From the Coconut Opening Kit episode of Good Mythical More:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
What a fucking powerful song. And yet I fear the West has only become more authoritarian to fill the void.
I was remote-troubleshooting another person’s Mac recently, and discovered why it had been running slower of late. Buried in their
tmp folder they had some suspicious binaries:
$ ls -1F /private/tmp ==> i2pd/ ==> i2pd2/ ==> jFCQhxfZDM* ==> mtfsftpnhl* ==> vgcqphbkrm ==> vgcqphbkrm_md5
Ten of the scanners on VirusTotal reported a trojan in the two executables, and none of these were the names everyone knows, which is a tad worrying. GData and SentinelOne called it out specifically as a coin miner. The obfuscated data file and md5 hash didn’t trigger alarms.
I immediately killed the processes and deleted them without grabbing any usage data to quote below, but at a glance
mtfsftpnhl was using around 20% of a core. The designers of this were smart enough not to peg a whole CPU and make it obvious.
What I found interesting this time were the two folders at the top of the listing. Searching returned this project:
i2pd (I2P Daemon) is a full-featured C++ implementation of I2P client.
I2P (Invisible Internet Protocol) is a universal anonymous network layer. All communications over I2P are anonymous and end-to-end encrypted, participants don’t reveal their real IP addresses.
I2P client is a software used for building and using anonymous I2P networks. Such networks are commonly used for anonymous peer-to-peer applications (filesharing, cryptocurrencies) and anonymous client-server applications (websites, instant messengers, chat-servers).
So presumably this is how the payload and c&c operations were delivered. I liked that they specifically called out cryptocurrencies.
The person in question may or may not have freely admitted to trialling pirated versions of major Apple applications like Logic and Final Cut. I couldn’t correlate them specifically, but this hints at the possibility that illegitimate software is now being distributed with coin miners.
At that stage, it was time for a wipe and reinstall.
John wrote this at the end of an excellent article about a specific piece of home surveillance tech, but it could easily apply everywhere.
This kind of thing is par for the course. The totally secure networked device has yet to be invented. And the standard response of the industry is always to shift the blame to users who have failed to take appropriate security precautions. When “smart” devices render their hapless users vulnerable, somehow it’s always the customer’s, rather than the vendor’s, fault. So here’s a useful motto when tangling with this stuff in future: for “smart” read untrustworthy.
I keep quoting George Neville-Neil saying the “S in IoT stands for Security”. I’m realising the P in it stands for Privacy, too.
There are ways to use some of this tech responsibly. Disabling features, feeding garbage data, putting on isolated networks, obsessively tracking updates. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think non-technical people would know they need to do this, and how.
Ned Flanders telling Marj he “can’t live in good intentions” remains one of my favourite Simpsons moments. It applies to so many situations, and especially within IT.
I’ve watched with dismay and a complete lack of surprise at Hactoberfest, again. Each year, a large hosting company rewards people contributing to open source software with free swag. It measures this by counting the number of pull requests you make to open source projects on GitHub.
(For non-developers, a pull request is a formal way to merge your changes or improvements you’ve made to a codebase. You clone/fork the original code repository, make your changes, and issue a pull or change request).
If you haven’t been following the news, can you see a problem with this? If it sounds like this would just lead to pull request spam, you have more foresight than this hosting company did.
Former Australian PM Paul Keating once commented that markets shift behavior, and we’re seeing this play out here. Align financial incentives with your pull request count not quality, and this is the inevitable outcome. There are a few other angles this year specifically, including an infamous YouTube video explaining exactly how to game the system. But it couldn’t have happened if the system didn’t enable it.
It’s good that we have companies wanting to encourage open source software development. I’d go as far as to say anyone who benefits from it has a responsibility to; not in the letter of the law or licence, but certainly in the spirit of them. Where I draw the line is shifting the burden of a gamified system with pretty graphics and lots of PR onto overworked, underpaid software developers to trawl through hundreds of pull requests every day. It causes burnout and resentment, and wastes a month of productivity.
You help open source by funding it, and helping aspiring contributors with training and mentorship. Everything else is window dressing, and it hurts the community. Please don’t do this.
