Working remote

I’ve been lucky that I’ve often worked remote for my job. A colleague and I regularly travel interstate in Australia and work from coffee shops between client meetings. In 2018 I worked out of our San Francisco office for a few months, some of which was spent in the cafe downstairs and near my boss’s house. And last year I café-hopped around Singapore working Australian hours for a nostalgic work holiday.

But it’s starting to set in for me now that we’ll be doing this for months from home, possibly half a year or more. My boss preemptively sent us to work remote long before it became serious, and my hunch is he’ll want us to stay home until this has all settled back down and everyone has been back for a few weeks. We’re in this for the long haul.

We’re also lucky in that working in cloud infrastructure has put us in a much better position than most. The most any of us need is an SSH or RDP session, chat client, web browser, office suite, webcam, and a pair of decent headphones. The boss just posted:

Feels like we’ve got a good pace/cadence going - our team is pretty used to working remote, so it wasn’t too hard

From a business sense this is true, though it’s exposed for me just how much I’d come to rely upon three things:

  1. Routine
  2. Distance
  3. Coffee shops

Consistently getting up, commuting, and rocking up to an office or coffee shop gave me mental time to prepare and maintain that home/work firewall. I’ve rarely had a problem working remote beyond typical Australian connectivity issues, but I’ve always found it challenging to stay focused when working from home; my brain associates it with rest and personal projects. Doubly-so now that we live in a studio apartment where the bedroom is also the kitchen and workspace.

I also just miss working from cafés. The fresh air and being around other people without an obligation to talk beyond a happy chat with a barista is somehow the perfect environment for mental stimulation. Most of this blog has been written at cafes over the years, and many posts and episodes have been spent exploring why.

Photo of an ASKHOLMEN IKEA outdoor furniture set

Fortunately for Clara and I, we bought a some small outdoor furniture set, so we’ve managed to turn our studio apartment balcony into a cafe of sorts. Getting fresh air, sunlight, and a home-made coffee first thing in the morning has helped tremendously.

I hope you’re going okay.


Correcting the record

Update 2020-04-03: The timestamp on this post was seeminly an insufficient indication of how seiously this post should be taken! Though I’m curious that once again those digusting cookies generated the most surprise.

Being stuck at home with my thoughs and a well-worn coffee mug has given me a chance to reflect on things that don’t merely exist in mirrors. That was a top shelf joke. I’m now willing to concede my reservations with the following were either somewhat or entirely misplaced:

  • Socks with artificial fibres
  • btrfs
  • Oreos and Oreo-flavoured snacks
  • OpenStack
  • USB-C connectors
  • Bagels with sweet toppings
  • HTML email and Electron applications
  • Tenuous blog lists

This was originally going to be a tweet, but I’ve someone returned to a sabbatical on that platform after a day of activity again.


FreeBSD consolidation, and spam apologies

I spent part of the weekend consolidating a ton of my disparate cloud servers running a hodgepodge of FreeBSD 11.x, NetBSD 7.x, Debian Jessie, and CentOS 6.x. One of the benefits of working for an IaaS company is getting all this for free, but ongoing maintenance and technical debt was starting to rear its poorly-constructed head.

I now have a few beefier FreeBSD 12.1 cloud servers handling all of Clara’s and my stuff with some jails. I also took the opportunity to finally standardise on Postgres for everything that needs a database, and replacing applications that only work with MySQL and its offshoots. Again, maintaining separate MariaDB and Postgres stacks with warm replication for personal and family stuff was just silly. Maybe if I didn’t care abut backups or redundancy I could have just run two small servers on the same box, but I didn’t.

There’s nothing especially noteworthy or custom about the stack, it’s off-the-shelf and rote. But I’ll post some of the details if I encounter any tidbits.

Naturally I didn’t get all finished before the work week, so I’m still ironing out a few kinks. My auto-posting has been broken since Sunday, so apologies for the manual push and subsequent spam to your RSS readers and Twitter feeds. Many of you have also pointed out other broken things for me to fix for which I am grateful :).


