Hamaji Neo reviews Gateron Yellow switches

I’ve learned a lot about key switches from Hamaji Neo, including the NovelKeys Creams and the Gateron Black Inks. But this one convinced me to give the king of budget linears a try.

I haven’t ever seen the TF2 streams for which he’s most famous, but Hamaji’s keyboard review videos are top notch. He’s lots of fun to watch, and does a great job of making custom mechanical keyboards approachable for mere mortals like me. Give him a like and a subscribe :).

Play The ULTIMATE Budget Linear: Gateron Yellows Review


Australian housing and mental health

This ABC article was light on details on how Australia got into this current situation, though I’m glad it acknowledged this:

… financial worries could also have implications for mental health.

Clara and I are DINKs with no debts and comfortable incomes, and even we’re reviewing our power bills and other expenses. I can’t imagine the anguish of figuring out whether to stay warm, eat, or pay rent.

This is how we fail our society’s most vulnerable people.


July doesn’t feel like the seventh month

I still have to count months sometimes. I know January is 01, December is 12, and May is 05, so I generally count forwards or backwards from those.

And for the record, is a phrase with four words. I don’t think July feel like a 07. It should be 06. It’s not far enough in the year to be 07. I’m not sure where that leaves June; maybe I conflate the two on account of their similar names.

Similarly, September feels more like an 08 than an 09. There’s no way it’s right before October. That makes no sense.

I think my brain implemented Option Base 1 not 0, so that doesn’t explain it. Maybe I’m just silly.


My first dev job, and using double pound

I had a friend (and crush!) in high school who’s dad was after someone to do some short-term dev work at his engineering company. My jobs during school mostly involved voice acting and media production, so this was my first experience in a corporate office in Singapore performing an infocomm role.

I learned a lot from Peter. He was the one who introduced me to Perl, the programming language that still fits me better than any I’ve learned before or since. His dry sense of humour and wit had a lasting impact on mine. It’s also hard to describe, but he had a specific lateral way of thinking that I’ve rarely encountered in industry since.

Clara and I went back to the company’s office more than a decade later on our last trip to Singapore, but they’d moved and the original building razed. At least the Coffee Bean was still there! But I digress.

Perhaps the most visible impact he had on my work was the use of the double pound in code and shell script comments:

## This greeting greets people with a greeting
print("Hello, world\n");

He had a few reasons for doing this. Config files often have their own comments, so prefacing yours with a double pound makes them easier to disambiguate. A double pound is also easier to see when skimming source code, and with half-width characters they (closer) resemble a square, which looks nice visually. Or at least, I thought so.

I distinctly remember losing marks in an early programming course at university for “stylistic” reasons for doing this. I copped the penalty :).


Music Monday: Muji BGM

Today’s Music Monday takes place in the Japanese Muji homeware store.

The background music they play has always been the best part of shopping there, and now you can bring it home. Or rip it and put on your new Sony Walkman.

It’s all mastered so well; the tracks are clear, bright, and cheerful. Clara and I have had BGM9 from Italy on a loop while we work from home today. Add in one of their oil diffusers and some indirect lamp light during this stormy afternoon, and bagus. Wait, wrong language.


The Internet’s short memory for retrocomputing

We’ve all been trained over the last two decades to solve problems by performing web searches. I have reference books, canonical documentation, and gigs of PDFs, but I’m just as guilty as everyone else doing a search for a specific error message or function, especially when I’m in a hurry.

There’s a self-deprecating joke that much of the Internet is written indirectly by StackOverflow, just as we used to say half of it was glued together with Perl and shell scripts cobbled together from woodcut O’Reilly books. It’s likely true.

This works fine for contemporary systems, but the Web is a young and forgetful place. Information for systems that existed prior to its introduction tends to be sparse; what did exist has probably been lost; and what does remain is buried under other similar-sounding stuff.

There are a few reasons for this:

  • More people means more attention, so there’s an incentive to write and document stuff. This does result in large quantities of low-quality information being churned out, but the law of large numbers still works on our favour.

  • Businesses are contractually obligated to support their current software and systems, or at the very least provide documentation about how it works. Theoretically, maybe, hopefully.

  • The people who wrote, maintained, and were interested in such software either retired, or moved on.

My hope is that as we trend back up the bathtub curve, so too does the amount of information about a particular piece of vintage computing. Not to mention all the new information about using old systems in a contemporary setting; I’m sure the original designers of Hercules ISA cards weren’t worried about upscaling and correcting 4K widescreen display ratios.

