FSF’s Free Software Gang almost included FreeBSD

The footer of the GNU website includes this friendly graphic inviting you to meet the Free Software Gang:

Free Software Gang graphc

Look closely and you can make out Beastie, the BSD mascot and basis of the FreeBSD logo, peeking out behind the GNU. And on the left you can see Puffy, the unmistakeable logo of OpenBSD.

(I don’t see NetBSD or DragonFly BSD anywhere, but let’s pretend the latter is buzzing around an orange flag atop the Inkscape mountain. They can always ride on an illumos phoenix to get there).

We may have our disagreements abut licensing, but anything that fosters collaboration is a good thing. Linux benefits from some of FreeBSD’s userland and utilities, everyone uses OpenSSH from the OpenBSD project, and desktop BSD users like me run GPL’d window managers or desktop environments.

The Free Software Gang page lists the following under Operating Systems and Friends:

  • Gecko
  • GNU
  • KDE
  • Linux
  • Nautilus

Notice anything missing? Xfce and LXQt aside, of course.

Refusing to mention or link to the BSDs, despite padding out their own graphic with their logos, strikes me as a tad disingenuous. The Free Software Foundation consider their licences free and compatible with the GPL.

For an FSF site so preoccupied with licencing and software freedom, they literally violated—if only in spirit—the only clause in the modern BSD/ISC licence, which requires attribution. I’ve come to expect that more and more; free software either means GPL, or GTFO. Which is a shame, for the reasons stated earlier in this post.

Allan Jude discusses ZFS on Level1Linux

I only just came across this video from April 2017, but it’s been a pleasure listening to these two gents discuss these topics near and dear to my heart while I have my morning coffee.

Play Allan Jude Interview with Wendell - ZFS Talk & More

I’ve made the point that ZFS’s integrity checks and copy-on-write characterises are why it’s the only file system I trust, but Allan really drives home the other key point that I think is often lost in the debates: ZFS is a pleasure to use.

What set ZFS apart: when they were building it for Solaris—unlike a lot of other file systems where they’re written by developers, for developers—the point of ZFS was to make storage admin easy. They wanted adding more storage to your server to be just as easy as adding more RAM.

If you have more experience with Linux, Allan also helpfully touches on how it compares to tools you may familiar with, like LVM and btrfs. He also discusses optimisation, dtrace, FreeBSD, TRIM on SSDs, and most maddeningly of all, continues to flaunt his awesome tetris light.

The 3.5 mm headphone jack

The 3.5 mm headphone jack is such an elegant and under-appreciated piece of engineering; the rare occurrence of a design getting it so right that it stands the test of time. I was starkly reminded of this yesterday when I lost my Lightning adaptor for my iPhone 8, and had flashbacks to when the industry decided to wholesale drop it.

Among its many indelible features, the plug is:

  • Accessible. The jack is barely wider than the signal with which its signal is carried, yet is still easily gripped, connected, and unplugged by people with a range of dexterities and visual acuity. It can be connected in any orientation—take that, USB-C and Lightning—and responds with satisfying tactile feedback upon a successful connection.

  • Durable. There are no pins to bend, and no clips to break (dappled and drowsy and ready for sleep)? You can shove it in your pocket, roll over it with a chair, get it caught in a train door. The port can even be hardened for dust and water ingress. They’re designed for use in the real world, in other words.

  • Future-proof. The length of the pin facilitated expansion beyond mono and stereo audio into access controls and audio input. Manufacturers extended it with a secondary connector wed to the housing of the jack if more features were needed, but the core port was still fully backwards-compatible. Passive connectors allowed it to be used with even more equipment.

  • Compatible. I can plug the same set of headphones into my DAC, a cassette Walkman, my iPod, and my 2019 MacBook Pro. There’s support from billions of devices going back decades. As it stands now, the headphones that came with my latest iPhone can’t even be connected to my laptop from the same model year.

  • Accessorisable. The port could be used for personalising phones when not in use with all manner of anime, weeby jingly-janglies. I’m confident this was required as part of the ISO specification.

Now thanks to short-sighted hubris, it’s disappearance continues unabated. It’s sad when such elegant designs are shelved.

The good news is music-focused companies—like Apple used to be—are realising the value in the port and are bringing them back. I dislike Android, but that would be one feature compelling enough for me to check out.

Music Monday: Al Jarreau, Tell Me

Play Tell Me

Today’s Music Monday comes from a vinyl LP Clara and I bought from a second-hand store while we were in the Blue Mountains in late July. I haven’t been able to get this absurdly-catchy tune out of my head since my quartz-locked, linear-tracking, direct-drive Technics turntable gave it a spin.

