Please donate to the NSW Rural Fire Service if you want to help with the unfolding Australian bushfire disaster. Thank you. ♡

Rubenerd Show 403: The hot cake episode

Rubenerd Show 403

Podcast: Play in new window | Download

52:15 – Forbidden 403 HTML status codes, unhelpful profiling, Australian bushfire updates (looters, conspiracy theories, hot takes), unexpected Adelaide nostalgia and early breakfasts, unintentional philosophical ramblings on the character and motivations of certain people, and an ongoing good natured but otherwise inexplicable retail saga. With thanks to Phil Collins.

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

Released January 2020 on The Overnightscape Underground, an Internet talk radio channel focusing on a freeform monologue style, with diverse and fascinating hosts; this one notwithstanding.

Subscribe with iTunes, Pocket Casts, Overcast or add this feed to your podcast client.

Intel’s discrete GPUs at CES

Asha Barbaschow from ZDNet wrote a fantastic summary of Intel’s CES announcements this year:

Showing off Tiger Lake during the company’s keynote at CES in Las Vegas on Monday, Intel executive vice president Gregory Bryant said the new processor will deliver “double digit performance gains”, “massive” artificial intelligence performance improvements, better graphics performance, and 4x the throughput of USB3 with the new, integrated Thunderbolt 4.

Not requiring a separate chip to handle Thunderbolt is huge. Currently you need to have a capable computer, meaning the USB 3 port you have in your machine might be Thunderbolt capable, or it might not be. You always had the best chance of having it with Macs, but even then their 12-inch MacBook only shipped with USB 3 despite the connectors looking the same. This announcement takes us a step closer to ubiquity.

I wonder if AMD offer Thunderbolt on their Zen-architecture chips?

Photo from Intel showing their 10th generation mobile CPU.

And on their new discrete GPU:

Intel also offered a preview of the first Xe-based discrete GPU, code named DG1, with Intel vice president of architecture for graphics and software Lisa Pearce saying the new Intel Xe graphics architecture will provide “huge performance gains” in Tiger Lake.

I’ve seen Linus Tech Tips and other outlets discuss this card in detail, including the fact that while it might be a welcome boost for mobile, it has a long battle ahead to compete, and it’s not Intel’s first foray into this market segment.

Despite these muted responses, I’m hugely excited for this. Finally we might get some awesome graphics on free/open source platforms that don’t depend on binary blobs or reverse engineering producing a necessarily inferior experience. Integrated Intel GPUs have always been easier to deal with on FreeBSD and similar systems due to mature, free drivers. If I could get the performance of a comparable Nvidia or AMD card on my home BSD tower, heck even half the performance, it’d be Christmas, Chinese New Year, and my birthday in one.

Living in electric dreams

I haven’t done much blogging this week, or even lined up posts to trickle out during the week. In past years we’ve had a chill start as the masses slowly go back to work, but this year started with earnest. Such a great story.

That hasn’t stopped me from having some weirdly specific dreams.

  • I had developed a new compression algorithm that lent itself well to streaming chunked data, making rsync a hundred times more efficient. I’d decided to give it to the OpenRsync devs first to test on their BSD-licenced version of the tool before getting a call not from Andrew Tridgell and Paul Mackerras, but Al Gore.

  • I’d decided that the Ricoh GR III wasn’t for me after all, and I got a Canon mirrorless. Then proceeded to feel pangs of guilt and betrayal because I had always been a Nikon SLR guy.

  • I was asked to debate a climate denier, but I said they should get a scientist instead. This made me into a meme which started appearing on the sides of buses; unfortunate given I was back in Singapore and those double-deckers have lots of vertical space.

  • I replaced all the LEDs in my apartment with a newer generation of LEDs, I think so I could change the colour temperature more easily. But the ceiling started to melt, and I had to collect the falling drops with buckets covered in anime faces.

It’s at this stage that I’ll admit that this was the one dream. Or perhaps it was multiple over the course of the night that blended together.

