Feedback about Gemini and Gopher

Internet

On Monday I mulled the idea of starting a Gemini or Gopher server, and either hosting a version of this site on it, or starting something new.

Martin emailed with a suggestion for Gopher:

I very much doubt Gemini is going anywhere. Gopher has been around since forever and still has an active community. Please join us :)

Wouter from Brain Baking referred me to a post he wrote last year where he did exactly that. He recommends Agate, a simple Gemini server written in Rust. He also links to Sylvian Durand’s method for templating out Gemini pages in Hugo, the static site generator I use. Most importantly for me, he also talked through his mental process for deciding what to publish! In the end he decided it was a lot of extra boilerplate and work, similar to his recent post about metadata.

In terms of other people running dual or triple stacks, rjc also referred me to the Boston Diaries by Sean Conner, and Jonathan W. emailed saying he used to run a Gemini site before he moved on as Wouter did. I miss your writing Jonathan; though given how you were treated I don’t blame you for going offline.

I was originally leaning towards Gopher, but exploring Gemini in the Lagrange browser reminded me just how much I love it. Rather than boiling the ocean, I might try running my own server with some basic stuff on it first.


Jeff Geerling: Just say no

Thoughts

Jeff wrote a post yesterday about burnout, and the opening is a keeper:

Saying yes is easy—at first.

It makes you feel better. And it makes you feel like you can do anything! And the person you’re saying yes to also gets a happy feeling because you’re going to do something for them.

Saying no is hard. It’s an admission you can’t do something. And worse still, you’re disappointing someone else who wants you to say yes.

But here’s the thing: none of us is a god. We’re people. We have a certain amount of mental resources.

Some people are kind of crazy and can do a lot more than you or I can, but nobody can do it all. And sometimes you can burn the midnight candle for a little while, but you’re just building up debt. Every ‘Yes’ is a loan you have to pay off.


Maya Angelou on cynicism

Thoughts

I’ve seen a couple of variations of this:

A cynical young person is almost the saddest sight to see, because it means that he or she has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.


Travelling to Japan during post-Covid times

Travel

Japan is one of my favourite places in the world to visit, but the process has understandably changed since Covid. This is accurate as of November 2022, but also check with your airline and/or travel agency before flying.

Vaccinations

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a minimum of three Covid vaccinations are required. You’ll need to contact the health authority in your country for a record of your vaccinations. Australians can export an international vaccine cert from the Medicare site, and Singaporeans can log into HealthHub using your Singpass account. As with your hotel reservations and airline tickets, they’re worth printing just in case.

At least a week before arriving in Japan, it should be considered mandatory to register with Visit Japan Web. This new government site lets you pre-fill information for immigration and customs, similar to the ESTA process for the US. This is where you’ll upload your vaccine certificate, where it’ll be manually verified. You’ll be emailed when this process is done.

The Visit Japan Web site has two QR codes which you should screenshot in advance, in case you can’t get network connectivity when you land. You’ll be asked for them during the arrival process.

Airport staff are friendly and direct you to the right areas to queue when you arrive. If for whatever reason your profile on the Visit Japan Web site stops working for whatever reason, as happened with my sister when we arrived, you’re directed to a separate queue where your health documents are verified. I’ve read this taking hours, but it took less than half an hour for her.

The Visit Japan Web site strongly recommends but doesn’t mandate you purchase international travel insurance, but you’d be a class A baka gaijin for not doing so. No, really.

Wandering around Japan

When you’re in Japan, you’ll notice everyone wears a mask… to the point where trendy fashion stores in Shibuya sell cute charms for them. If this sounds too onerous, don’t travel to Japan.

Large shopping centres and attractions have temperature sensors above hand sanitiser bottles you can dispense with your feet which is pretty cool. The sensors aren’t generally enforced, though we used them for our own interest. It reminded me of Singapore during SARS, so didn’t feel unusual.