Al Jarreau’s collaboration with George Benson on Givin’ it Up is one of my favourite albums of all time, but I don’t know as much about Al’s back catalogue. I’m rectifying this!

The entire High Crime album is on iTunes/Apple Music and the YouTubes.

Social network CFO says iOS 14 to hurt tracking

Salvador Rodriguez reported some good news in CNBC last Thursday:

Facebook Chief Financial Officer David Wehner said on Thursday that upcoming changes to Apple’s iOS 14 operating system could hurt the social network’s ability to target ads to users.

With the update to its mobile devices, Apple will ask users if they want to let app developers track their activity across other apps and websites. Apple has not said when iOS 14 will launch, but it’s expected to roll out this year.

I’ll be interested to see how Android will respond to this, if at all. It’s traditionally lagged behind the industry along with Chrome, for obvious reasons. It’s interesting, and perhaps a bit sad, that so many of my purchasing and IT decisions are made based on something being less bad than something else on a metric I care about.

FreeBSD and NetBSD are probably the only platforms I use now because I enjoy them.

Movies I’ve seen more than five times

Via Elisabeth Law on Twitter. I immediately responded with Blues Brothers because I haven’t seen any movie more times.

Poster for the K-On! Movie

  • Air Force One*
  • The Aviator
  • Blues Brothers
  • The Castle
  • The Holy Grail
  • The K-On! Movie
  • Mr Vampire
  • The Shawshank Redemption
  • Shawn of the Dead
  • Serenity
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  • Star Trek: First Contact
  • WALL•E

Even though I thought it was a so-so movie, I’ve probably cumulatively seen Air Force One five times. It was my first VCD in Singapore, and I used its DAT files to experiment with different encoders, etc. If only my lowly Pentium 1 machine somehow had a LaserDisc player, the quality on that was significantly better.

Vending machines in anime visuals

The Western press predictably make a big deal out of the obscure and perverted when talking about Japanese vending machines, but standard drink fare apparatuses—apparatii?—are indispensable. Sorry, couldn’t resist. They really are ubiquitous, and usually have a thoughtfully places recycling bin along side them. A disproportionate number of Clara’s and my favourite Japanese holiday memories include them somehow, which I wouldn’t have expected. I should write a proper post about that.

I was going through a backup folder from 2014 and saw this key visual from Wake Up, Girls!, an anime series from the time. The vending machine behind Okamoto Miyu looks like it’s stocked with cans of a beverage nature, but the light box ad that’s a staple of these machines is advertising some ice cream confectionery product.

Key visual from the Wake Up, Girls! anime with the character Okamoto Miyu on the street in front of a vending machine.

I want to go back to Ōsaka and have our cute boy coffee and tea. One day I hope.

Apologising to John Roderick, and his point about Millennials

March 2020 was already scary. Australia was in the grips of one of the biggest bushfires in global history. People were dying, my retired dad was terrified and forced to evacuate, and the rest of us couldn’t leave our homes and offices for the choking smoke unless we wore masks. Foreshadowing?

Hell on Earth.

It also served as a flashpoint for resentment among young people. Our Australian parents received free education, affordable housing, and had a better shot at stable, long-term employment. There was a feeling that older generations had fucked the environment (we were literally choking on their climate denial), rigged the economy against us, ensured we couldn’t retire, and kept electing populists to maintain these structural disadvantages. Remember that smashed avocado craze? That was instigated by an Australian journalist saying young people could afford houses if they ate less.

So when beloved musician and podcaster John Roderick entered the Twitter fray at this time saying Millennials “lacked sincerity” and were just as “self-absorbed as Boomers”, it didn’t go down so well. Gen-X friends in Australia told me this attitude isn’t unusual, given some of them feel forgotten between two over-analysed generations. They didn’t have a picnic either growing up under Thatcherism and Reaganomics, as Simply Red reminds us.

Anyway I linked him to an American chap who put my above concerns in a US context, and he responded telling me:

You kids are so convinced you’re the first generation to suffer. It’s hilarious.

He deleted the rest of his tweets soon after.

For someone who’s podcasted that “first world problems” were bunk because other people’s struggles don’t negate your own, his comment seemed bizarre at the time. Millennials and Gen-Z have unique economic and social challenges, but that doesn’t mean others had a cake walk. I put my Roderick on the Line shirts and Long Winters CDs in a box and cancelled my Road Work Patreon, blaming myself for meeting one of my heroes. (A faded sticker promoting his Seattle City Council bid remained on my laptop).

But I’d been mulling this tweet in my head ever since. While I thought his attitude was crass, who among us can say social media hasn’t brought out the worst in us, especially on Twitter? He also wouldn’t have been aware of the life and death situation in Australia at the time, or the white-hot economic rhetoric and tensions that made discussions so fraught here during the disaster.

