A smoky Sydney morning

Bushfires continue to ravage the east coast of Australia this morning, and Sydney is now down wind of it. The view below was from my morning commute from Martin Place train station. Normally I can see the buildings in the background as clear as the ones in front.

The Australian Red Cross are accepting donations for disaster relief efforts. They’re also maintaining a register for those living in rural areas to let friends and family know people are safe. Please help them out if you can.

Photo near Martin Place station showing buildings obscured by thick air


Chaining addresses in FreeBSD ipfw

Between bhyvecon Tokyo talks last year I overheard some of the guard discussing how ipfw offered higher equivalent throughput than pf on FreeBSD. There may have been a caveat or part of the discussion I missed, but I took this as an excuse and opportunity to finally learn it.

Today I was trying to figure out how to only enable a port for a specific set of IP addresses. The easiest way is to specify two rules in your ipfw.rules:

ipfw -q add 00500 allow tcp from x.x.x.x to me 43210 in via $WAN
ipfw -q add 00501 allow tcp from x.x.x.y to me 43210 in via $WAN

But rules can also contain multiple addresses. From the manpage(8):

Additionally, sets of alternative match patterns (or-blocks) can be constructed by putting the patterns in lists enclosed between parentheses ( ) or braces { }, and using the or operator.

So the alternative for my above could be this:

TRUSTED="x.x.x.x or x.x.x.y"
ipfw -q add 00500 allow tcp from \{ $TRUSTED \} to me 43210 in via $WAN

Sure enough, when you ipfw list:

==> 00500 allow tcp from { x.x.x.x or x.x.x.y } to me 43210 in via $WAN

Aside from being easier to read and update, it also means you avoid needing to iterate a rule number in your scripts.

(Funny story, I blogged about OpenBSD’s ported pf on FreeBSD years ago, and the visceral comments from certain Linux folks were severe enough that I deleted it and self-censored BSD posts. Two months later, and I’d even turned off blog comments. I feel a mix of trepidation and cautious optimism posting about firewalls on the BSDs again).


Music Monday: Walk in the Rain

It’s Music Monday time. Each and every Monday without fail, except when I fail, I post a piece of music in the hopes we can share in its musicness. I shouldn’t write these so early in the morning.

Today’s song is Walk in the Rain, one of the especially beautiful songs from Michael Franks’ 1999 album Dragonfly Summer. You can peruse its Wikipedia page if you so wish, I wrote it!

Play A Walk In The Rain

I mention it today because I realised I’ve misheard one of the lyrics for two decades. Wow, is that how long it’s been since 1999? I had always thought he was singing with our umbrellas, but an inspection of the liner notes reveals it’s without umbrellas.

It’s just like when I got my first monitor headphones, and I heard instruments in some of his music I’d never heard before.


Pronouncing Project like Progress

Michael Shermer described the Mandella Effect for eSkeptic in 2015:

The first student TED talk was by Taryn Honeysett on something called “The Mandela Effect,” of which I was unfamiliar. The name comes from the mistaken belief that the great statesman and civil rights activist Nelson Mandela (1918–2013) died while in prison in the 1980s, and it is characterized by a group of people who all misremember something in a similar manner.

The effect gained a cultural toehold in an Internet forum discussion over the proper spelling of a popular children’s book and television series called The Berenstain Bears, when a number of people insisted the correct spelling was Berenstein.

It’s a popular topic on the Overnightscape Underground. I can’t say I ever thought Nelson Mandella died in prison; he had such a huge effect on South Africa and the course of global history. And they were always the Berenstain Bears to me.

The closet I’ve come to this effect is the pronunciation of Project. Before our family moved to Singapore from Australia, I felt as though everyone pronounced it the same was as Progress, with the first syllable rhyming with grow. Since coming back, everyone I meet in Australia rhymes it the American way with frog. It’s surreal.

John Gruber linked to an old article by Major Keary in PC Update:

American English relies on the sound of a word to determine where it should be broken. The English first turn to etymology, and then to sound. That may seem to be a very minor difference, but there can be marked variations in pronunciation which produce quite different points of division. Progress is an example. In American English the first syllable rhymes with frog and is the accented part of the word. Progress as a noun is pronounced in the U.K. and Australia with equal emphasis on both syllables and the first rhymes with throw. The result is that prog/ress is the correct U.S. point of division, but pro/geess [sic] is correct British usage.

So the way I’ve always said project would be pro-ject. But the American way, and the way all my friends and colleagues in Australia now say it, it’s proj-ect. Even though Australians (and the Brits) haven’t changed the way they pronounce progress to match. It makes no sense.

Does that count as a Mandella Effect?


The letter versus spirit of the law

One of the most powerful concepts explained to me growing up was the difference between the letter of the law, and the spirit of the law. I can point to that one evening having a chat with my mum after an interesting Law and Order episode as being one of those watershed moments that had a huge impact on me.

I’m realising a lot of the helpful but not helpful advice of which the Internet is awash is just a variation on this theme. Telling someone they shouldn’t do X, or asking them why they’re not doing Y, could be technically correct, but clearly not in the spirit of the person’s question. And if it’s not the latter, what’s the point of the precise, useless comment?


