Fate/Grand Order ServantFes 2020: Backups

It’s the fourth installment in our accidental series exploring the Servant Summer★Festival 2020 event in everyone’s favourite mobile game, Fate/Grand Order. It’ll also probably be one of the last, given Clara and I are about done with the story.

So far we’ve seen Jeanne Alter’s fear of glasses, dolphins and nicknames. Today she addresses concerns that these mobile game stories have been an irrelevely distraction on this blog, with a running commentary on data integrity.

and what's with those glasses, anyway!? you tryin' to be cute or something?
Teehee!
Teehee!
Teehee!

This wouldn’t have happened with OpenZFS and some snapshots.


NHK World-Japan on the Apple TV

NHK World-Japan logo

Clara and I only recently discovered the NHK World-Japan’s AppleTV application, but it’s beyond delightful. There are hundreds of free-to-air documentaries from architecture, art, engineering, food, railway journeys, and culture. Clara and I have been doing a lot of vicarious travel through it lately, and it’s really helped with cabin fever.

It reminded me of all those hours watching Japan Hour on Channel News Asia, which I still did till recently via a VPN on my Singaporean cloud server. Not that I’d condone or admit to that. Admit to what? Exactly.


Music Monday: Book-end, Happy-end, again

TVアニメ『ガイコツ書店員 本田さん』ED主題歌 「Book-end, Happy-end」 MV Fullsize/TECHNOBOYS PULCRAFT GREEN-FUND feat.高野 寛

Wait, haven’t we had this song for a Music Monday already? We sure have, back in 2018:

Everything about this is perfect. I loved the visual imagery, the shots of all the vintage electronic gear they’re using, the endless shots of Tokyo. I badly want to get back there as soon as humanly possible!

Back then, we couldn’t travel for lack of time. Now that we all physically can’t, let’s take the imagery instead.

For those who didn’t see it last time, this is the TECHNOBOYS PULCRAFT GREEN-FUND, with Hiroshi Takano (centre-right above) providing his unique vocals.


Our current software and web slump

Marco Arment shared this article by Craig Mod back in June on the decline of desktop software and websites. Much of it was spend discussing the iPad for which I don’t have interest, but he absolutely hit the nail on the proverbial head with his other points.

On Catalyst

For arguments against Mac Catalyst, Apple’s cross-platform iOS / macOS framework, see the Twitter application. A small sample of issues (which may seem like nits but these details are important!):

  • choppy scrolling / scrolling at a rate different than the rest of the system
  • window resizing blanks out all content
  • elements like the “home” button stay highlighted (as if tabbed to) for no apparent reason

Most worrying: Catalyst may normalize a lack of craft and refinement. It’s important to remember that we had a solidly native-feeling Twitter client for macOS ten years ago. So this software problem was once solved, unsolved, and now re-solved in a worse way.

Oh Catalyst. You seemed inevitable, but we all pretended it wouldn’t be, for that small hope that it wouldn’t prevail!

You’d have thought people’s apathy for desktop Java, and Microsoft’s failed attempts with Metro would be cautionary enough tales against this. The only limited success I can think of here is the Chromebook, but its use cases is more constrained than the goals Apple have here. We can only hope it will continue to be refined over time.

On Electron

Electron makes it easier to develop cross-platform applications, but comes at the expense of an application feeling or functioning in a way you’d expect a native application to function. Almost always, these Electron applications are slower and more cumbersome than a native version.

I can understand why so many anti-patterns and poor design decisions exist online and on our desktops, but Electron is one of the few that makes me angry. This sorry excuse for a framework has done more to negate the last decade of accessibility progress, hardware efficiency gains, and battery improvements than any tech I can think of. Clara’s colleagues had them switch to Visual Studio Code from Sublime Text, and I can hear the pangs of frustration from here; to say nothing of the multiple chat clients we all have to run all day now too.

I understand the appeal for indie developers, but these are multi-billion dollar, listed companies choosing to producing these dumpster battery fires. So we should choose to avoid them where we can.

On the web in general

Twitter’s web site now loads (regardless of browser or operating system) in so many various layers and stages I never know if my internet connection is functioning properly or not. Twitter.com’s strange complexities also bring with it the ignoble award of being the only site to regularly crash Safari on my iPhone.

Newspaper sites deliver hundred megabyte or greater payloads filled with ad tech. Open nytimes.com in a Chrome tab and you’ll soon deplete a fresh MacBook battery.