John also has a point. We’ve become so consumed at filing ourselves into neat sociological categories and age brackets we’ve fallen right into the divide and conquer trap. A rising tide lifts all boats, and I’m realising now that we just alienate people who could be our allies by making it an us-versus-them battle.

My dad is a Boomer, but thanks to my late mum’s cancer treatment he was left a widow with little savings and forced into renting upon retirement until buying a modest dwelling in the wilderness that almost burned down. These issues of affordability and access for houses—to say nothing about mental health—may statistically affect young people more, but the core issues are structural. They’re about the concentration of wealth, and the perverse incentives that enable it and have others defend it. That’s where we should be directing our attention and rage.

And finally, something John already said on follow-up tweets and Road Work episodes, dismissing someone on the basis of a single tweet when you feel like you got to know them over many years of listening to their music and shows is just silly. Losing someone over something as incidental and meaningless as social media isn’t worth it.

I like to think I’m a big enough person to admit their mistakes, though I still don’t do it often enough. Sorry for being so dismissive John, you were right.

SimilarTech’s site analysis only half wrong

Jonathan K. emailed me to say a sales platform had crawled my humble blog here, with delightfully incorrect results! Let’s take a look at each section, aided with the use of a gameshow buzzer to identify incorrect answers.

Recent technology changes in rubenerd.com: Added Instagram (bzzt!), Added jQuery (bzzt!), added Instagram Links

I’ve linked to Instagram, but not only do I not use jQuery or embedded Instagram here, it never has, and certainly not recently. Not a great showing out of the gate, but let’s see how they go in the talent portion.

ECommerce: Pound Sterling (bzzt!), United States Dollar (bzzt!), Visa (bzzt!)

I don’t sell anything on my site. Better still, they judge this based on, and I quote: “using the $ symbol on their website - meaning it may accept payment in this currency used in Israel.” I… wha?

Mobile: Apple Mobile Tags, Meta Viewport

A stronger showing here. For those playing at home, we’re at 37.5%.

(Others): jQuery (bzzt!) Bitcoin Acceptance (bzzt!)

Hey, at least they didn’t say I use Coinhive. The rest dealt with RSS, Hugo, and metadata detection which was all correct, which grants them a slight passing grade overall. Which is an item of clothing.

Science is beautiful

It’s August already? How is that even reasonably possible.

I was going through my RSS feeds this morning and, unfortunately, clearing out ones that haven’t been updated in a while. It’s also given me a chance to get a bit nostalgic. Case in point, I was reminded of an anime blogger I used to follow who also had a side project where he discussed philosophy from a religious perspective. I didn’t agree with much of what he said, but I thought his Biblical defence of homosexuality and other progressive causes were valuable for reaching people I probably couldn’t.

Back in 2018 Jason attempted to reconcile his thoughts on science. The entire post is worth reading, but I think he fell into a common caricature of what science is. I heard you liked mixed metaphors.

Now here’s the thing – science is not obviously fundamental. It rests on some bedrock foundational assumptions that we’re not in the habit of turning over every now and then.

Science cops this from both sides. Either its perceived fluidity and continual improvement are a challenge to those who crave certainty in the universe, or it’s perceived as closed-minded and unwilling to change. Both logically can’t be true.

I would argue that science is fundamental. Unlike other avenues of inquiry, science is the only one for which the corpus of observations it can’t explain only trends downwards. When people invoke thoughts that science has usurped, such as how the tides work, or the efficacy of masks at reducing aerosol spread, it’s a sign of ignorance. Galileo’s torture and execution having discovered heliocentrism serves as another cautionary tale.

songs, poetry, festivity, ritual and Worship. It should be no wonder that the world has been religious. For better or worse, we seem to have come with these romances built in, and we would be unwise to dismiss them on the rash assumption that science has supplanted them.

Leonardo da Vinci would like to have a word, sir! Science doesn’t supplant art, it expands and enables it. We’re communicating using language over an electronic medium that couldn’t have happened before. Science has allowed for entire new avenues to explore the human condition in the exact ways Jason describes.

think it must be acknowledged that much of it came first from feeling – which is of course a dangerous word in science.

Nothing could be further from the truth. What motivates scientists to build telescopes, or Large Hadron Colliders, or DNA sequencers? It comes from a deep-seated need and yearning to understand how the universe works, and in doing so, learning something about ourselves and improving our lives, whether it be through medicine or art. That’s why science is both honest and beautiful.

I’ve barely scratched the surface here. My friend Sashin is one of the most intelligent and articulate people I’ve ever met, and he dedicates his entire blog to such topics which I encourage everyone to check out. His quote from English physicist and shameless crush Brian Cox seems especially apt:

The story of the universe is our story.