The ThinkPad X40, an all-time favourite

I got something awesome a decade ago to the day:

After just over a year of searching online, offline and everywhere in between (subspace?) I finally managed to procure myself an IBM ThinkPad X40 and USB powered IBM combo drive in excellent condition for less than AU$300 from an Adelaideian.

Netbooks were the rage at the time; remember when all the pundits said Apple was doomed and stupid for not shipping one? One day these talking heads will make a prediction about Apple and be right, but I don’t think any of us are holding our breath. Anyway I made the comparison at the time that for the same price as a junky netbook, you could have a premium-grade machine. And here it was:

The ThinkPad X40

I’d still say my iBook G3 is my favourite laptop of all time, just because it got me through high school. It was also one of my first forays into BSD, specifically the PowerPC version of NetBSD which just worked. People so often ask why I keep a toe in the NetBSD pool despite having moved most of my stuff to FreeBSD; that’s the reason :).

But that ThinkPad X40 was easily my second favourite laptop. It was second hand, but it was built like a tank, the battery still lasted forever, the keyboard was an absolute pleasure to type on, the trackpoint was still better than any touchpad, and I loved the fact it didn’t have a useless widescreen. It dual-booted FreeBSD and either Debian or Fedora for the entire time I had it.

Alas, many years later it was lost when the battery leaked and corroded all the way through the case and screen. I know now that if I care about maintaining vintage hardware in my small museum, remove the damn batteries.

Huntington State Park

I was reading Wikipedia’s article about New York, then ended up in Connecticut, which lead me to Fairfield County, and this beautiful photo by AskJoanne taken at the Huntington State Park in Redding. No relation to Otis, who was born in Georgia. No relation to the country.

I think I have a new desktop background candidate for my work phone, it’s impossible not to feel calm looking at this.


Common myths about private browsing

This is what you see when launching Private Browsing in Firefox:

Firefox clears your search and browsing history when you quit the app or close all Private Browsing tabs and windows. While this doesn’t make you anonymous to websites or your internet service provider, it makes it easier to keep what you do online private from anyone else who uses this computer.

It then links to this Mozilla Support article:

Private Browsing is a useful feature of Firefox, but only if you understand the protection it offers. It helps you obscure your online activity from other people who use Firefox on your computer, but does not make you invisible online.

They list these common myths about Private Browsing mode:

  1. It makes you anonymous on the internet.
  2. It removes all traces of your browsing activity from your computer.
  3. It doesn’t display any browsing history.
  4. It will protect you from keystroke loggers and spyware.

It’s telling that these facts needed spelling out. It’s perfectly reasonable for a layperson to expect a Private Browsing mode to be private, regardless of technical limitations or considerations.

I was worried when such modes were added to all the major browsers, not least Firefox. We’ve seen the stories of people being lulled into a false sense of security thinking their browsing was private when leaking information, or browsing nefarious sites that end up stealing their identities and money.

I’m glad to see information like this directly linked from Private Browsing mode in Firefox, but still people aren’t heeding the warnings. It was inevitable; we’ve been trained by visual onslaughts and bad UI design to dismiss dialogue boxes with the most cursory of glances. It’s why, for all Microsoft’s best intentions, those Cancel/Allow messages in Vista were an abject failure.

I still think we should do away with the name entirely and call it Sandbox Mode, or something more generic that someone without an engineering or IT background would understand.

Update: I went back to my Mac and checked what Safari says. It spells out clearly what Private Browsing mode does when you launch it:

Safari will keep your browsing history private for all tabs in this window. After you close this window, Safari won’t remember the pages you visited, your search history or your AutoFill information.

Music Monday at Milsons Point

I had reason today to go to a clinic in Milsons Point, which gave me a bit of time to wander around the shore across from the Sydney CBD. It reminded me of this verse from Michael Franks’ Jardin Botanico from Tiger in the Rain, my favourite album of all time:

Fly to the Southern Hemisphere;
Where the sky is clear.
I abandoned the bleak, December chill;
There’s nothing like Christmas in Brazil.
The weather’s completely upside down;
When we touch down.