It was thirty years ago today when the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or East Germany, ceased to exist. On the 3rd of October 1990, the DDR was dissolved, and its post-war Bezirke districts were reconstituted into their original Länder provinces, before being incorporated into the Bundesrepublik we now know simply as Germany.
It’s surreal to think my sister and I were around for this huge occasion, but were too young to be aware of it. My mum told me years later that my German dad cried when the news broke, saying “the war is over”.
Challenges still remain thirty years after reunification, but at least we can all take a little comfort knowing Margaret Thatcher didn’t like it!
This photo has stuck with me ever since I started reading about modern German history. These young men were part of the East German police on the day the Berlin Wall fell, taken by SSGT F. Lee Corkran of the US military in 1989. East Germany dissolved a year later. I’ve always wondered what they were thinking.
The Scorpion’s Wind of Change will be my next Music Monday. I think we all need a bit of optimism during these times.
This is the first blog post written on my Apple Certified Refurbished 16-inch MacBook Pro!
The 15-inch machine on the right was the first Intel Mac laptop Apple ever released. She managed to merge the portability of my polycarbonate iBook G3, with the performance of my PowerMac G5. I was at uni in Adelaide at the time, but had to regularly fly back to Malaysia and Singapore to help during my mum’s last years, among other tough family reasons. She was the right machine at the right time for my new life living out of a suitcase.
I’ve had a few 13-inch MacBook Pros and a Retina iMac in the intervening years, but none matched the versatility of MacTheKnife. She had a nice keyboard, her big screen meant I didn’t miss external ones, her trackpad is still more sensitive and accurate than any PC, and her Intel CPU let me run various x86 OSs in VMs for experimentation, homework, and games. I still have the disk image from my FreeBSD 6.3 VM with Xfce and a lighttpd web server in a nostalgia archive.
I kept a tiny ThinkPad X40 as my on-call carry, and often left the Mac as my desktop replacement at home. I tried merging the two together in a 13-inch for much of the 2010s to save money and effort, but it never worked well for me. That form factor was too small to use remote for long stretches, and too heavy to always be in my bag.
The tide started to turn again when Clara and I were back in Akihabara last year… remember travel? I caught a glimpse of this gorgeous 775g Panasonic Let’s Note laptop with a high-resolution screen and full FreeBSD hardware support. Much of my writing and SSHing is done on it now, just as I did with my old ThinkPad ultra-portables.
So when it finally came time to upgrade my old MacBook Pro with its awful keyboard and awkward—for me—form factor, I kept the money in savings and set up watch alerts on Apple’s refurbished hardware page for my 16-inch grail machine. It took a few months, but she popped up last week and I pounced!
As everyone said last year, her keyboard is fantastic, and she still has a better display than almost every other machine in the industry. She renders my static Hugo blog in 9 seconds compared to 20 on my 13-inch. And the RAM! Electron “software” made me forget what spare RAM feels like.
I took her to a coffee shop this morning, and was suddenly sent back in time to that Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf I used to sit with my mum at in KL after her chemo. I’d be sitting there typing away, and she’d be there with a Woodhouse book quoting me silly passages. All my machines have since been giving weeby anime hostnames, but this one has definitely earned the moniker MacTheKnifeII.
🌲 🌲 🌲
Do I regret not waiting for an Apple Silicon Mac? Not really. I couldn’t wait much longer to replace my other machine, and whatever Apple releases will undoubtedly have waiting lists and shipping times even after they announce specifics. The best computer is the one you have.
Having an Intel CPU is also feature for me, at least at this stage. She runs all the software I want and need to. I paid the extra for the 8 GiB GPU option, and even with the overhead of Parallels she runs the few games I care about almost as well as the dedicated game machine I rarely use and will now be selling for money and space.
As that first MacBook Pro was, this is the best machine for me right now. Maybe in a few years when Intel macOS ceases I’ll review my options. But who knows, by then I might have even decided to move entirely off the Mac. I’ve been in the ecosystem since Classic MacOS in the 1990s, but I’ve always had one foot in the lifeboat in case things go pear-shaped.
And dare I say it, it’s fun having the very first and very last Intel laptop. It feels like I have the bookends for this era of computing.
