A simple bar of soap

Happy Sunday! Soap. It’s a access protocol; it’s used as an industrial lubricant; and some of us even use it for washing hands. It’s to our collective benefit that it’s so ubiquitous and widely used, save for one unfortunate twist.

Clara and I have always erred on the side of being clean freaks, but it wasn’t until Covid that we really started taking stock of how much soap we use in a given month. Not necessarily in cost or supermarket trips, but in the volume of empty plastic bottles it generated.

I try to do the right thing when it comes to rubbish, so I made it a habit of removing the pump spout and thoroughly washing the container so it could be recycled. But then I started taking a closer look at the complicated mechanisms and mixes of plastic, and wondering just how feasible recycling this contraption was. If recycling is at all complicated by something, you know it’s been thrown away instead. I thought back to all the bottles I’ve bought over the years and blanched.

Seeking a solution (heh) to this problem, Clara and I first went back to the supermarket to check out refills instead of buying new pump packs each time. They exist, but come in plastic bottles themselves. It reduces the amount the waste by refilling three to four bottles without shipping more of those non-recyclable pump mechanisms. But the irony wasn’t lost on us that it’s still more plastic.

Turns out, there’s been a solution available this whole time. Bars of soap are cheap, easy to use, and often come in little cardboard boxes. We bought a cute little pair of draining soap dishes from Muji, and have been using a specific moisturising soap on our hands and bodies ever since.

There’s something satisfying, and almost meditative, about working up a bar of soap into a lather in your hands. You’re not pushing a button and moving on, you’re taking deliberate time out to take care of yourself. It’s almost like working clay, only the end result is a lowered risk of getting sick.

Maybe it’s another manifestation of my need for more tactile things of late, like LPs and cassettes for music. Only this one is useful!

I’m not sure that UNIX won

I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately proclaiming that UNIX won, and I’m on the fence about whether that’s true.

Apple’s Darwin underpinnings aside, most of these articles discuss Linux, and how it powers everything from clouds and virtual machines to embedded devices and phones. Even Microsoft, the company formerly chaired by a classy gentleman claiming Linux was a malignant cancer and funded dubious TCO research, now has the backwards-named Windows Subsystem for Linux.

Except, GNU is not UNIX. Real UNIX has been on the wane for years, most spectacularly with the buyout of Sun Microsystems and the subsequent close-sourcing and snuffing out of Solaris. SGI’s IRIX was discontinued two decades ago. SCO and its various phoenixes can’t be pushing too many new UnixWares and OpenServers. The likes of IBM AIX and HP-UX are relegated to backroom duties, with Tux taking centre stage by their vendors. And who can forget Xenix.

This leaves Linux, a system Dennis Ritchie described in 1999 as “draw[ing] so strongly on the basis that UNIX provided”. My worry is Linux and the community around it have strayed further from UNIX for a long time since, to the point where systemd discussions include comments like this with hundreds of upvotes:

People see Linux as a UNIX-like operating system. This is what it originally was, but it’s now outgrowing that legacy. And this upsets some people.

This attitude is perhaps more telling than the OP intended.

My first industrial and educational UNIX experiences were with SunOS. These systems had their own frustrating limitations compared to what I could do on my FreeBSD and Red Hat Linux boxen at home at the time, but part of using them was learning about UNIX. Even with the BSDs, I remember reading that great quote that learning FreeBSD made the gentleman a better Linux user. There’s value in understanding why specific decisions were made, and why we caution against others.

As the oft-quoted saying goes, those who don’t understand UNIX are condemned to reinvent it, poorly. Unfortunately for us, there are now influential people in the industry for whom Linux their only UNIX or UNIX-like experience. Some, like the OP above, see UNIX as a vestige.

The inevitable result of this is a narrowly-focused monoculture. Software is increasingly assuming Linux, and the quaint ideas of POSIX compliance and portability are seen as time-wasting anachronisms. Some of the funnier Freudian slips in systemd bug reports stem from fundamental misunderstandings of UNIX, and the indifference of the developers to it. This should concern you if you understand and value UNIX development philosophies and system design.

