Being worthy of social security

Do you assess people’s worthiness of being rescued from a burning building? Whether you call the fire department, try to find water, or risk your own life to brave the flames, people with empathy and a concience will be compelled to assist.

It sounds so obvious. Yet turn the coversation to social security, and suddenly the press want to demonise recipents on the basis that they’re slack, lazy, and unmotivated. We’re asked why our hard-earned tax dollars should fund people who only sit on their couch and contribute nothing to society. But people who stash trillions in offshore accounts to avoid tax are just using legal loopholes, dontchaknow?

The alternatives are—conveniently—never mentioned: homelessness, broken families, crime, malnutrition, death. Our entire society is build around cold calculations like this, and prendending we don’t.

I was watching Simon Sinek do a talk about management, and he said something that’s stuck in my head since:

Empathy is about the concern for that human being, not just their output. [..] Maybe they’ve had a hard day, maybe they’re just a bastard! We don’t know.

We can talk about how unemployment will never be 0%, or how disabilities and sickness can affect job performance and prospects. But that falls into that basic trap: we’re judging people based on their economic output, not out of concern or empathy for their well being.

We’re told that we can’t help people, or they won’t be motivated to work. Leave aside how people are supposed to go to a job interview without clean clothes, or apply for a loan without an address, or attend classes if they can’t eat: do we really think whipping people to improve morale actually works? Advocates for this need to just come clean and admit it: it’s entirely punitive.

I’ve only mentioned this once in fifteen years here, but I was a full-blown hikikomori for at least half a year after my mum died. I lost all motivation to work, study, or see people. It was soul-crushing; I felt like I was worthless. It took a lot of personal reflection and gentle patience from people who cared about me to coax me back to reality. Most people aren’t so lucky, and the unemployed are somehow grappling with bills, commitments, and fear on top of this. And with Covid uncertainty too!? I can’t begin to imagine how they do it; which is just how the press wants it. How it needs it to sell this bullshit, zero-sum game.

We have no idea how people got to where they are. Instead, we’ve been cynically conditioned to accept that the punishment for “laziness” is death. Because make no mistake, that is what the alternative is. And I don’t accept it. Nobody deserves to starve.

I also don’t buy the argument that we can’t afford to give people dignity, shelter, and food. Of course we do; it’s all about priorities.


I sit on the balcony most days to do work. It makes the most sense when living in a studio apartment; balancing the need for boundaries, and not wanting to interfere in Clara’s own video conferences and meetings. It also gives back a bit of the vitamin D I miss from not commuting, and the fresh air helps.

It’s also helped in some unexpected ways. I didn’t realise how much I depend on being able to look elsewhere from a computer screen for inspiration and what I call microbreaks. They’re those moments in time between reading each email, or while on an audio call, or when you’ve paused writing to think of the right word or phrase. They can last anywhere from a few seconds, to a minute or two. They’re also generally unplanned, but are welcome each time.

Having a balcony is great for these microbreaks. Even six floors up, a dad and his kid caught my eye and waved up at me as they walked out of reception. That wouldn’t have happened if I were staring blankly at my computer screen.

I’ve also been told they’re useful for staving off myopia by giving your eyes some exercise.

People asking about FreeBSD licencing

I saw a bash discussion on the FreeBSD forums a few months ago:

It just perplexes me, because [the GPL is] one of the first things I’ve learned about in FreeBSD (probably before I ever installed and used it), and I always come across why it’s not in base.

I don’t think anyone is stupid for not knowing that; I don’t understand how someone can go so long, without knowing it. It’s like someone smart, who didn’t do their homework/research for a long time. Newcomers, however, shouldn’t be expected to know it. I’m going to leave it at that.

I can empathise, to an extent. FreeBSD’s simple, transparent licencing is one of its broad appeals, and is generally one of the first points raised in BSD versus [GNU/]Linux discussions. FreeBSD’s removal of GCC made headlines for months, as just one example. Requests for GPL-encumbered software in base must also grate after reading so many of them.

But it still shouldn’t come as a surprise that some FreeBSD users aren’t familiar with its licencing. FreeBSD is widely recommended for reasons beyond this, from its documentation, community, ease with which its kernel and world can be rebuilt and reproduced, mature tooling, jail and dtrace infrastructure, thorough ZFS integration, networking performance, stability, reasonable init system, BSD *nix heritage, mascot, and more.