Mathematics was never my strong suit, but I’ve always loved geometry. My dad used to buy me those Eyewitness multimedia CD-ROMs growing up, and I’d spend hours clicking through the conic sections, the Golden Ratio, tesselating shapes, and tracing those evil Königsberg bridges. I joked to my year 12 maths teacher that I owed my entire passing grade to just the geometry unit.
So I was so happy to see Derek Muller’s latest Veritasium video about Penrose Tilings. It brought back so many great memories, and was was so beautifully produced. Please check it out if you’re at all interested in this stuff, it was a real treat.
There’s just something so deeply satistying about geometry. It’s so beautiful, and still so mysterious.
I made the deliberate decision many years ago to turn off blog comments, and to publish an email address instead. I figured it introduced a suffiently-high barrier to entry for drive-by trolls and spammers, and let me share the best comments for everyone in dedicated posts. If you’ve taken the time to email me, I want people to see in the RSS feed, and inline on the blog.
Since a few Hacker News and podcast mentions I’ve been inundanted with great comments. Well, inundated by my standards; I’m sure even someone with a modicum of fame or noteriety would scoff at this introvert’s woes.
My style is to publish comments over a period of time so I can leave meaningful responses, though I appreciate now that from the outside this looks like radio silence in the interim.
So my apologies if you’ve emailed over the last few weeks and either haven’t had a response, or I haven’t published your comment yet. I mean this in the most sincere way possible: they’ve all meant a lot.
Like someone who’s swallowed a sponge, this gets a bit self-absorbed. You know when you transcribe an awesome phrase from your head, and it really isn’t that good?
With apologies to Sir Issac Newton, I’ve succumbed to his Third Law of Consumerism: every purchase results in equal and opposite guilt. It might not look it given how I rave about vintage Hi-Fi gear and computers here, but even things I’ve spent years researching and saving for are delivered with equal parts joy and buyers remorse.
Certain charitable Buddhists and Minimalists may (mis!)interpret that as a sign of maturity; that I place people and experiences above material possessions. The fiscally-minded may approve of my aversion to credit, and hoarding of either savings/investments over trifling endeavours like hobbies and interests. I’d be flattered to think there are elements of these, but the truth lies elsewhere. The truth lies?
I’ve mentioned before my weird recurring nightmares that I only have a short time to pack things up to move house, and I feel overwhelmed with all my possessions. I’ve known for years that I prefer clean, simple spaces over ones filled with clutter. Even if that clutter is stuff I like; at least with clutter I hate it’s easy to recycle, donate, or sell because you feel no attachment. There’s definitely something to the idea that you should be careful with what you bring into your home, because of the future opportunity cost for space, money, and eventually landfill.
Maybe it’s a reminder of past family events where we almost lost everything, financially and otherwise. Maybe I feel indulgent or disconnected from the rest of the world that’s doing it tough now. Or it could be that I’ve gone so far down the over-analysis rabbit hole of justifications and doubt that I see fun itself as unproductive. Which it often is, but that’s not the point!
I suppose, rationally, it’s an infinitely better problem than compulsive buying. I couldn’t begin to relate to the feelings of self-hatred, low self-esteem, and financial pressure that would exert on people. At least I’m not parting with money with what I have, let alone money that’s borrowed or not mine.
Curiously I’m able to partially short-circuit these feelings when I write about stuff I’ve bought. Maybe in my mind that transforms it from a trinket—however useful it may otherwise be—into being part of a review? Not sure.
Speaking of silly mistakes, I was backing up some Cantonese DVDs for Clara and wondered why the resulting files were way larger than I expected.
$ ls -lh *mkv ==> 653M Forensic Heroes - s01e07.mkv ==> 692M Forensic Heroes - s01e08.mkv ==> 953M Forensic Heroes - s01e09.mkv $ mkvinfo *s01e09* ==> [..] ==> | + Track ==> | + Track number: 2 (track ID for mkvmerge & mkvextract: 1) ==> | + Track UID: 2 ==> | + Lacing flag: 0 ==> | + Name: Stereo ==> | + Language: chi ==> | + Codec ID: A_AC3 ==> | + Track type: audio ==> | + Audio track ==> | + Channels: 2 ==> | + Sampling frequency: 48000.0
Whoops! I did AC3 passthrough, instead of transcoding. I must have been looking at my LaserDisc demodulator before I ran that.
