoto is my favourite place in the world; one day I hope we can all travel again.

Setting up a self-hosted photo sharing site may also be a way to help alleviate cabin fever, now that I think about it. I’m trying to consolidate everything into just a single replicated PostgreSQL install, but all the good photo sharing and hosting packages run on MariaDB. I’ll need to do some digging.

De-politicising COVID responses

New South Wales state premier Gladys Berejiklian had this to say about Australian state-border controls on the 18th of June:

“Yes, we comprise a number of states and each premier has led their state in a different way or (taken) a different approach, but that’s no reason to have internal borders … I can’t see the logic in it. I think it’s crazy.”

And yesterday, less than three weeks later, she said:

… the rate of COVID-19 community transmission in parts of Melbourne gave NSW health officials no choice but to close the border [with Victoria] – and showed no regret or embarrassment for her prior comments on border closures.

While the rest of the country remains stable, Victoria has climbed from 60 active cases to 650 in four weeks.

Politicians used to think they could use COVID control measures for point scoring, especially between states under different political parties. I reserve capacity for a future hollow laugh here, but I hope this is the last of it.

For my overseas readers, Victoria is Australia’s second-largest state in population. The rest of the country has had a flat COVID curve for months, including Sydney where I live, but Melbourne has seen a sharp uptick in the last couple of weeks. It’s a stark reminder that we need to remain vigilant, and for our politicians to listen to health professionals and social workers.

RÜFÜS DU SOL, live from Joshua Tree

Play RÜFÜS DU SOL - Live from Joshua Tree

It’s Music Monday, that series where I etc. Wow ♡

Booting from an ISO on OrionVM

ISO and iPXE booting on OrionVM are some of the features I get asked about the most on social media, beyond people asking why it is that OrionVM hires such intelligent, charismatic engineers; this one notwithstanding.

OrionVM gives you out-of-band console access to your VMs in your white-labelled environment, which proxies the VNC directly from Xen. This means you can access a VM even if it doesn’t have NICs for SSH or RDP, or if you’ve inadvertently locked yourself out with a firewall rule. It also makes troubleshooting Windows Server infinitely easier, because you can see the exact update it’s hung applying, or you can get into recovery environments.

This feature can also be used to boot a VM with an ISO image, again with or without networking available to the VM. Plug in the URL to your image, and go:

Screenshot showing the VM Options screen, and the ISO URL populated with an example image.

You can also dd(1) an image direct to another attached disk on a VM, then promote it to an ISO using the API, CLI, or in the portal:

Screenshot of the portal showing a disk as being emulated with CD-ROM, not Disk.

The only things to remember are that ISO disks can no longer be written to, which shouldn’t come as a surprise! VMs must also have their boot device set to the CD-ROM using Configure/Advanced:

Screenshot showing the Advanced tab with the Boot option set to CD-ROM

Now you can boot the VM, and use the console to either install your OS, or enter your desired boot environment, or hat as I’d prefer. It could be a BSD, illumos, Linux, RouterOS, 3CX, Windows Server, FreeDOS… we’ve seen some pretty exotic and fun stuff.

Identifying vegetables

With the indelible Chris Morocco from Bon Appétit.

Chris: [These tongs] are so cute!
Chris chopping onions
Chris: This is an onion.

Peter Dutton in contempt of court

Australia’s Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus QC shared this Australian Federal Court judgement against the Minister for Home Affairs on Thursday:

Section 8:

In the absence of explanation, non-compliance with an order of this Court constitutes a serious contempt.

Section 9:

It may further be observed that it is deeply disturbing to realise that a Minister of the Crown who is charged with the responsibility for making decisions affecting the liberty of the subject—and on many occasions making assessments as to the consequences to be visited upon those visa applicants who have failed to comply with the law—is himself a person who has demonstrated an unapologetic reluctance to take personal responsibility for his own non-compliance with the law.

This needs to stick to him, and I’m realising it’s up to us to make sure it does. Most of the Australian media will continue to willfully ignore it, because their preferred coalition is in charge. Ministers should not, and cannot, be above the law.

In Mr Dutton’s defence, I have contempt for him too.