I see three lessons here:

  1. I need more books from the time period, and to get used to referring to them again when I have issues.

  2. Comes after one.

  3. I’m rapidly realising that if I care about information about this stuff, I should be archiving and making it available too.


Australian AG Dreyfus on data privacy law

Tom Burton interviewed Australia’s latest Attorney General in the Australian Financial Review.

After more than a decade of reviews and reports calling for an overhaul of Australia’s anachronistic privacy regime, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has committed to “sweeping reforms” to data privacy laws in the life of the current parliament.

It details the disparate jurisdictions and overlapping laws among the states, and the opportunity to reform and modernise Australian privacy laws to international standards.

And that’s what makes me nervous. The pattern among Western democracies over the last few decades has generally been to curtail, infringe, or backtrack on privacy, usually for concocted or overblown reasons. My mind goes nowhere positive when I hear a modern politician say they want to overhaul or improve privacy law!

As much as I’m overwhelmed with relief that Morrison and his merry band of halfwits are gone, Labor doesn’t have a great record when it comes to privacy and digital rights. It was Steven Conroy who proposed the Great Firewall of Australia, and they were nothing but enablers for the previous mob’s AA bill.

I’ll be waiting with baited breath and crossed fingers.


My new Sony NW-A55 Walkman! Also a review

I’m now the proud owner of a new Sony Walkman. Yes, they’re still a thing, and I couldn’t be more chuffed! The photo below shows us Staying Warm out on the balcony on this brisk winter afternoon.

This post is equal parts review, and a broader discussion about using dedicated music players in a world of mediocre smartphone apps and streaming services. If you want the summary, this is an excellent little device!

Photo showing the tiny A55 in my hand, playing Esther Golton's Stay Warm album

About the Walkman

The NW-A55 is part of Sony’s budget digital audio player lineup. I bought it from Sony Japan using a proxy service, given they seem to be scarce as hen’s teeth in the West. It worked out about AU $300 including shipping, not bad considering how expensive iPods and cassette Walkmans used to be.

(You’ll need to enable the English firmware if you buy from Japan too, which I’ll discuss in a future post along with other sound profiles that are available. You’re also taking a risk, given I’m sure warranties are only valid in Japan).

It’s a gorgeous piece of industrial design. The whole unit is smaller than a deck of playing cards, but feels heavy for its size, and the materials and finish feel premium, just like consumer electronics used to. I bought the gold one on a lark, which is even more subtle in person than in the press photos. The icons in the UI are even colour matched to it.

You’ll often see the A50-series compared to the newer A100, which is Sony’s Android-powered music player. People I respect like Mat from Techmoan claim the audio quality of the A100 is a bit better, and you can install streaming apps on it. But I only want to play local media, and I don’t really like Android. The A50 also (reportedly) has better battery life, though the gap narrowed after an A100 software update. It might still be worth checking out the A100 too if you want Wi-Fi and app support.

Listening to music

I’m not an audiophile, and I’m sure said people would blanch if they read about the files I play. But the audio quality is a noticeable upgrade from my iPhone 8. It sounds so much clearer, especially in the midrange. Its EQ settings also add extra sparkle and pop, for want of better words! It’s the biggest uplift in sound I’ve experienced since I bought AKG monitors for home. I’m tempted to try using it as an external USB DAC now, which it supports.

It has NFC for pairing with wireless headphones, but it also has a headphone jack so you can choose. Shock of horrors! Remember when smartphone manufacturers justifiably mocked Apple for no longer taking music seriously, then they removed the jack too? Not that I have strong opinions about hubris or anything.

Interface and hardware

The software on this Walkman gets as close as any player I’ve used at replicating the experience of a classic iPod. Touchscreens will never be as good as a fully-tactile interface like a click wheel, but the menus are blissfully simple to navigate. You drill down to what you want to listen to, then swipe up to change equaliser settings and fun modes like vinyl. You can customise the home screen to present what you want; I have albums and artists.

Once you’ve selected what you want to play, you can pocket the player and use its physical side controls for play/pause, stop, back, forward, and hold, just as you would on a cassette or Minidisc Walkman. It even beeps like one when you change tracks! This isn’t just an MP3 player with a Walkman badge slapped on it, the whole experience has been faithfully recreated.

I can’t describe what a breath of fresh air this is compared to how bad modern smartphone music and streaming apps have become. It’s also nice having a dedicated player that isn’t inundated with notifications and other modern distractions. Separating out ebooks to a dedicated tablet worked the same wonders for my anxiety.