It’s our turn for winter down here, though while we’ve had kangaroos jumping in snow recently, the sea breeze was far gentler on the coast today. It was quite pretty.

Here’s the view down the street towards the city:

Then having walked under the bridge to the other side:

And waiting for the train trip home:


Lesson 11 in grilled cheese sandwich observation

It’s been eleven years to the day since our first Grilled Cheese Sandwich Observation lesson, and almost three years since the last one. This cannot stand.

The above below photograph I took at % Arabica on my birthday this year in Kyoto does not depict a grilled cheese sandwich, and quite frankly it concerns me that you think it does.

Thank you.

Previous lessons

Decluttering: Mofo Soap

For some reason it’s easier for me to use or dispose of stuff during bouts of decluttering if I write about it first. Perhaps in my mind, by putting it on my blog, it’ll keep living on in some awkward, nerdy way.

The Mofo bar of soap next to its box, a bar of Cussons Prize Medal Oatmeal soap, and for no reason, Saber from Fate.

I was doing a junk clean up this weekend, like a gentleman. Among a pile of stuff that’s remained untouched for years, I had completely forgot about a small box of memories from my 18th birthday that already seems far too long ago to be comfortable. And one of the items? A BlueQ bar of Mofo Soap!

Nothin’ keeps that Mofo clean like Mofo Soap. If you’re a bad-ass Mofo, and you know you are, there is no other soap. For full effect, get your entire bad-ass self covered in Mofo suds, check yo’ self in the full-size bath mirror, and rinse.

Obviously bought tongue in cheek, but it brought a smile to my face after more than a decade. As opposed to a smile somewhere else, which sounds anatomically dubious.

The bar of bergamot, lemon, and amber scented soap is pictured above next to my second Cussons Prize Medal Oatmeal soap for which I currently harbour an obsession, to give you a sense for what a big-ass mofo sized soap this is. And Saber, to represent the fact I’m still a weeb even after all this time. She’s a bad-ass.

My evening shower is going to be awesome.

Your Sunday morning economics snippets

Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism remains one of the most important blogs I read. Last month’s article on why inequality is destroying democratic capitalism by Nobel economist Angus Deaton was particularly insightful:

I think that people getting rich is a good thing, especially when it brings prosperity to others. But the other kind of getting rich, “taking” rather than “making,” rent-seeking rather than creating, enriching the few at the expense of the many, taking the free out of free markets, is making a mockery of democracy. In that world, inequality and misery are intimate companions.

Jeremy Sear on Well May we Say #101, The Employer Lobby Strikes Back, featuring Cam Smith:

The entire justification the rich and wealthy have is that the poor are bad people who deserve it … because if the poor aren’t bad people who deserve their poverty, then why are they suffering so badly? It’s a huge incentive to think as badly as possible of the poor, and so they spend their lives taking in as many pieces of prejudice they can about the poor being undeserving and lazy and shit, and making poor decisions, and generally deserve every bad thing that happens to them. It’s also massively in the interest of their class and supporters for all the people who are out of work to be squabbling amongst themselves for the tiny amounts of work that are available.

We can’t discuss social security in Australia without someone mentioning dole bludgers or some other epithet. Even if half the people receiving government assistance didn’t deserve it in the eyes of these people, it’s still worth it to help those down on their luck. Frankly, I’m honoured my taxes go to helping people like this, it’s called living in a kind society.

It also helps entrepreneurs, because if things go belly up, they won’t starve. Safety nets and breaking up monopolies aren’t at the expense of the free market, they enable it, as Angus Deaton points out.

And while I’m posting snippets, Greg Jericho just posted another of his important economic articles for the Guardian Australia. We just reelected the same government who’s commitment to budget surplus sounds superficially responsible, but it’s absurd when you consider the weakness of the global economy right now, and that interest rates are below the rate of inflation:

This week the interest rate for Australian government 10-year bonds went below 1%. Show me a household that can take out a 10-year loan at a 0.96% rate, despite the fact that their level of debt has risen over the past six years from $257bn to $549bn, and I’ll start listening to you saying the government needs to budget like a household.