A positive development has been the introduction of more point of sale systems everywhere, which makes paying for things much easier. This may have been done in advance of the Olympics, but was doubled down during Covid to reduce handling of cash. If you sign up for a bank account in your home country that doesn’t change foreign transaction fees, you’ll get a nice itemised list of transactions at the end of each day which is easy to reconcile and budget from.

Hotels also continue to be hit and miss when it comes to bookings. Normally Clara and I book accommodation and flights through our credit card’s travel agency to use points, and because it makes it much easier to cancel things. We had two separate hotels that these Australian agencies screwed up. One international chain charged us for two rooms but only reserved one, and the other let us book two people to a room that only permitted one person. I’d advise booking directly with the hotel.

Conclusion

We deliberately didn’t leave large cities during this most recent trip, given the country has only been fully open to foreigners for the last month. I’ve been told that you might still be treated differently in more rural areas. Given their isolation and demographics, I can empathise with the fear they may have for foreigners for a while yet. Let’s take it one step at a time.

Other than these measures, Japan is the same amazing place to explore as it was before. The people, culture, food, atmosphere, history, and public transport are unsurpassed. It’s still one of the only places I’ve been, and continue to go to, that surpass my already high expectations.

Most tourists seemed to be behaving well, which was a relief to see. But there was always at least a few at large attractions that either weren’t in masks, or were wearing them under their noses as they talked loudly about how Chinese and Japanese “look the same”, or that America has “better cheese” (I kid you not). I called out a few white boomers who sheepishly put them back on.

Be polite, quiet, friendly, and respectful, and you’ll be fine. Sumimasen is your indispensable friend!


BitTorrent language

Software

The nomenclature surrounding the BitTorrent protocol has always been a bit weird; much like the word nomenclature.

From the Transmission client today:

You unchocked the peer but the peer is not interested.

I took the Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry? Sounds a bit like kink shaming to me. Nomenclature.


Thinking aloud about Gemini and Gopher

Internet

Uploaded a few days later.

I’m typing this from a plane cruising at 11,582 metres above the Pacific Ocean between Japan and Australia. It feels so implausible, unreal, and fun:

Mastodon post: Using satellite Internet on a plane is one of those “wow, I’m living in the future!” feelings.

Yet it’s also been a bit of a reality check I wasn’t expecting. Much of the world has at least moved on from dialup, but this low-speed, high-latency connection is closer to how more people use the Internet than I probably appreciate.

You do use a connection like this differently. You ration what you’re downloading, use plugins like NoScript to more actively filter dynamic content and images, and you check the size of a package before downloading it. You even get used to unitasking, because you probably can’t be loading too many concurrent things before your primary task gets painful.

My own site loaded faster than most, on account of it being technically simple (albeit with a lot of static metadata). But other news and technical sites required loading in links(1) in the console for them to load in any reasonable time. Once I did this, I wished I could browse more of the web like this, and that sites were better optimised (or even tested at all) for text-based browsers.

Then I remembered such a world already exists:

  • Gopher has been online since the early 1990s, and offers a text-based interface with linked media assets and a logical hierarchical structure that lends itself well to sites like blogs with large archives. You know it must still be kicking around with active interest, based on the number of people who dismiss it saying that “nobody uses it”. I call it the Netcraft Principle; BSD people know what I’m talking about.

  • More recently, Gemini has offered a lightweight protocol and markup language that extends this idea with basic media embeds and support for TLS. My impression of it is a reimagining of the classic web.

It makes me want to run my own.

My site is created with the Hugo static site generator and a bunch of Markdown and HTML files. I can’t imagine it’d be difficult to take the same files, and create a Gemini site in parallel. From looking at the spec, the only challenge would be extracting links and including them in their own paragraphs, which Gemini pages expect. It’s also an interesting idea for accessibility too.

(I’m also mulling the idea of going back to a dynamic site using TextPattern or even WordPress, because static sites are a PITA when travelling. In which case, I’d need to find a plugin, or figure out a way to interface Gopher with the site cache somehow).