FreeBSD and the Foundation, like the other BSD projects, don’t have massive marketing or PR departments like Linux does to keep it at the forefront of people’s minds. I’d guess most BSD users come from recommendations, either word-of-mouth or reading. Licencing is but one of the advantageous angles, which could be easily misunderstood or overlooked coming from GNU/Linux; even from people who’ve used it for a while. I know, I seem to have the conversations weekly.

Which leads us back to the gentleman’s first observation:

It just perplexes me [..] I always come across why [the GPL is] not in base.

We can blame users to RTFM to an extent, but this recurring misunderstanding should also be telling us something in neon lights. The Free Software Foundation’s advocacy sets so much of the tone in the free/open source software community, and those of us on the BSD/ISC/MIT side are demonstrably not providing effective counterpoints. In the paraphrased words of John Siracusa, being technically accurate is necessary, but not sufficient.

Maybe the FreeBSD homepage needs to communicate the licence advantages better, as well as the relationship with the GPL in ports and base. Explain why GPL free software is good, but that unencumbered software is better and necessary, especially for projects like FreeBSD.

It’s 20:10 2020-10-20 (AEDT)

I don’t have anything specific to mark this momentous occasion, so I thought I’d take this moment of serendipity to look through my phone photos from today:

Anyone have an idea what this is? This isn’t a trivia question, I am genuinely at a loss. A photo taken at a table after I thought the laggy iOS 13 camera app had been dismissed? A representation of Venetian cloud formations?

Band names in console output

The coffee hadn’t taken effect when I tried doing this:

$ cd ./
==> oksh: cd: bad substitution

Ladies and gentleman, it’s Bad Substitution with their new hit, “Out of Bounds”. It’s Savage Garden with a bit of Lewburger.

I’m at the point in my life where I hear songs when I hear error messages, then wonder in which dream I first heard it. Is that concerning?

How my latest Twitter break is going

Pretty well, appreciate you asking! How are you?

I’ve been off Twitter for about a week now. I’ve have an account on it for longer than most, and have made long-lasting friendships with people on it. I’ve even started reconnecting with people from years past which I treasure. I call this Good Twitter, and want to see it preserved somehow.

On the other side, Twitter is wire service. I could tell that seeing the minute-by-minute analysis of every despot and policy left me with a contradictory mix of dread and the urge to consume more, especially first thing in the morning where my emotional state and attitude for the whole day is so often informed. Is this what smoking feels like?

My old man quipped that things aren’t any worse now than before, it’s just social media percolates on issues and bubbles them to the surface more than curated news media ever did. There’s probably some truth to that, though I think it’s as ripe for abuse; albeit in a different form.

I’ll probably be back for my fix in the next week or so, but I’m already thinking what filters I’ll add this time around. I want to be informed, but being anxious and angry also isn’t helpful. The fact my first instinct was to say fix above suggests this is still an unhealthy relationship. No wonder I retreat to work projects, this blog, and remote Minecraft islands.

Minecraft; and on FreeBSD!

Clara and I have been playing this newfangled game called Minecraft. Just like Superliminal which I have a draft post about, we jumped in after watching the Hololive EN crew play it, and see all the cool stuff they’d build together.

(As an aside, I'm finally seeing the appeal of video game streamers. They do wonders to reduce the barrier to entry for games by giving you an introduction, and seeing them play in real time is better than any review. I'm also self-aware enough to realise that I'm saying this on a review, whoops).


In one of the biggest collective cases of I told you so, Minecraft is just as fascinating, addictive, and fun as everyone has said for the last decade. It marries the aesthetic of Commander Keen and the creative freedom and resource management of SimCity—my two favourite games of all time—into an open-world simulation you can explore. It’s terrifyingly well-suited to my tastes.

You mine to find resources and uncover the beautiful, procedurally-generate caverns with flowing water and lava. You build your own houses, tunnels, bridges, boats, and powered railways. You craft clothes and glass, smelt and polish materials, and trade with villagers. You even encounter creatures, some of whom are even happy to see you. And the sunsets are quite pretty.

I imagine that in an alternative universe where Maxis wasn’t bought by EA, the company came out with Cities Skylines and Minecraft. It imbues the same open-ended spirit of those games: it’s a gigantic, multi-levelled puzzle without a pre-defined ending or path you have to follow. This is what computing was supposed to be!