This news was necessary, but so predictable it was as though we all predicted it was necessary.
Australia’s crumbling telecommunications infrastructure—privatised for pennies and run into the ground—was in dire need of replacement by the 2000s, let alone the 2010s. Okay the copper was already in the ground, but that’s not my point. The Labor government a decade ago proposed a Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) National Broadband Network to replace the aging copper. Fibre is durable against water, future proof, and faster than copper, dontchaknow?
Something for the public good shouldn’t need a terse economic justification, like not wanting strychnine in your drinking water, or relying on a cost-benefit analysis for not stabbing yourself in the eye with an Ethernet crimper. But even the single system would become cost-effective with economies of scale, and profitable, high-density urban areas would offset the construction and maintenance of rural installations.
I drew the comparisons with Gough Whitlam’s original 1970s vision of decentralising Australia. Rural Australians have held the short end of the stick for a long time, and the NBN could have given a significant economic opportunity, to say nothing of remote education and healthcare. I also compared it to the power grid in 2011, after a tutor I had at university at the time dismissed it because wireless would work just as well. He was saved by the bell when I asked what the antennas would be plugged into.
(Fun fact, antenna spelled backwards is annetna, which almost looks the same but isn’t. Just like the new FTTP upgrades the coalition are proposing. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves… which the NBN under their stewardship had no risk of).
Then, as any wary Australian IT worker will tell you, things went belly-up. The Labor government was voted out for Tony Abbott and his populist coalition, cheered on with some of the most one-sided, embarrasing Murdoch press I’ve ever seen. The instructions from the top were literally to “destroy” the NBN, which Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull successfully achieved with his flawed multi-technology mix; bizarrely to the delight of a small but vocal slice of the Australian technical press.
Once again, city dwellers like me would get superior service than rural Australians; though even we would be short changed. Construction of the future-proof fibre optics—already in thousands of homes—was halted, and new installations were replaced with a basketcase of fixed-point wireless, expensive greenfields copper, unfit-for-purpose HFC, tin cans with string, and outdated Fibre to the Node boxes that would cost more to install and upgrade than simply building FTTP from the start. Meanwhile, the shambles and uncertainty left a gap in the market for private companies to snap up the profitable areas and lock people to a single provider while leaving rural Australians—you guessed it—with rubbish. Just like we all warned. I hate it when I’m right.
The only good thing that came from FTTN boxes was being able to warm myself from the waste heat generated from one of them while waiting for a cab in North Sydney. Turns out copper needs tons of power in addition to being slower, but fibre optics use these things called internal refraction and photons which…
(Yes Mr Abbott, you had a question? Pardon, what was that? …no Tony, a photon is not a phone).
Well wouldn’t you know, it took a pandemic and half the country working from home for people who short-sightedly dismissed the NBN as a pointless white elephant useful only for gaming and streaming video to realise… hey, maybe we should be deploying fibre everywhere and upgrading these ridiculous FTTN boxes so the network actually works. Kishor Napier-Raman’s writeup in Crikey had the best summary; it’s jaw-dropping what those politicians said and did.
So now, finally, Australia is a step closer to getting the network it was supposed to have in 2010. It won’t be for everyone, of course. It will also take a long time, and surprise surprise, cost more than if we’d just done it properly the first time. Malcolm Turnbull’s promise of “faster, cheaper, sooner” broadband failed on all three counts and, best of all, we taxpayers will once again be footing the bill.
I hold out hope we’ll get a Royal Commission out of this. I’ll bet there’s even more context and back story we don’t know about.
OpenSSH 8.4 was released yesterday. It includes several signifigant changes for FIDO/U2F authentication, some of which are listed as potentially-incompatible, but are still great to see. Other things that caught my eye:
sftp(1): allow the
-Aflag to explicitly enable agent forwarding in scp and sftp. The default remains to not forward an agent, even when ssh_config enables it.
sshd_configlonger than 256k
And I’m always pleased to see NetBSD portability notes:
sshd(8): support NetBSD’s
utmpx.ut_ssaddress field. bz#960
This exquisitely-maintained software powers so much of the Internet. It got me thinking that for all my talk about donations, I should put my money where my mouth is and donate to the OpenBSD Foundation. Even if you’ve never heard of OpenSSH, you’ve also benefited from it.