It also raises the question of whether I’d want to run such a dual-stack site, or whether I’d host different content on the Gemini (or Gopher) site. There might be something fun about putting more technical or personal ideas on the Gemini site, which would dissuade the more tedious trolls.

Anyone running a dual-stack blog? I’d love to hear about your experiences.


From Tokyo one evening

Travel

Hi there! I’m typing this from a cute little coffee shop down the road from our hotel in Kudanshita this evening. The street is mostly quiet, but there are a row of cute keicar-sized vans making a delivery to the combini, and occasionally someone whizzes by on their bike.

I’m so relieved that Japan is starting to accept cards in more places, so I don’t need to fumble for coins and notes each time like the baka gaijin that I know I am. I’m slowly getting more confident asking for things!

Back in January 2020 the biggest source of travel frustration in Australia was cancelled flights. That day, I’d flown up from Sydney to the Gold Coast in Queensland to present at the inaugural FreeBSD track at Linux.conf.au, and didn’t grant the travel second thought. It seems like another time ago, and one we won’t ever quite go back to.

Wow, they’re playing Can you Feel the Love Tonight on the speakers now from the original Lion King; talk about a layer of childhood nostalgia. A twist in the kaleidoscope, moves us all in turn. My mum hated Elton John, but loved that song.

An overcast photo around Akihabara with Atelier Ryza among other posters

Most of the world did it far tougher (and continues to do so) than Clara and I did during Post-Covid times, but we also had our share of misfortune and melancholy. I don’t know about you, but I felt this year was far tougher than 2020 and 2021. Maybe it was the sheer monotony, coupled with a steady drumbeat of mixed or bad news among friends, family, and the world in general.

Clara and I have always been cautious people, which can be a good when it comes to finances and planning, but it can be stifling when you don’t feel like you have control. Losing agency is a deeply unsettling feeling, like standing up from a couple of Kirin Ichibans and walking into a wall like the baka gaijin that you are.

It’s also weird sitting among people here right now who’d probably like nothing more than to be somewhere else. Japan to them is monotony and lockdowns, just as Australia was to me before we flew out here last week. Clearly some of us need novelty, or at least something different!

A bad but meaningful photo at night at the top of Namba Parks, with some cans of lovely drink from the machine next to us.

So far we’ve been back to Shibuya, Shinjuku, Nakano, Akihabara, and back down to Osaka on the Shinkansen to check out Namba and Den-Den Town. The latter was especially meaningful; we found again what has become our favourite park bench in the world among the trees in Namba Parks, then cracked open a hot chocolate from the vending machine next to it. I had photos from that area as my laptop wallpaper since Covid first hit, originally because it was pretty, but soon because it gave me motivation to push on and return one day. It seemed like such a distant and unobtainable possibility, so to be back here felt unreal.

It’s also been a joy having my sister and my new brother-in-law here with us too this time; they’d never been to Japan before, and they’re enthralled with everything we’ve seen and done. Excitement is infectious, and they’ve also encouraged us to try new places we wouldn’t have by ourselves.

My sister jokes that we have delayed emotional responses to things. It was weird; after almost a week of being here, it finally hit that we’d closed a difficult chapter of our lives with our dad’s health and lockdown blues. And now I’m back at a Japanese cafe worrying about whether I can remember how to say “I’d like to dine in please.”

Osaka Castle!

Thanks for making it to the end of this rambling post. Hey look, another bike.


The “joy” of retro IT web searches

Hardware

People have mentioned how sites like Google feel like they’re getting worse of late, thanks to SEO shenanigans and the rise of spammy, mass-produced content farms that spew pages of shallow, re-baked text that contribute nothing to the web beyond being a space for ads to be sold. One could accuse my site of stooping to the same level of quality, both in its meandering length of introductions, and the fact these aforementioned introductions often contain duplicated information in its meandering length.