Sunset over my little island

Clara and I have already learned a lot in this last week. We were separated while running away from monsters and had to make our own makeshift shelters in disparate places, wondering if we’d ever see each other again. Now I’m in the process of building an MTR tunnel between the two with the F3 coordinates and a compass, and she’s floating away to explore and fill in more of our maps.

This shows how green I was, but I didn’t even realise the original Minecraft ran on Java, and the FreeBSD Foundation—for which I’m a proud regular donor—published an excellent getting stared guide. Thanks to Jonathan Price and the committers for maintaining the minecraft-server port, it was unreasonably easy.

There’s also always someone who comments on posts like this saying that I’ve offended their delicate sensibilities having only just discovered something everyone has known about for years. Let’s just cut that feedback loop at the source and pretend you already sent it: that way you retain your smug satisfaction and I don’t have to read it. Better yet, spend the effort paying Minecraft!

OLED-sensitive people left out from the iPhone 12

The iPhone 12 is the first model in the phone’s history not to ship with an LCD option. This small detail has been lost in the regular fray of frantic iPhone 12 coverage, but it’s a big deal for those of us photosensitive to OLED screens.

If you haven’t seen my earlier posts about this, OLED screens flicker uncomfortably for some of us, especially in low light and when being moved. This is amplified when holding a phone that literally moves in your field of vision as a function of its regular operation. The visual sensation can cause headaches even after a short time; I get them because I find focusing difficult, which irritates my eyes and mimics the unsettling colour shimmer I get at the onset of a migraine.

The iPhone X, XS, and 11 shipped with LCDs on their low-end models, which I attributed to Apple acknowledging this health issue for a subset of their customers. It also helped them differentiate the product line by selling the OLED’s bolder colours and better contrast as premium features to people with normal peepers.

The iPhone 11 is still being sold, but the 12 signals the end of the line for LCDs in their mainstream phones. I can see why we’re unimportant in a business sense, but it still makes me a bit sad.

It seems Apple’s answer for us now is the iPhone SE, the current model of which still ships with an LCD. This works for me, as it’s the same size as my current iPhone 8, and weighs less than the house bricks of the larger models. It’s also cheaper by Apple standards, and still has Touch ID which I prefer because it can be unlocked as I take it out of my pocket. But I can see—hah!—how mobile enthusiasts who want the latest camera optics and goodies would be disappointed that they’re locked out now.

I’m also keeping an eye—hah!—out for Android product lines that still feature LCDs as escape plan, should Apple abandon LCDs entirely. Android has always been a basketcase, but at least it has multiple vendors going for it. I’ve always been partial to mobile Sony hardware going back to the Clié; is there a modern LCD Xperia? Or I wonder if there’s a nice Blackberry-style one?

That Outlook for Mac sloth

I’ve been giving Electron a lot of justifiable flack recently, but that’s not to say native desktop software can’t also feel like you’re trudging through molasses.

The one that continues to amaze me is Outlook for Mac, which for $REASONS I still have to use in a specific capacity. Typing a new email is usually tolerable, but sometimes it can take upwards of half a second or more for each character to appear. I feel as though I need mosh for email, which is just silly.

Insert obligatory comment about how modern software is expected to do more, but I can’t help remembering how much smoother Eudora, Apple Mail, and Mozilla Mail/Thunderbird felt with orders of magnitude less memory and CPU time than what Outlook has here. My Thunderbird install with two decades of mailing list messages and personal email still manages to index and run just fine with no noticeable performance impact when editing mail. Even Microsoft’s own Entourage back in the day felt more performant.

And that’s the rub. In the days of scarce system resources, developers seemed to grok that any real-time actions engaged by an operator needed to be fast; or at least, appear fast. We perceive graphical performance issues above all else, which is another reason why the compromises Electron apps introduce are such a monumental step backwards. If it takes indexing mail longer—I’m just hypothesising that’s what causes Outlook to crawl—that’s more tolerable if the UI itself is responsive.

The dream would be to go back to (Re-)(Al)Pine for mail, which just leaves the open question about shared Exchange calendars. Are there third party GUI clients that can handle these well, ideally for macOS and/or *nix desktops? I’d pay good money for them not to have to see Outlook again.

The ultimate 2020 conspiracy theory

I’d had inkings of this already, but it took someone else writing it so plainly and beautifully:

My conspiracy theory is that time travel IS real and someone keeps trying to fix 2020 by changing something. But every time they do, they unwittingly make it worse.