Photo comparing the size of A55 atop my iPhone 8. The A55 is shorter and narrower than the iPhone 8's display, and a bit thicker than an iPhone

Transferring media

The other reason I was interested in this device over a classic iPod was the flexibility in media management. My A55 comes with 12 GiB of usable capacity, but it also has a microSD card slot for (effectively) limitless storage.

You don’t need to use any special desktop software; you mount the Walkman as a USB storage device and transfer files. Wait… that’s it? Yes!

The player indexes any music you add, but keeps the files in place. This lets me use rsync to regularly diff and copy new ripped CDs or downloaded tracks across, even on FreeBSD. It also decouples syncing from music organising, so no more finagling iTunes in Wine, or using the garbage new macOS Music.app. As a (diagnosed) OCD suffer, this literally makes me happier than it should.

I don’t use playlists, so I haven’t investigated how they’d work. You might want to research this first if that’s important to you.

Wrinkles

In the words of Ol’ Blue Eyes, I have a few, but (almost) too few to mention.

The biggest is the proprietary Sony connector, which the A50 series inherited from the A40 and A30. Newer players in Sony’s lineup feature USB-C, but this requires its own syncing/charging cable. This is fine at home, but it’d one more thing to track when travelling. The good news is that I have a power brick with multiple USB ports I can connect it to.

As I mentioned previously, I’ve seen some reviewers claim the A50-series doesn’t quite have the same fidelity and audio quality as the A100, and is decidedly mediocre compared to Sony’s NW-WM1ZM2 at more than AU $4,000 dollars. It’s true, and I don’t know what I’m missing, but I think this sounds great.

I also wish there were a faster way to adjust the volume with the physical buttons. They provide very granular control, but it means I’m pressing on it for several seconds before I get what I’m after.

Conclusion

I won’t pretend this is a device for everyone. I happen to have strong opinions about the evolving state of the music industry, from predatory streaming services to the frankly embarrassing state of smartphone music applications. But if they work for you, that’s fine (though I’d encourage you to still directly support musical acts you care about by buying their music, merchandise, and concert tickets).

If you’re after a fun, small, affordable, and beautifully-crafted media player that’s easy to transfer music to, sounds great, and has a touch of portable music nostalgia, I can’t recommend this highly enough. I’m so happy devices like this are still being made.


Booting Fedora into XWayland when Xorg breaks

I dual-boot my FreeBSD desktop with Fedora Workstation 36 to play Steam games, and to keep my skills up among the Penguins. Unfortunately, I’d started having graphics issues with the Nvidia drivers on XWayland. I had no problems with Xorg in Fedora 35, so I thought I’d try logging out and choosing Xorg from the login options instead. This only returned a blank screen.

This was an issue, because I have Fedora set to log in automatically on boot. This only has games on it, and I’m satisfied the password I type for whole drive encryption is sufficiently secure. But this meant rebooting automatically logged me back in with Xorg, with the same blank screen.

Fortunately I had SSH enabled on the box, so I logged in remotely from my Mac and edited the following file:

$ sudoedit /etc/gdm/custom.conf

And changed the following line to False:

AutomaticLoginEnable=False

Now I could reboot and choose XWayland from the login screen instead.

If you don’t have SSH available, you should be able to boot a Fedora live image, mount your drive, and change the file from there.


The Willie Wagtail

Any time I see a cute bird as Wikipedia’s featured picture, I have to share it. This is a Willie wagtail, taken by JJ Harrison in Lithgow, about a hundred kilometres north-west from where I am in Sydney. It probably flew away by now.

A photo of a willie wagtail, taken by JJ Harrison.

From the bird’s article:

Construction aggregate, or simply aggregate, is a broad category of coarse- to medium-grained particulate material used in construction, including sand, gravel, crushed stone, slag, recycled concrete and geosynthetic aggregates. Aggregates are the most mined materials in the world.

That’s clearly the wrong article. Let’s try again:

The willy (or willie) wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys) is a passerine bird native to Australia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, the Bismarck Archipelago, and Eastern Indonesia. It is a common and familiar bird throughout much of its range, living in most habitats apart from thick forest. Measuring 19–21.5 cm (7+1⁄2–8+1⁄2 in) in length, the willie wagtail is contrastingly coloured with almost entirely black upperparts and white underparts; the male and female have similar plumage.