I may even republish their spam

Here’s a delightful email I got this morning:

Amazing job on your page it has some good references to “marketing” so I wanted to get in touch with you and ask, what you think about this article BRAND AND MARKETING STRATEGIES: TAKING YOUR BUSINESS TO THE NEXT LEVEL

You can read it right here: $REDACTED

I would like to hear your opinion on this article. Also, if you find it useful, please consider linking to it from your page I mentioned earlier. If you prefer you may republish the article. Let me know what you think.

My post she linked to was almost a decade old, and specifically mentioned how I didn’t like Hootsuite’s Social Bar. There’s your evidence that these spammers don’t read the stuff they purport to. But better still, this was halfway down their own article:

It may seem a little low-tech compared to some of today’s more advanced tools, but email remains a massively popular form of communication. If done well, it can provide an impressive ROI, or return on investment.

If done well being the operative phrase. Maybe I could have been suckered into their stuff if they heeded their own advice.

Music Monday: Janet Devlin, Mad World

It’s Music Monday, that time of the week in which it’s Monday, and I blog about Music. Why was Music capitalised in that previous sentence twice, and again here? And why, having discovered my mistake, did I elucidate further rather than simply correcting the examples for which attention has now been Needlessly drawn? Wait, damn it.

Play Mad World - Gary Jules (Janet Devlin Cover)

I do like me some Tears for Fears, and Gary Jules’ cover of their Mad World song is one of my all time favourite songs. I’d never heard of Janet Devlin until tonight, but wow.

A technical admission

The title of this post reads more like a ticket to a trade show or industry event. But it’s something I’ve likely long since realised, but am only grappling with the implications now.

I’ve been mulling on the implications of that 2003 VHS–Betamax article I wrote about yesterday, and realised I had the opposite problem that Jack Schofield described.

I was always one of those people who had to obsessively research everything I bought. I know this, because I still am. I’d pour over Sim Lim Square and Funan Centre computer part price lists as a kid trying desperately to ink out any conceivable advantage in performance I could find for the precious little money I had. That was a long sentence. Even when I came second in a writing contest and suddenly had $800 to throw around, I was dithering whether to go with RAMBUS or a Pentium Pro.

(I might be getting my timelines mixed up a bit, but you get the point. And what a relief I didn’t choose RAMBUS. I don’t even like regular buses).

This justification morphed as I got older from thriftiness and efficiency to one of professionalism. I was a computing enthusiast, with dreams of becoming a developer and systems engineer, so of course I needed the best equipment. These delusions of grandeur also began to seep into other areas like photography, then as I got older even lightbulbs, coffee machines, and home audio gear.

My teenage self would hotly deny the charge, but my perceived self-image was also becoming increasingly tied to the equipment I used. Nothing good ever comes from this.

That’s not to say I didn’t have ample opportunities to see through this Potemkin Mind I’d erected. I inherited my dad’s old Pentium II ThinkPad 600E when he got a new work machine. I’d never had a laptop before, and this one seemed massive, clunky, slow, and unreasonably fun to use. It had its own distinctive tactile experience, and beeps, and an LCD.

I’ve had new Macs and DIY machines since, but somehow they’ve always had a second-hand ThinkPad sidekick. I have fond memories of my X40 and X61s; both were less powerful, had lower resolution screens, poorer colour reproduction, and comically short battery lives compared to my Macs, but I often ended up taking them to coffee shops instead. With FreeBSD and Linux, of course.

But still I stubbornly clung to the fallacy that I needed the best, or at least the best I could afford, because anything less would be a tacit admission that my work and, by extension myself, weren’t worth it. And I was, damn it! In perhaps the most absurd case, I got a PowerMac G5 and external display to take overseas to study, instead of a laptop. And half the time it was running NetBSD, not even Mac OS X!

I held onto this view for years, at my own expense. I bought heavy DSLRs because, of course, prosumers want interchangable lenses for every situation in which they’d find themselves. No matter that I had basically the same prime welded to it the entire time, and that I barely took fifty photos a month at best. No point rocking up to a nature reserve or an anime convention with a pocket camera. The upshot of which meant I used my camera on my phone more, and left the SLR in a bag at home.