From InfoSec’s very own Alyssa Miller, via my sister. I’ve taken a Twitter break but this was too good not to share.

Now Captchas are just messing with me

That’s a long traffic light below. And as usual, it overflows slightly into another square. Are we supposed to click that one as well? What about the pedestrian light? Nobody knows.

Also, does anyone get the distinct impression we’re training algorithms for self-driving cars? Why else would these verification tools this obsessed with traffic lights? I expect we’ll be asked to check signs next.

One small bit of fun I’ve been having is also intentionally selecting squares that don’t contain the item in question. I’ve been surprised how often it still lets me through. Take that outlier!

Missing music

Today’s Music Monday is more of a commentary post. Pardon, a commentary “piece”. I think I just gagged a bit!

I’ve talked about my disconnection from music on the show a bunch of times. Music was hugely important to my parents growing up, which they passed on to me in spades and other horticultural instruments loaded with tapes. But for the last half a decade or so I’ve listened to so much less of it, and found difficult to dive back in again.

Australian musician and comedian Steven Oliver wrote a great article in a recent Big Issue, emphasis added:

Music is a powerful thing. We have songs that represent our footy clubs, our political ideologies and even our nations. People sing praises to their gods. We have a song to sing for our birthdays, and we use songs to sell products. Yet despite being inundated with songs from everywhere about everything, a few years back I found myself missing music. I know, right? How could I live in a world that is so saturated with songs, and be missing it?

This doesn’t so much hit the nail on the head, as much as it smashes it repeatedly into billions of tiny splinters, like so many failed self tapping screws. That was for you Jim! Turns out I was missing music too, in part due to being inundated with it from a sea of open-ended streaming services and its ubiquity in public places. Music is disposable now.

Dick Clark said music is the soundtrack of our lives. I think it’s evolved into the background music of our lives. It’s not something to be enjoyed as an art form in its own right, it’s what you play when doing something else. That includes everything from walking through food courts with their tinny speakers, to watching over-produced YouTube videos. Music is just there to fill silence.

This has even affected how music is written. Writers always wanted to create catchy tunes, but today’s pop music is specifically engineered with autotune and looping hooks to make them stand out as much as possible in a sea of other fleeting moments and algorithmically-determined playlists. Melody has been replaced with tone colour and heavy beats that verge on the militaristic. I don’t hate music from the last decade, as much as I’m just bored with it.

And I don’t even blame musicians for doing this. The music industry’s response to peer-to-peer downloading was streaming services, a business model in which musicians had no say. It’s fine if you’re a major act, but otherwise you’re getting a pittance. I find it hard to see this as the victory over “piracy” that so many are willing to say.

Merging migrated Git repos

I was moving some more repositories off GitHub this afternoon. You’d have to disappear into the mountains if you refused to use things made by anyone you didn’t 100% agree with, but the effort to change easily passes the threshold considering the ghastly things they’re proud to take money to host.

Turns out I’d already migrated some repos a few months earlier, and forgot to change the origin URL. I’d still been committing changes to GitHub and didn’t notice. Whoops!

So now I had an updated repo on GitHub, and stale repo at my target that I wanted to use. How to merge the changes on the GitHub version back into the target? Smar had the perfect answer for this use case:

$ git clone $TARGET_REPO_URL
$ git fetch $GITHUB_REPO_URL master:merging
$ git merge --allow-unrelated-histories merging
$ git commit

Some of this is going to my GitLab for now while I finish building my new FreeBSD services box. I might be setting up an OrionVM VM with jails for WebDAV/CalDAV, Git, Subversion, and Minecraft. But you didn’t read that last one yet.

Mac Dock persisting in Full Screen mode

My new-ish 16-inch MacBook Pro has this bizarre UI quirk where the Dock will persist on the screen even when entering Full Screen mode. This is especially problematic when you align it to the correct, left-side of your screen, because it’s guaranteed to have text on it:

Force-quitting the Dock stops this happening:

$ killall Dock

But the behaviour returns after a restart. Hopefully the next Catalina update resolves this, or I may resort to clearing my user account and starting again… it’s that annoying.

Insert obligatory comment that the NeXTSTEP/OPENSTEP dock was better than the Mac one, despite Apple having had two decades to fix and improve it. Stacks are about all the features I can think of that Apple have added in this entire time.

I should do a FreeBSD GNUstep follow-up post at some point.