Follow-up to AT power supplies

Last Thursday I wrote about a noisy replacement AT power supply for my old Pentium tower:

It seems it suffers from a loud fan, and no dynamic controls to adjust its speed depending on temperature or load. This would be fine in an industrial setting, or maybe an open-plan office where you’re running legacy hardware for certain reasons, but at home it’s simply too loud.

Hales of Haelstrom.net confirmed my suspicions about it being targeted at industry. He linked to the manufacturer’s website:

Circa 1998; the AT Power Supply has been around for 23 years and it is still going strong in today’s industry. It is used to power equipment from the smallest robotic drill to essential medical equipment. Athena Computer Power understands the importance of these Power Supplies and has boosted the wattage up to 400; supplying more power while maintaining reliability and control.

He explains:

That probably explains their little care for noise. The fan will be wired directly to the 12V rail and it will be a standard (non-low-RPM) 80MM model. They could have run it slower at lower loads, but that would require more circuitry.

It doesn’t look like there is much on the market for AT-40 replacement PSUs other than Athena & old 2nd hand units. That’s kind of sucky.

I was hoping for some ATX to AT adaptor boards + cable harnesses to exist, but I can’t find any of those either. Modern ATX power supplies skip the -5V and -12V rails so you need a little circuit to generate a small amount of those. You also have to make sure the 5V rail is big enough, but there are still some units around that fix that problem.

My budget is a little tight this month, but I’ll be looking to see what the legacy motherboard in this machine supports and requires. It’d be great if I could use a contemporary ATX supply with adaptors.

Hales continues in a follow-up this morning:

Depending on your RAM type you might be able to get away without the -5V or -12V rails (most modern ATX power supplies don’t provide them or only provide one). Some ISA cards might not work however and the RS232 chip might not output within spec (if it doesn’t have an in-built chargepump), but you might not care about that feature anyway.

I use two of the tree ISA slots in this machine for my vintage sound cards, so I’ll need to confirm that. But it sounds like this will be a fun project to research :).

Michael Dexter on software project communication

Michael Dexter of Call for Testing, BSDFund, bhyvecon, OpenZFS, and FreeBSD mailing list fame posted these remedies on Twitter for toxic and counterproductive open source software project communities. I’m shamelessly quoting them here so I can add extra comments.

Conducting all project communication in the open, with the exception of highly-sensitive topics.

The truth hides in darkness. I realise I facilitated this in the past by keeping corrosive things said to me about other people and projects in confidence, because it was said to me privately. They know they can’t exploit that going forward because I don’t tolerate that behavior, they know I’ll report it.

Accepting that virtually all developers begin as users and ending any fetishes related to developer privileges.

I aspire to have a FreeBSD commit bit one day, just as I’ve been granted admin access to other projects, and extra user rights on Wikimedia Foundation projects. I see these as a privilege and an honour that comes with responsibilities. The idea of using trust and confidence as a way to make demands seems utterly foreign.

Clarifying relationships to foundations.

My dad used to joke—tongue in cheek—that he was the reason why certain contracts had to have another page of clauses. Somewhat related to above, if people acting in bad faith need to have certain rules codified before they’ll act reasonably, maybe that’s necessary. Or it could act as a filter, given how some bad actors rage quit when Codes of Conduct are raised. @joshgnosis calls this mute baiting… I like it.

It’s almost as if… there is a disconnect between users, developers, and committers.

This is the open question I, as a relatively recent contributor in this space, find the most difficult to address. There are some in the community who go out of their way to help and bridge that gap, and I’ve even had people email me saying my silly little blog here has helped them make connections and learn things. But there’s a long way to go, at least if we want a healthy and productive community at the other side.

I do relate with the fatigue of dealing with these issues, especially when your routine attempts to empathise and see other people’s perspectives are met with steadfast refusal to reciprocate. I think Merlin Mann put it best:

I don’t think they deserve my struggling this much to understand their motivation.