Which, speaking of that, also extended to esoteric things like anime figures. I never considered getting so-called game prize figures on account of them being poor quality, but I was given one by a close friend and she’s one of my favourites. She even has a few friends now, some of which are there because I sold scale figs I liked less to make space.

The list keeps growing the more I think about this. Kitchen utensils. Watches. Fitness garb including swimsuits and runners. 4K video, lossless audio, and headphones. And with a lady living with me now, these extended to her.

It wasn’t till I started my decluttering binge a few years ago that I finally acknowledged my own priorities, which surprisingly to me often had nothing to do with the performance of the machine or other metrics we’re supposed to care about. My primary machine is an ageing MacBook Pro docked to an external display so I don’t have to endure its ghoulish keyboard. My sidekick laptop is a second-hand ThinkPad. My home server is a bargain basement HP Microserver with a Xeon for ECC and VT-x, but a low TDP to keep it cool. And my current camera, after tricking myself for years that I needed an interchangable SLR or at least a M4/3 system, is a fixed lens Ricoh GR III compact.

In the most extreme case, my Pentium MMX tower I built from those aforementioned price lists is now my main home gaming machine given my rediscovery of DOS. And yes, she dual-boots NetBSD!

I apologise if this comes across at all condescendingly, or if you feel as though I’m belittling your own interests or how you spend money. It may very well be that you do need as much processing power as you can throw money at, or the best camera, or that you derive genuine joy and happiness from using them, or productivity for your job. But I’ve been surprised, and dare I say it a little relieved, that I can get by and be perfectly happy with less. Which given Clara’s and my penchant for tiny apartments in convenient inner city locations, we may need to have got used to anyway.

Rubenerd Show 402: The hidden PPPoE episode

Rubenerd Show 402

Podcast: Play in new window | Download

24:25 – Thanking people for Australian bushfire feedback, Malcolm Turnbull’d internet, pronouncing abbreviations as acronyms (PPPoE... pehpehpehooee?), the Ricoh GR III camera, finding a stream and an old key in a forest near Cammeray, the plight of inefficient portable air conditioners, wooden shelving, and various challenges when selling incomplete anime figures.

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

Released January 2020 on The Overnightscape Underground, an Internet talk radio channel focusing on a freeform monologue style, with diverse and fascinating hosts; this one notwithstanding.

Subscribe with iTunes, Pocket Casts, Overcast or add this feed to your podcast client.

666 pages

How did I miss page 666? It’s one more than 665, and at least a dozen more than 100. I made such a big deal out of WordPress ID 666 in February 2007, back when I still used that CMS; and then again for the actual post 666 exactly one year later, give or take a few days.

Now we’re at 666 pages, which means at ten posts per page, if my intensive mathematical calculations are sound, and my prose remains as stilted as ever, we’ve passed 6,666 posts. Had I got a sixth of the way through another post draft immediately after that, it’d be 6,666.6. Which if you multiplied by e, would be pointless. I miss when I’d do a ton of these pointless milestones.

Night scene in a loungeroom bathed in the blue light from what I can only assume is a Trinitron.

For some reason I used a screenshot or art from Elfen Lied on those past posts, presumably because the series scared me at the time. So here’s another random one from episode 7 which aired in 2004. It depicts a similar scene in which I’m currently residing writing this post.

Technical accuracy, and the whole product concept

I’ve been diving more into legacy data and file formats again. This 2003 article by Jack Schofield is about the VHS–Betamax format war, but as I read it I could apply it to so many things, emphasis added:

… the next time someone tells you that, of course, Betamax was superior to VHS, you can tell them that they are wrong. It’s an urban myth. This is not news: the information has always been available to anyone who could be bothered to look. However, it seems to me that the survival of this and many similar notions is not just a matter of techno-arrogance: it shows a failure to understand how technology markets work.