Chaldea Broadcast System for March 2020

Speaking of things that happened on my birthday, Clara and I watched the Chaldea Broadcast System livestream a few days ago for our beloved Fate/Grand Order mobile game. If you’re going to be stuck at home for months at a time, might as well continue to follow your fandoms.

First we got some background on Nero’s adorable UMU! catchphrase. It was in the Japanese version as a regular exclamation she used, as opposed to a regular expression. The translators didn’t feel they couldn’t faithfully reproduce it for the North American version that we play, so they kept it. I’m glad they did.

Screenshot showing Nero in the game

For players like us that have been here since the start, we’re finally getting some pretty new daily summoning bronze craft essences. I’m sure we all long since maxed ours out and had been burning them for quartz or similar; I managed to get my Imaginary Element and Formal Craft fully levelled up merely by feeing them a steady diet of these wheaties.

Collage of the various new craft essences.

Best Kouhai Mashu had her NP art tweaked; I was excited but it was more subtle than I was expecting. Which you can’t say for the new Artic Mystic Code Chaldea uniform, designed “in anticipation of the wearer encountering extreme cold” according to the site and on-screen graphics. Clara and I hope her skirt comes with magical invisible leggings:

Both masters from the game, in what could only be described as questionably appropriate winter attire.

Now to just finish the Epic of Remnant stories, I’m sure there isn’t much more to go, right? Checks phone…


CD Baby store closing

I only just saw that the self-described the best independent music store on the web posted this:

2020 is already off to an exciting start! CD Baby recently announced we’re delivering your music to TikTok. This week we partnered with Boomplay, the fastest growing music app in Africa, helping you reach a whole new market for your music. And we have big things in development for this year and beyond, including pay splits, new promo tools, and a whole lot more.

Uh oh.

Our mission is to help artists monetize and promote their music in the best ways possible. In order to provide the tools and services you need to succeed in an evolving music ecosystem…

That press speak can only mean one thing.

… we’ve made the decision to retire the CD Baby retail store on March 31st, 2020.

The end of an era. I bought most of my Whole Wheat Radio music from them; I liked to think of them as the last part of the original mission still around. They will still continue to sell through the big names you’ve heard of—with their big cuts—but it’s a huge blow to independent music distribution. But hey, they have TikTok now.

Download stuff from your account while you still can.


Music Monday: Santana, Foo Foo

Play Foo Foo

I think we all need a little levity and joy today. Have one of the songs that always brings a smile to my face for this Music Monday. Excuse me, but I don’t speak Spanish… foo foo!


Delightful 27th March things

Statistically, numerically, and probabilistically—is that even a word?—having a birthday at the same time as another person or event is nothing special. At best you have a one in 365 chance, at worse 1 in 366. But it’s still fun when it happens.

For example, @Sohuzi on Twitter uploaded this on the 27th:

I also learned from editing Wikipedia that several stations on the Nishi-Kyūshū Line in Nagasaki were opened on the 27th of March 1920:

Kaize Station (皆瀬駅, Kaize-eki, かいぜえき) is a train station located in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, Japan. It is on the Nishi-Kyūshū Line which has been operated by the third-sector Matsuura Railway since 1988.

1988 is only a couple years off being the right year too. Here’s a photo of the station taken by Atsasebo and put on Wikimedia Commons.


The Onkyo C-707

I think I may have found the world’s cutest CD changer: the Onkyo C-707. I’d snap one up for our little home hi-fi if it came in black. I adore the light gold case, but I want all our stuff to match.

suwa-koubou.jp has some photos of the unit with its larger tray door and LCD.

Photo of the front of an Onkyo C-707

This is not to be confused with the B-707, which is an aircraft and significantly larger.


A happy birthday jiggly pancake

This was one of the more surreal birthdays I’ve had. Getting a cake delivered because you’ve been advised not to go outside is a new one. In past years we just did Earth Hour and turned the lights off. Still, as my sister messaged me, there’s no pressure to do anything when the situation is like this, amirite?

We figured the situation could only get worse, so earlier in the month Clara and I went to the Japanese Gram pancake place that just opened in Chatswood for an early birthday breakfast. We tried going to one of their branches in Osaka a couple of years ago but they were all out of their signature jiggly pancakes.