Cody’s sunflower lab

Cody’s Lab is one of my favourite science YouTube channels. He’s a personable and talented chemist in rural Utah who makes and refines all manner of materials in his home lab. His most famous videos revolve around extracting precious metals, and smelting ore using nothing more than desktop furnaces and crucibles.

The other reason I love his videos is because they comes across as honest and personal. They’re not overproduced with background music and thirty cuts a minute, it’s just a man and his tools. Heavens. It’s perfect for chilling to on the couch in the evenings, while still learning something fun.

Watch Cody make charcoal out of sunflowers

Since May this year he’s been making charcoal out of various materials, so I was keen to catch up on his wild sunflower episode he released last week. It was fascinating, but what I wasn’t expecting was getting a great new desktop background out of it at the end!


Using brew cask search

Happy Sunday! I’ve switched to pkgsrc on most of my Macs, but I still need Homebrew on one machine. The one advantage of Homebrew is you can use Cask to install graphical applications.

The thing to remember is, unlike pkg or apt-get, you must specify the cask command for these applications:

$ brew install keepassxc
==> Error: No available formula with the name "keepassxc" 
==> Found a cask named "keepassxc" instead. Try
==>    brew cask install keepassxc

Except for search, which they depracated and removed:

$ brew cask search See also "man brew-cask"
==> Error: Unknown Cask command: search

I understand the technical reasons why, but it’s not great for usability.


Replacing the phone

I’m still on an iPhone 8, and hopefully will be for a long time. Newer or competitor phones, besides their better cameras and batteries that actually hold sufficient charge for a day, don’t offer anything more for me than what this one does. And in some ways it’s better: it doesn’t have a screen inclusion, it has an LCD instead of an OLED, and it’s smaller.

This isn’t an argument against consumerism; a far better one could be made. For me it’s the fact I’ve come to resent this device, and therefore don’t want to spend money on it. It demands my attention with notifications, it’s a constant source of negative reinforcement, it’s a distraction, it’s invasive. It’s a delivery mechanism for unpalatable things.

For all my arguments about minimalism, decluttering, and Alton Brown multi-toolism, I’m thinking I need to decouple functions from this if I want to return a sense of joy to my day. This will invariably require me to carry more things, but I think I’ll be healthier for it.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Learning that my day doesn’t need constant distractions and electronic stimuli in the first place. I’m not there yet.

  • My Kindle for books, everywhere. I use it to read in bed, but maybe my morning commute would be less stressful if I had a purpose built device that can’t have notifications slide over the text I’m reading. Like a real book, only lighter and easier to hold on peak hour trains.

  • A fun, portable camera with Wi-Fi that’s always with me. The phone is decent, but I need to replace the short dopamine hit of adding to Instagram with longer-term album creation and curation. I’ve got a few self-hosted ideas for Clara and I to start using which I think could be fun. This is why I’m leaning towards the Ricoh GR III.

  • Desktop computers for websites and services that have crept into the phone over the years. I don’t need to check how my ETFs are performing this second, or push notifications for my personal email.

  • I used to listen to podcasts on an old iPod, but I’ve become enamoured with being able to download them on the phone as they come out. This might stick on the phone for now.

  • My favourite Fate/Grand Order mobile game is equally tricky, because it needs connectivity and either iOS or Android. I envy people who’s favourite games are tied to a Nintendo Switch or something. Maybe it needs its own dedicated iPod Touch or something.

Having collated those, I’m starting to think a better question would be what the phone is essential for, rather than trying to start with everything and peel stuff off.


16-inch MacBook Pro

I’m relieved the 16-inch MacBook Pro now exists. I wrote in February:

I’ll almost certainly be wrong about this, but I don’t think beefing up a laptop to let it dissipate more heat sounds like Apple. They’d rather sacrifice performance to achieve the best battery life, weight, and thinness. Whether you and I think that’s a good idea is another story.

And:

I’d give up a performance boost for a usable keyboard, mind. I’ve been using this 13” work MacBook Pro for a few months and I’m seriously contemplating carrying an external keyboard around to overcome the dull throbbing in my knuckles and finger joints. The butterfly key mechanism isn’t as much a bad keyboard as it is user hostile.

I wrote this back in May about the then-new 2019 MacBook Pros:

This isn’t the redesign people with keyboard issues were asking for. The user-hostile bufferfly mechanism has fundamental durability and ergonomic issues inherent in its design. Warranty programmes address the symptoms but not the cause; they just need to be replaced. And nobody has delivered a compelling use for the touchbar, not even Apple.

Apple has now shipped a 16-inch MacBook Pro. I summarised it on The Twitters:

Just saw 16-inch MBP specs. Still has useless touch bar, but inverted T-arrows, scissor keys, escape key, 100W battery!

Still think a 15-inch ThinkPad with FreeBSD will be my next personal workstation, but glad to see Apple (finally) responding to years of frustration.

I’m glad I was wrong about the first point above about cooling! Now they just need to bring back the MagSave and an SD card reader, and they’ll be almost back to where they were in 2015 in terms of utility and usability.


Out of stock, now with free shipping

A certain retail site shows these under an item I’m watching:

eBay note: This item is out of stock

eBay note: 12% off + free postage – hurry! Your watched item is now on sale with free postage.

Out of stock, 12% off, and free postage, with free postage! How much will that cost though? Can I customise my out of stock item, or will that impact my free postage with free postage and 12% off the item that’s out of stock?