That’s enough of my soap box for this month. Or, is it?

Reading list for early August 2019

Screenshot of Sehnsuchtbsd's NetBSD Raspberry Pi 3 desktop with FVWM

A few of the stories that have sped by my RSS reader over the last week or so:

Blogs To Express: Singapore’s last street barbers
They were once a common sight in the back alleys of Singapore, but are rapidly disappearing. This article originally appeared in a Straits Times article in 2012.

Alvin Alexander: Pursue the things that bring you joy
Quoting Edie Freedman, Creative Director at O’Reilly Media.

WorldLink: Q&A Hong Kong protests
Respectful and clear analysis from Deutsche Welle’s Southeast Asia correspondent Charlotte Chelsom-Pill. I’ve only spent a few days in Hong Kong, but I fell in love. I’m worried for the future of their city, but I hold out hope.

Channel NewsAsia: MPH’s two remaining bookstores in Singapore to close
Another piece of childhood slipping away. Getting older sucks, though its still preferable to the alternative.

Via Reddit: NetBSD on Raspberry Pi3
I adore the classic FVWM UI, kudos to sehnsuchtbsd. We really perfected simple, clean interfaces in the 1990s, from desktops to phones.

IT Pro: Majority of Chrome extension installs split across 13 apps
And of those, three are for blocking stuff.

Can’t change Slack private channels to public

We don’t use Slack internally anywhere for privacy reasons, but I’m known to share a channel with clients who already do, so we can collaborate on projects. Last week I went through and created a private channel, added all the contacts, before realising I’d wanted it to be public with everyone in my organisation.

I figured it’d be easy to flip a private channel to public. Alas, no:

Unfortunately, this is not yet possible - we believe private conversations should stay private, and generally encourage our customers to rename & archive private channels that have outlived their purpose.

I appreciate the sentiment, but for a brand new room that’s never been used, it should be a switch we can flick.

(It’s also worth noting that anything posted on chat software that doesn’t do client-side encryption must be considered public anyway).

Siri response grading

Privacy is one of the big reasons for using iOS. Apple’s business model isn’t selling us to advertisers, and Tim Cook has said privacy is a fundamental human right. Even the big G’s most ardent fans couldn’t say the same, unless they were winking mischievously like a mischievous mischevant. I’m pretty sure that isn’t a word.

The corollary of this stance is Apple is held to a higher standard in the industry and popular press. Indiscretions that are largely passed off or ignored as routine in the Android or PC world, like faking security patches, bloatware from phone carriers, and installing rootkits, are met with howls of outrage and derision if or when Apple does it. As they should be; you can’t sell yourself as more principled and honourable if you stoop to the same tactics.

So when The Guardian broke this important story last month, my #picardfacepalm was in full effect:

Apple contractors regularly hear confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex, as part of their job providing quality control, or “grading”, the company’s Siri voice assistant, the Guardian has learned.

Although Apple does not explicitly disclose it in its consumer-facing privacy documentation, a small proportion of Siri recordings are passed on to contractors working for the company around the world.

Apple have since suspended this programme, but it’s chilling. Why did a news story have to break about it for Apple to do this? Were the improved stats worth this potential hit to their reputation?

A large part of this comes down to motives. When Apple says they did this to improve a product instead of selling to advertisers, they’re one of the few companies I’d believe. Does this make me naïve? Probably. Either way, this doesn’t explain or excuse handing out to third party contractors; I can’t muster the words to describe how moronic a decision that was.

I don’t use Siri or any of these other voice assistants. I wish I could say it was only due to a principled stance on privacy, but it’s also that I haven’t ever felt the need for them. Between Apple’s excellent Shortcuts app and Agile Tortoise’s Drafts, I can initiate a workflow with a tap. But I also intuitively knew that anything that isn’t processed locally would be sent to a remote server, and I wasn’t comfortable with that. I hate when I’m right.

But Apple, please don’t pull this stunt again.