My Hacker News post from earlier today was written on Friday, but I held back posting it for fear of RSS spammage. Then Saturday rolled by and I had such a migraine I didn’t get around to posting it; go figure.
To make me feel better, Clara bought me a re-release of Rodriguez’s legendary Cold Fact LP, and a delightfully bright Sailor Moon shirt. Along with feeling lucky that I have a girlfriend who knows me so well, it reminded me of that Hacker News thread in another specific way; namely whether it’s appropriate to include aspects of our personality and hobbies on technical blogs.
My answer is: of course! I love reading what other interests people have besides the initial reason I came to their site. Everyone’s lived experiences and interests are deeply unique, and it’s fun when your Venn diagrams intersect more than you expected. You like Ansible and craft beer? You’re a developer with a ham radio licence? You’re in infosec and a photographer? These are all fantastic!
More than all the other bad blogopshere advice back in the day, I vehemently disagreed with the premise that that you should limit yourself to one topic. Sure, have an overarching theme or a primary area of expertise, but don’t feel afraid to dip your toes elsewhere from time to time. We all benefit when you do.
Another post of mine appeared on Hacker News last week, this time thanks to luu. It was one I wrote back in July responding to the charge that my blog isn’t serious enough, a touchy-feely topic I didn’t expect given HN tends to appeal to hard computer science and engineering types. I was also surprised at the number of positive comments.
The biggest takeaway I took were an affirmation that not everything needs to be a hussle, or justified in the context of money. tayo42 had my favourite comment:
I really wish we didn’t put so much pressure to be professional and serious all the time. Working takes up 1/3 of my life currently and I can’t actually be my self. Another third is sleeping. So for only 1/3 of my time I can actually act like my self. I hate that there is a pressure to talk a certain, act a certain way, express my self a certain way. I think we really need more of a emphasis on being human, less “circle back” and “work streams”, more jokes, more smiling and experimenting.
KaiserPro also raised a point I hadn’t considered: being too serious could also limit the reach of your work in unexpected ways:
They couldn’t seem to grasp that if I’d have written [his sweary post in] a dry, clean style, not only would they have not read it, but they wouldn’t have understood my point. [..] Humour, irreverence and swearing are all tools to convey a meaning, point or story. Used well (I am fully willing to admit that I have not been masterful in my use) they can create a mental image far stronger than any other metaphor.
There’s also the angle that simply fewer people are writing online these days, or are confining themselves to social networks. There are so many reasons why this is sad, not least because they’re surrendering control, propping up invasive business models, and relegating their important ideas to ephemeral social posts. But just as important is the lack of personality: I miss seeing people’s personal sites in the 1990s, and how people presented their blogs in the 2000s.
Curiously, the few negative comments had to do with my site mascot Rubi, which I’ll admit didn’t surprise me. Once people on mobile found her—she only appears in the desktop theme—a few proceeded to discuss her appropriateness. One specifically called out her “hiked-up skirt” (since deleted) which amused Clara who drew her, and who often cosplays in similar getup. It was a good thing they didn’t see Rubi in her summer swimsuit and shorts for that brief month a few years ago!
I’ve always had a small anime badge somewhere on my sites since at least 2006, back when it was SOS-Dan to demonstrate my allegiance to Haruhi. Before then it was Star Trek insignia. I love stumbling on another personal site and seeing a different aspect of someone’s personality shine through. That’s what makes the web fun. If I lose a few readers from doing that, they probably weren’t the kind of people I wanted to spend mental energy on in the first place.
The Equinix Customer Portal is much handier than futzing around in your email or using their mobile site to get data centre access.
Ghost doesn’t have an official blog posting app for iOS, but Publisher for Ghost is as good as one for the people I host other blogs for.
I never thought I’d never see NetNewsWire for iOS, but it’s great to have my favourite Mac RSS reader from back in the day on my portable telephonic device. I just need to figure out if/how I can sync it with TinyTinyRSS on my FreeBSD cloud server.
The replacement Nikkei Asian Review application is infinitely better than the old one. Just log in with your subscriber details.