Rhett on opening coconuts

From the Coconut Opening Kit episode of Good Mythical More:

(Rhett punching a hole in a coconut).
Rhett: I've got to have a new face. Because it's tropical, people are listening to music, people are playing vollyeball with strangers.
I've got to learn how to smile and work at the same time.
Rhett punching a hole in a coconut... with a grin).

Homeless people in media

I’m not sure if this is a cultural thing, but I’m struck with how cavalier so much American media treats the homeless. News reports, podcasts, and YouTube channels seemingly do nothing to conceal their contempt or indifference, even shows with hosts I otherwise respect. They’re discussed in subhuman terms, as you would an animal or a pest to be avoided with their acrid smells and dangerous outbursts. It’s even the source of jokes.

Whenever I see this I ask… why are they homeless? Why isn’t anyone helping them? And, most of all, why aren’t they even talking about it?

I don’t want to assume it’s because people don’t care, or that they want to sweep it under the rug. Maybe for some people it is, but surely not those who otherwise live ethical, honest lives. It could be anything from projection to bad personal experiences.

I’m probably missing some context here, but all I could think of was that it’s become so normalised, people unintentionally tune it out as a concern. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism; people don’t want to confront it given how they’re but a few paycheques away from the same fate, or an expensive hospital visit in a country without universal healthcare. Or at the top end of town, higher income earners don’t want to think about the opportunity cost of their latest tax cut, and for whom that pittance could have represented a second chance at life.

As for jokes, dark humour lets us discuss taboo subjects by shining a light and being candid and honest. It makes us uncomfortable, but that’s the point.

Still, I can’t help but cringe when someone on a show tallies the number of homeless people hunkering in a warm train carriage, without any further comment. Where’s the empathy? Even a remark that they feel for them? I’d bet most, if not all of them riding on those plastic seats for days at a time wouldn’t be there by choice.

We have enough food in the world to fill every tummy, enough housing to shelter everyone, and enough resources to provide mental health services to those doing it tough. Every single homeless person is someone society has failed. The least we can do—literally—is offer them some respect.

Some mid-spring Sydney fog

Last weekend felt like summer, but it got chilly and foggy again this week. Nothing like Karl, but still adds an air of mystery. By which I mean water vapour.

Re-containerising VP9 from webm to MP4

Recently I learned that VP9 video can be re-containerised to something other than webm, without re-encoding the original video and/or audio. This is useful for importing into tools that support the VP9 codec, but not the webm container.

Recent versions of ffmpeg(1) have a -c copy shorthand for instructing the audio and video encoders to just copy the source:

$ ffmpeg -i example.webm -c copy example.mp4

Note that you’ll get an error if you try to output to a mov container, as I’ve seen plenty of bloggers and forum posts erroneously suggest:

[mov @ 0xHEX] vp9 only supported in MP4

ffmpeg can also re-containerise into my preferred Matroska, which I’ve also since learned is the format on which webm is based:

$ ffmpeg -i example.webm -c copy example.mkv  

Tools like DaVinci Resolve can now import your VP9 video, albeit with variable results. You may need to re-encode entirely if the output is garbled.

$ ffmpeg -i example.webm example.h264.mp4

Tech journalism’s either/or fallacy

The Stanford Digital Economy Lab tweeted this by Sinan Aral:

Breaking up Facebook will not solve any of the market failures of big tech. We need social network portability, data portability, and social network portability. We need structural reform. Competition is key.

I have a lot of time Sinan, especially his commentary about social media’s impact on our mental health in The Hype Machine. He echoed what I’ve been saying here for years: we need to get back in control of our data, and give us agency over its use.

Here comes the but… his Facebook point is a fallacy. Politicians and journalists routinely deflect by saying we should only be attacking causes. It sounds superficially logical, but there’s a reason we also treat symptoms.

I don’t see why we can’t break up abuse companies, and reform the system. I agree just doing the former will only result in another hydra taking its place, but that’s where the reforms he advocates for come in. Letting the foxes run the hen house has left us with nothing but feathers thus far.

The Scorpions: Wind of Change

Last Saturday marked the thirtieth anniversary of German reunification, and the end of the first Cold War. So I thought it was only fitting to share my dad’s favourite tune of all time to mark the occasion.

Play Scorpions - Wind Of Change (Official Music Video)

What a fucking powerful song. And yet I fear the West has only become more authoritarian to fill the void.