Substitute Betamax for any technical endeavour. Heck, even political ones. I’ll say climate change because my home country is still on fire. But lest you think this is a nerd dismissing The Normies, there’s a lesson for us too:

… almost no journalists, and no geeks, have ever come across the concept of “the whole product”, though it is well known to marketing people. Real people may not be aware of it, but the “whole product” model is an accurate description of the way they buy things.

What is the whole product? Emphasis added:

… when someone buys and uses a product, the technological aspects are a small and often uninteresting part of the decision. When you choose compact cassette, you are also buying into a vast infrastructure of capabilities, services and support. These include the availability of cheap cassettes on every high street, cheap personal stereos, and the ability to use the same format for a wide range of applications

I make this mistake constantly when talking about consumer tech. People don’t care if something is higher quality, or dare I say even more ethical, if it’s harder to use. That’s not to say there isn’t value in understanding technology, more that it’s not purchased in a vacuum.

Worse is better and agile development are variations on this theme, now that I think about it.

Bushfire news is too much

My sister said to us the news cycle feels even more overwhelming than usual today. It about sums it up for me too. Each day the bushfire disaster across Australia gets worse, and then it gets worse again. I’m afraid to check my phone in the morning for fear of seeing the reports of more people dying, homes being lost, and millions more dead animals and forests.

It’s why I’m still awake at almost 02:00, looking at the New South Wales Fires Near Me website. There are 151 fires across the almost 2000 km coastline:

Map showing the coastline of NSW on fire with 151 active hotspots

But that’s not the surreal part, for want of a better word. Leaving aside his party’s penchant for coal for a moment, at least the opposition leader is currently out there listening, talking with people, and making regular statements:

Speaking to the media in Sydney this morning. Australia is facing an unprecedented crisis. This is a national emergency. It requires a national response.

And regarding the latest evacuation:

The biggest evacuation in Australian history. Residents in areas the size of European countries are being told to leave. This is not business as usual.

Meanwhile, the actual prime minister was caught on video forcing a woman in a fire ravenged town to shake his hand, once he decided that maybe he should pretend to show some empathy after his Hawaiian holiday. And yet, still no formal coordination of state resources, or extra assistance, or any meaningful words about the disaster at all. As I said back in November 2018:

These aren’t words of confidence, they’re the last gasps of someone utterly out of their depth, grasping for anything to humanise himself.

The state of Victoria has also declared a state of disaster. And my home state of New South Wales has 151 active fires declared a third state of emergency:

Bush fire conditions in NSW are expected to worsen over the coming week. Catastrophic fire danger is forecast for Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter and Illawarra Shoalhaven areas. This is the first time since new fire danger ratings were introduced in 2009 that catastrophic fire danger has been forecast for Sydney.

More brave firefighters have died:

The NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) confirms that a NSW RFS volunteer firefighter has died this evening near Jingellic. A further two firefighters on the same truck have suffered burns and are being conveyed to hospital. The firefighters were working on the Green Valley, Talmalmo Fire, approximately 70km east of Albury when it’s believed that the truck rolled when hit by extreme winds associated with the fire.

BBC News has a good summary video. The first clip of fireys in their truck surrounded by hell is terrifying. Don’t watch if you’re sensitive, but helps to show the gravity of the sitation.

Hell on Earth.

And the New York Times now has an article:

The fires have already burned about 14.5 million acres — an area almost as large as West Virginia, more than triple the area destroyed by the 2018 fires in California and six times the size of the 2019 fires in Amazonia. Canberra’s air on New Year’s Day was the most polluted in the world partly because of a plume of fire smoke as wide as Europe.

Scientists estimate that close to half a billion native animals have been killed and fear that some species of animals and plants may have been wiped out completely. Surviving animals are abandoning their young in what is described as mass “starvation events.” At least 18 people are dead and grave fears are held about many more.

All this, and peak fire season is only just beginning.

Anyone Australian who denies climate change at this stage should be charged with treason.