They were so, so good!


FreeBSD 12.1 on a new (to me) ThinkPad T550

I picked up a second-hand ThinkPad T550 for my birthday this week, to replace my aging FreeBSD tower I don’t have space for in this studio apartment. Between this and hopefully a new MacBook Pro without an awful keyboard this year, I’ll have the two “desktop” machines I need to do my daily work and personal tinkering.

Unlike my gorgeous little Panasonic Let’s Note which took a lot of work, ThinkPads are well supported out-of-the-box with FreeBSD, owing to the predilicion of the developers for them.

Press shot of the ThinkPad T550

BIOS prep work

I’ve never had to enter a BIOS with ENTER before. I do miss the blue ThinkCentre button on that extra row of keys.

  • Under Config → Total Graphics Memory, set from 256 to 512 MB. This model doesn’t have the discrete GPU option, so this is important.

  • Under Security → Virtualisation, enable Intel (R) Virtualization Technology and Intel (R) VT-d Feature. You won’t have a healthy bhyve without it.

I read there’s no point disabling the TouchPad in the BIOS anymore because it now just sends a signal to the Windows driver. I don’t find myself brushing against it while using the superior TrackPoint we all know and love, but I presume this would be easy enough to disable in FreeBSD.

Graphics

This machine has an Intel HD Graphics 5500:

# pciconf -lv | grep -B2 Graphics
==> vendor = 'Intel Corporation'
==> device = 'HD Graphics 5500'

This is supported with drm-kmod. Note the kld_list not kld_load; thanks to everyone on the FreeBSD mailing lists for helping me out with that:

# pkg install drm-kmod
# sysrc kld_list="/boot/modules/i915kms.ko"
# shutdown -r now

I did see slight screen tearing when scrolling in Xfce, but this was resolved by adding these to /boot/loader.conf as Terpentijn suggested on the forums:

drm.i915.enable_rc6=7
drm.i915.semaphores="1"
drm.i915.enable_fbc="1"

FreeBSD 12.1-RELEASE had an open issue in errata about drm-kmod being built on 12.0, which had an incompatible kernel. The newest packages are now built with 12.1, so you can use packages to install.

Wi-Fi

This will mostly sit on my desk with wired Ethernet, but Wi-Fi would still be useful. It has an Intel Wireless 7265 card which is supported by iwm(4). It’s sufficient now just having the following in /etc/rc.conf:

sysrc wlans_iwm0="wlan0"
sysrc ifconfig_wlan0="WPA DHCP powersave"

If you need to load the drivers manually, make sure you use the 7265D driver as per the manpage, wiki, and wireless mailing list:

echo if_iwm_load="YES" >> /boot/loader.conf
echo iwm7265Dfw_load="YES" >> /boot/loader.conf

I’d say this 90% works. On one boot since I got it the card complained it couldn’t scan for networks. I left it an hour, and it worked again. Not sure if it’s a flaky card or driver yet.

Sound

Checking hardware, we’ve got internal speakers and the ability to play through HDMI:

# cat /dev/sndstat
Installed devices:
pcm0: <Intel Broadwell (HDMI/DP 8ch)> (play)
pcm1: <Realtek ALC292 (Analog 2.0+HP/2.0)> (play/rec) default
pcm2: <Realtek ALC292 (Internal Analog Mic)> (rec)

It should use the internal speaker by default, but in case you need to set:

# sysctl hw.snd.default_unit=1
# echo hw.snd.default_unit=1

I haven’t tested HDMI, but audio just works with:

echo snd_hda_load="YES" >> /boot/loader.conf

Conclusion

This is more a proof of concept; if I end up liking this setup my plan is to get a newer model with a discrete GPU and a HiDPI screen. ThinkPads have the industry’s best keyboards, but their non-HiDPI screens have low contrast, uneven backlighting, and the resolution isn’t great. It’s fine for writing and code, but I’ll still do all my photo editing and such on Macs.

Next steps are to get the brightness and volume controls working, and suspend/resume. The wiki and manpages suggest this shouldn’t be too difficult.