I’m amazed at how many hundred—yes, hundred—elements that plugins like uBlock Origin block on source pages. This is one more argument for RSS readers and open APIs. If the modern web continues to slip into this, we can at least avoid directly interacting with it.

Conclusions

These issues all stem from a fundamental misalignment of priorities, and until we address them, nothing will change. We need to reward developers who write good software, and have nothing short of a rethink about how people are compensated online. Everything else we do will just kick the proverbial can down the road. That’s the third use of proverbial in this post, this sentence included.


Fate/Grand Order ServantFes 2020: Glasses

It’s the third installment in our accidental series exploring the Servant Summer★Festival 2020 event in everyone’s favourite mobile game, Fate/Grand Order. It’s the only mobile game I’ve ever been able to get into, most likely due to already being a Fate universe fan, and having an advanced predisposition to collectable card games.

So far we’ve seen Jeanne Alter’s fear of dolphins and nicknames. Today she confronts non-Alter Jeanne—this gets confusing sometimes—in a typical, overly-heated exchange about speculation equipment:

And what's with those glasses, anyway!? You tryin' to be cute or something?
Teehee!

I thought Clara’s glasses were extremely cute when I first met her; not that I’d admit publicly to that preference, or take screenshots from a summer event in a mobile game that also implied as such.

By contrast, have I mentioned just how bone-chillingly cold it’s been in Sydney in the last few days?! Tasmania has even had snow. Part of me wishes I was in working-from-home COVID mode in Cairns just so I could return to a semblence of my native habitat.

That right, huh?


Airgapped devices and networks

I can’t help noticing how the term airgapped has morphed over time, and it’s implied security and isolation has been eroded.

In my past life doing process control and SCADA, airgapped meant exactly what it sounds like: a physical space between two devices separated by air or another physical barrier. This wasn’t a security consideration like it is in IT—or at least, not primarily—it was usually the result of two devices or cables being physically or electrically incompatible, or to prevent serious problems with equipment if inadvertently connected. I’m talking about electrical fundamentals like connecting two discrete AC sources, or real-time networks with different protocols.

In IT we mostly discuss airgapped devices and networks as a security feature. A sensitive device deliberately not connected to the Internet would be a classic—and dare I say, increasingly and disturbingly rare—example. The term loses some of its literal meaning when we start talking about wireless networks, and there have been academic examples of using speakers to take control of airgapped devices. But it still ultimately refers to deliberately-isolated gear.

But now I’m starting to see the term employed in the industry for logically separated, as opposed to physical. I’ve seen devices connected over a VLAN, or a VPN, or a separate port on the same NIC, as being described as airgapped in proposals and architecture diagrams. This doesn’t pass mustard for me; a deliberate conflation of two English idioms because that’s exactly what these pseudo-airgapped devices are doing.

While I concede physical separation is no panacea, that airgapped devices can still be attacked in other ways, and VPNs/VLANs/etc are robust and proven, I think we’re losing the meaning of the term using it more broadly like this.


Feedback on audio magazines

Yesterday I brought up audio magazine as one of the early alternative terms to podcasting. Jim Kloss from the late Whole Wheat Radio had some feedback:

I liked ‘audio magazine’ better too - that’s the term I coined rather than ‘internet magazine’ - just sayin’. :-) And while the original ‘audio magazine’ wikipedia page no longer exists, there is a nod to that page.

I think audio magazine was my first ever Wikipedia page, from October 2005. You can see my original version in the Wikipedia edit archive, with all its spelling mistakes and run-on sentences:

Coined by Jim Kloss of Whole Wheat Radio, Audio Magazine is a proposed alternative phrase for podcasting. The term podcasting has recieved criticism in that it is misleading as it infers that the technology is only usable on Apple Computer’s proprietery MP3 player: the iPod; this argument has intensified since the launch of embedded podcasting support in iTunes. In reality virtually any RSS enabled devices with audio output capabilities can make use of podcasts, whether they be computers, MP3 players or other devices.

With hindsight I can see why didn’t match Wikipedia’s editing style or reference requirements. But fortunately unlike my equivalent one on New Time Radio, the admins converted this one into a disambiguation page. I’m still the last person to have edited it, back when I overhauled the Whole Wheat Radio article to rescue it from a specific Wikipedia admin who’s likeness should grace dictionary pages alongside the phrase “bad faith”.

I refer to my own silly show as a podcast now because people know what those are and how to use them. But as my own small act of defiance I’ve also tagged every show as an audio magazine from the very beginning, for what little search-engine juice it’s worth :).