I’m relieved Linux is in widespread use; as FreeBSD and macOS users we benefit from its ecosystem and mindshare. Make no mistake, had Microsoft got their way we’d all be running Windows Server today and their about-face with Linux would not have happened. You’re also free to think traditional UNIX is antiquated and Linux is the future. Either way, UNIX winning is only a half-truth; at best it was supplanted by an OS that once resembled it more in design, philosophy, and attitudes than it does now.

What’s a manufear?

I wrote this on a post yesterday about annoying TV tropes:

It’d also get me that they’d bring the cup to their mouth to drink without looking at it. Maybe some people are able to pull off this manufear without making a mess, but I sure can’t. It looks unnatural and weird.

You know what else looks unnatural and weird? Manufear! What is that word? What does it mean? Or more to the point, where did it come from? I assumed I wrote the word maneuver, but this clearly isn’t. My brain must have been in a weird place when I typed that out.

I do like it though. It sounds like an abbreviation of manufactured fear. Like a TV actor effortlessly drinking coffee from an empty cup.

When your customers want your service down

There’s a specific online video conferencing system that has had a rough time with reliability over the last year when compared to other platforms. It might start with M and end with icrosoft Teams. I consider it the classic Windows experience, only with outages in lieu of blue screens, broken updates, and corrupted FAT disks.

But there’s been an interesting phenomena associated with these downtime reports. People clamour on their support Twitter account to ask for the service to remain down for longer. For each person asking tongue-in-cheek, there’s certainly someone asking seriously, or are delighted and relieved that the service is down.

Think of how many other systems people buy that they don’t want working. Granted the adage states that those who choose and buy enterprise software are rarely the ones who are subjected to its daily use, but it’s a grim assessment of people’s feelings!

I wrote last November about video conferencing fatigue. There’s a growing body of evidence that such systems take more cognitive load than physical interaction, text-based chat, and phone calls.

Some video conferencing is useful, but it’s applied too broadly for people’s mental well-being and productivity. Managers aren’t entirely to blame here; COVID caught us by surprise, and software companies have billed them as a panacea for remote work, which they absolutely are not.

I think this attitude towards Teams also has an element of let me do my job. I’m lucky that I work at a company without micro-managers, but I’m sure there are others who’d rather do their work than have to waste time checking in with a manager to discuss the tasks they’re not doing because their energy is being spent on dozens of video calls.

This period of time we’re living through now will be analysed for decades. I’ll be interested to see where psychology takes us in understanding these things. Video conferencing software brought us closer together when we had to be far apart, but they bubbled up so much more to the surface. I suspect a large percentage of the population will be glad to be rid of it once normalcy—if and when that happens—eventuates.

Your most annoying things about TV

Rachel Obordo compiled a fun list of people’s frustrations about TV shows, and the first one was:

Empty coffee cups. You can tell from the way people hold them that there’s no liquid in them, never mind hot coffee – surely they could at least fill them with water?

Many, many times this! It’d also get me that they’d bring the cup to their mouth to drink without looking at it. Maybe some people are able to pull off this manufear without making a mess, but I sure can’t. It looks unnatural and weird.

And subtitles:

Please complain about bad subtitles as often as you can. I translate STs for a living. Sometimes my work is really good. Sometimes less so, when I am asked to translate 1200 STs overnight, for a Chinese/Korean/Spanish etc video and with the help of an English ST file that is often even less intelligible than the Chinese/Korean/Spanish etc audio. BaZu007

Screenshot from Higehiro, text reading: What the hell?

Funnily enough, the best subtitles I’ve ever seen were from anime fansub communities, who were doing it for free. Modern anime distribution is still pretty good, but none go into that same level of detail, complete with live footnotes and avoiding covering up something important on-screen. Some would even translate signs.

My other peeve was the fact that phones always ring at a convenient moment when people aren’t talking. Millennials like me hate phone calls precicely because they’re such a disruptive incursion.

Coffee shop chats

I hear so many random things in this specific coffee shop.

My mortgage broker is telling me to chill, it’s fine, everything is okay. Yeah nah, if everything is chill, I wouldn’t be so stressed out!