Algorithms directing art

Back in 2016 Nick Waddell uploaded a work of Ernest Hemingway into his WordPress install to see how the Yoast SEO plugin would react:

After months of seeing this needling assessment I decided to try an experiment. I would find a collection of words generally accepted to be masterpiece -a no-doubt about it piece of literature- and load it into Yoast and see what happened. Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” seemed to fit the bill. For those who don’t know, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” was first published in Esquire magazine in 1936 and generally regarded as one of Hemingway’s masterpieces, alongside “”The Sun Also Rises” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. I posted the entire 9000 plus word story as though it were a new Cantech Letter article and hit “Save Draft”.

[Yoast’s content score:] “Needs improvement”.

Nick’s assessment was that the SEO plugin was grading the words against the Flesch Reading Ease score, which was developed in the 1970s by the US Navy to improve the readability of technical documentation. So it’s understandable why a highly-regarded work of literature would score poorly.

One may argue technical sites could benefit from using this as tool, which presumably informed Yoast’s inclusion of the metric in its plugin by default. We nerds are nothing if not technocratic: if we can mechanically turk a solution to a human problem, why not let a computer help?

Where I worry is the predictably regular misapplication of these types of metrics into fields for which they were never designed, under a deliberate or misguided idea that it must improve everything. When it’s applied to art we get worse art; just look what autotune did to a generation of music, or the drive for clickbait did to journalism.

Nick Waddell’s Cantech Letter site is a long-form science journal targeting those interested in medicine and research. Should this be held to the same score requirements as a general-purpose encyclopedia, or the FreeBSD Handbook, or other docs? Extrapolating this out further, are we okay with this plugin telling all authors that their content “needs improvement”, from bloggers to playwrights? For those who aren’t as technically inclined, would they even be aware that it’s an SEO plugin telling them this? I can’t imagine the negative reinforcement seeing that terse, negative assessment every day would have.

I wrote about a different online tool struggling to correct grammar back in 2018. How many other articles, posts, books, journals, and other literary works have been mangled or changed by such algorithms? Maybe I’m overthinking this as I’m want to do, but I’d still guarantee you that number is more than zero.

I’m glad that we’re all waking up about inherent biases designed and trained into our algorithms, from the finance sector to the job market. But I think just as fundamental is the question of whether an algorithm should even be employed in certain cases, especially when directing art. At best it provides marginally-helpful advice, at worst it attacks it.

The Athena AT40 400W AT power supply

The first computer I built as a kid was one of the last generation to require AT power supplies and mechanical switches, and still shipped with APM instead of ACPI. I still run her today with DOS, Windows 95, and FreeBSD 6.2 for nostalgic fun, and she serves this purpose beautifully.

So when her power supply of twenty years bit the dust, I checked eBay to source a replacement. The good news is, these kinds of power supplies are still relatively easy to find. Athena in particular make a few different models, including this AT40 400W unit that I picked up for less than AU $70 delivered. The original supply was only 230W, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to upgrade.

I may have been wrong about that.

Photo of the Athena AT40

I’m a stickler for noise, as my earlier post about NAS reviews mentioned. You have no choice when you live in a tiny studio apartment: noise from any source will permeate the kitchen, lounge, bedroom, and study because they’re the same room. I also want to be considerate to Clara who’s sharing this space, and who also has to work odd hours as a function of working in IT.

Unfortunately, this is the single loudest desktop power supply I’ve ever used. There are 2U server power supplies that are quieter than this. Even in the dead of winter with barely a fifth of its power capacity loaded, the fan in this unit runs faster and harder than a jet turbine at full throttle. It reminds me of my PowerMac G5 when I’d be transcoding a DVD, or building KDE 3 from FreeBSD ports.

It seems it suffers from a loud fan, and no dynamic controls to adjust its speed depending on temperature or load. This would be fine in an industrial setting, or maybe an open-plan office where you’re running legacy hardware for certain reasons, but at home it’s simply too loud. I don’t have an electrical engineering background, so I’m also wary of cracking it open to replace the fan with something approaching human-tolerable noise levels.

I’ll be keeping this around for testing vintage computer boards, because it’s otherwise an excellent power supply. The cabling and Molex connectors are high quality and easy to work with, and it generally feels better built that many, many other PSUs of a similar vintage.

I’ve got my eyes on a Linkworld unit that claims to include an auto thermostatic fan which should make my vintage computer and I happier. We’ll see if that improves things.