Jim also raises another point that I’ve had a draft post about for more than a couple of years; perhaps his observation will get me off my proverbial arse and finish it!


On the function of Heisenberg compensators

A question posed to Michael Okuda, Star Trek’s technical advisor:

How do these Heisenberg compensators actually work?

His response, as quoted in h2g2:

They work just fine, thank you.


Trademarks disputes in tech

Trademark disputes and confusion have exited since they have; a tautological statement for which I couldn’t resist. But in the spirit of realising when I’ve been previously wrong about something, I’m here to explore the idea that there may be something to trademark antsiness in tech after all.

The term podcast was my first experience with this. Everyone I knew and respected in the tech and online media communities couldn’t stand the phrase when it came out in the mid 2000s. Frank Nora already had his New Time Radio moniker to describe downloadable online broadcasts. Jim Kloss famously used Internet Magazine at Whole Wheat Radio because he didn’t think the future only belonged to Apple. A former TechTV titan preferred netcast because it attributed the Internet as the enabling tech, like satellite radio.

(Incidently, this is the etymology behind the NetBSD name as well. I always thought it looked elegant compared to the other BSDs).

I used to think New Time Radio and Audio Magazine were more fun, clever, and relatable to a wider audience than podcast, but I’ll admit, deep down, I thought the association with Apple’s then-ubiquitous iPod was overblown. Despite what Apple’s legal team may have thought at the time, they didn’t invent the word pod. And besides, everyone knew they could download and listen to Ze Frank or Digital Flotsam wherever they wanted.

But just as I did with a new bottle of Sriracha Tabasco in a pasta dish, I grossly under-estimated the term’s impact. Years before podcasting became as cool and ubiquitous as it is now, I still fielded questions for my own silly show asking why they needed an Apple device to listen to it. I ended up linking to the BBC’s podcasting FAQ page where they took great pains to say it worked on your desktop, iRiver, flip phone, or anything else that supported MP3s.

Meanwhile GitHub was taking off as the Internet’s preferred code repository and collaboration platform. I still remember a lecturer at uni assuring us we didn’t need to use GitHub to use Git for our major assignment. I thought he was joking, but even afterwards we had group members who were confused. “GitHub is Git, right?” they all asked, before we decided on Subversion.

Another example is rsync.net. I recently noticed it among a vendor list on a client proposal. I thought they’d just listed the website for the indispensable file sync tool, but it referred to a commercial backup service. I realised my mistake, but how many other stakeholders were caught out too? Large companies can defend their trademarks, but I worry when I see the name of a free or open source tool being used in one. They may have the blessing of the tool’s creator—in some cases they may not have a choice—but it can introduce confusion, and the potential to assume that one endorses the other.

CentOS being Red Hat Enterprise Linux in all but name is one of the worst-kept secrets in the industry, so it’s clear it’s possible to build your own reputation and pedigree without piggy-backing off another title. I suppose that’s harder, though.


Wait, 7,000 posts?

There comes a time in one’s blogging adventures when a specific number of posts is reached. Technically this is not altogether an unusual occurrence; by definition a post will always be a specific number, unless it exists in some weird quantum state occupying several spaces at once. But upon ascribing pointless value, meaning, or significance to a specific integer, one can’t help but be excited having reached it.

I started blogging at the tail-end of 2004 when I was a teenager. Over the years, is a phrase with three words, and now we’re at 7,000 posts. This milestone wasn’t anticipated or planned for; it blissfully sailed past and was only realised upon noticing the footer of the site saying:

Page 1 of 700 → Older posts

With ten posts per page, this results in the number of posts for which this specific one is titled.

Compared to past pointless milestones, I like that this one arrived completely unannounced. I harbour a sufficiently-advanced state of cognitive dissonance that I think numerology is utterly meaningless, and yet I get excited about having made progress on a long-term project as indicated by a number. This should take a back seat to the quality of content produced over a given time period, but if that were the case I’d still probably be counting my posts in the single digits.

Which leads us to what I was writing on the seven-thousandth post itself. For so many reasons I could not have predicted it.

Whoa... Did you hear that? I think it might've been a dolphin.

(Screenshot from Fate/Grand Order, a mobile game by TypeMoon).

I like to think I write about meaningful things I find important or interesting, but I’m also happy that this time around it was something whimsical and fun. Given the current state of the world, I feel like we need more of it.