But a subtler, more insidious change has been the disappearance of content that it indexes in the first place. Call it the Digital Dark Age, or the reality that besets ephemeral computers run by fallible humans who care not for archiving and availability, it only feels like it’s accelerating of late.

Take the scenario where you have an unusual or old piece of computer hardware, and are trying to troubleshoot, upgrade, or replace it. The process for finding information looks, a little something, like this:

  1. Do a web search for the required component.

  2. Receive ten pages of results to old forum posts and newsgroups, with someone saying “you should Google this”. By golly, gee whiz, thanks mister, you contributed absolutely nothing! These are probably the same people writing for spam farms today.

  3. Among those rare, helpful people, most say “you should try this”, with a link to a device that doesn’t exist, or to another forum that has been taken down.

  4. For bonus points, try and find on the Wayback Machine, only for it to not come up as listed because it was behind a login or something else.

I’m half-tempted to start a wiki or knowledge base just for the retro computer stuff that I’ve learned or has fixed something. I could even brand it Top Five Ways in 2022 to troubleshoot Adaptec ISA SCSI card IRQ conficts… you won’t believe how with this one simple hack 8/13 people don’t know it!


Ben Sidran, Ballad of a Thin Man

Media

Today’s Music Monday is a celebration of Bob Dylan, and of Ben Sidran’s brilliant 2009 jazz cover album.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here before, but Ben’s vocal style and delivery are so perfect for these songs. The way he acted out that famous scene in the second verse was brilliant:

You raise up your head, and you ask: “Is this where it is?” And somebody points to you and says “It’s his!” And you say: “What’s mine?” And somebody else says: “Well, what is?” And you say: “Oh my God! Am I here all alone!?”

Play Ben Sidran - Ballad of a Thin Man


News for week 45, 2022

Thoughts

Some things I’ve read this week:

  • Reading the news of liberated Kherson and Mylove brought tears to my eyes. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba hailed it as a joint victory; we’re humbled, but this victory belongs to Ukraine. A reminder that you can support their efforts by donating to the United24 cause. 🌻

  • I’m finally getting around to trying NetBSD 9.3, which came out in August. It comes with a bunch of quality of life fixes, including several for sh(1) that I’ve worked around for years. One day I’ll get out of my shell and try submitting fixes myself.

  • neozeed has revived Neko again. I can’t believe I didn’t have this little animated friend in my list of essential Windows features on my Omake page.

  • ServeTheHome wrote a great, detailed post about the new AMC EPYC server chips, and TechSpot has a good set of tables for a quick summary. I haven’t had a chance to look at in any detail, but if their density claims stack up (geddit?), this could be amazing. We often joke at work that we run out of power before rack space, but fewer, higher density machines would make a ton of stuff easier and cheaper.

Poster for Urusei Yatsura's 2022 release
  • I can’t wait to watch the 2022 adaptation of Urusei Yatsura which has just started airing! The series originally ran in 1981, and it became a cult classic. It was the first series I ever saw by Rumiko Takahashi, and her work has since had a huge impact on my life. Inuyasha and Rin-ne were among the first things Clara and I bonded over when we met, and it was the first anime-themed cafe we ever went to together in Japan. She’s a national treasure.

  • This lopsided pop psychology by an ABC Australia contributor about new step-parents fails to acknowledge what step parents should do. I’d consider respect for the deceased parent, and the relationship the kids had with them, to be the absolute minimum. Love to all those who’ve had to cope with such people; maybe one day the popular press will get a clue, like some step-parents. It takes two to tango.

  • Bruce Schneier announced he has a new book coming out in February called A Hackers Mind: How the Powerful Bend Society’s Rules, and How to Bend them Back. Bruce has been among the sharpest minds in the industry about this for decades, and his writing style manages to be engaging both for professionals and the layperson. It doesn’t look like I can preorder via Kobo, but the other major platforms are supported.