Someone else was talking about smart speakers:

I hear you [heh! –ed] but don’t like that it listens to me.

Another person who’s in tune with their surroundings:

I see a red light and go aaaaaaaa!

And some life advice disguised as sports discussion:

Why would I bet on a losing team?

Other factors behind unhelpful comparison sites

Josh Nunn of The Geekorium had some feedback on my post about the two kinds of comparison sites:

I wonder if the reason there are fewer experts putting out their opinions on software and doing these comparisons is in part because there’s no incentive. Comparing nginx to Varnish you’re just opening yourself up to arguments, vitriol, and legions of fanboys descending on your writing to pick it apart for not choosing their favourite. And unless you’re an expert, what you say is just going to be ridiculed if you’re not 100% correct.

Rebecca Hales and Jonathan H. chimed in with similar thoughts. Chances are you’ve gone through the same thing if you’re reading this by daring to have an opinion based on experience and facts.

I hadn’t considered this angle at all. I had dismissed the second kind of unhelpful technical comparison site as “churnalism”:

These are written quickly and in bulk with barely a superficial understanding of the topic. They’ll mention software A, software B, then some form of in conclusion, both are good options. This isn’t helpful either.

I still think this applies to most mass-produced sites I read, but just as reasonable is the idea of people so jaded and exhausted from experience that they hedge their bets in an attempt to not be targeted. It’s a grim indictment of Internet culture if true.

I didn’t blog about BSD for years because I was burned out from Linux trolls; and before then, my Linux posts attracted Windows trolls. IT people are a fun bunch.

The spotted wood owl

I have an unofficial rule here that I share cute birds who makes it to Wikipedia’s featured picture of the day. This spotted wood owl was photographed by JJ Harrison in Pasir Ris Park in Singapore, no less!

Photo of a rather fetching Spotted Wood Owl in Pasir Ris Park in Singapore, by JJ Harrison.

From the Wikipedia article:

The spotted wood owl (Strix seloputo) is an owl of the earless owl genus, Strix. Its range is disjunct; it occurs in many regions surrounding Borneo, but not on that island itself.

Megaprojects video on submarine cables

Simon Whistler and his team do such a great job distilling disparate topics into 15-20 minute segments on his various YouTube channels. Megaprojects remains my favourite, though I’ve also been binging Sideprojects with Clara of an evening. Making topics interesting and approachable to a broad audience, especially with a bit of humour, is a skill I’ve yet to master after a decade and a half of blogging and speaking.

(Clara also has a thing for dapper men with English accents, and I’m sure it still kills her inside that I sound like a weird Australian who grew up overseas. But I digress)!

Play Undersea Communication Cables

I just finished their episode on submarine cables, and wanted to add a few points:

  • It’s true that cost and speed are the principle reasons for using cables over satellites for most workloads, but just as important is latency. Satellites and comms have improved from those awkward exchanges between correspondents on TV, but it will always be more variable than a dedicated, direct path of light.

  • Just as impressive as the physical effort to plan, lay, and maintain submarine cables are the standardised protocols that make them all work. I think it’s an underappreciated—and frankly beautiful—triumph of humanity that we can all agree on specific implementation details, regardless of location, business, or worldview.

  • Simon pontificated about a future where we may move on from cables. Satellite constellations may prove to get us part of the way there, but short of a breakthrough I think we’ll be using cables for the bulk of comms for many more decades. The Trekkie in me wants to say microwormholes and teleportation.

Rubenerd Show 414: The thingy stuff episode

Rubenerd Show 414

Podcast: Play in new window | Download

14:00 – A discussion about how my fervour for independent writing hasn’t translated into improving podcast imposter syndrome! Also RSS, distribution, how social networks have convinced people to only write for them, and related ruminations. Thanks for your patience while I produced this one :).

Recorded in Sydney, Australia. Licence for this track: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0. Attribution: Ruben Schade.

Released May 2021 on The Overnightscape Underground, an Internet talk radio channel focusing on a freeform monologue style, with diverse and fascinating hosts; this one notwithstanding. Hosted graciously by the Internet Archive.

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