Pete and Dud’s Frog and Peach

I have a local playlist of old-time radio and English comedy that I play when I need a bit of cheering up. Clicking Random this afternoon gave me this wonderful routine from the legendary English duo. I’m sure it’s on the Internet somewhere:

Dudley Moore: I’m talking tonight, to Sir Arthur Greeb-Streebling.

Peter Cook: Oh no you’re not.

Dudley Moore: I’m not?

Peter Cook: You’re not at all. You’re talking to Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling.

Dudley Moore: Oh, I…

Peter Cook: You’re confusing me with Sir Arthur Greeb-Streebling!

Dudley Moore: I’m so sorry.

Peter Cook: Yes, well my name is Streeb-Greebling. The “T” is silent, as in fox.

Regarding the food served at his new restaurant:

Peter Cook: We have frog à la pêche. It’s one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen.

And on the transport options to get to the establishment:

Peter Cook: Stuck out here in the middle of a bog, in the heart of the Yorkshire moors, there’s no problem parking the car. A little difficulty in extracating it…

Figuring out things before the Internet

I was part of the last generation that grew up without ubiquitous Internet access, and probably the only one that used multimedia CD-ROMs to research school assignments. Maybe that’s why I’ve been collecting them of late; who knows when Worldbook, Bookshelf, Encarta, or Grolier will have my back again?

Okay, realistically the chances are as low as my vitamin D levels. Oh, burn! Wait, that’s the problem, I’m not getting enough sunlight. But I digress.

It makes me wonder how I ever found out things before the Internet, and what the impact of that has been.

Did you know Perinthalmanna became a municipality in 1990, or that the Empogona genus was originally a subgenius of Tricalysia?

Almost every question I have now gets put into a search engine or Wikipedia first, from how different laundry powders work, to whether the allexport option is available on all Kornshell variants. Often times that will lead me to a book to buy, or a video to watch, but the Internet was the spark.

Would would I have done before? Some of this is handled with local documentation, like the excellent BSD manual pages. But would I have done as much research into esoteric or unusual topics if it meant going to a library first? Would the library even have an approachable book about laundry surfactants?

But on the flipside, the Internet lets us enter the dangerous realm of Dunning Kruger of assuming we’re knowledgeable on subjects we’re not. It also assumes we’re capable of processing all this additional mental information, and that we need to have an opinion about everything.

I don’t want to say life used to be simpler… but it kind of was. In good ways and bad.

A quick look at console file managers

I still consider XTreeGold some of the best utility software ever written, and it still makes using my vintage PCs a joy. I’ve been looking again if there are modern equivalents, especially for exploring file systems and performing batch tasks.

Here’s what I have so far:

  • Midnight Commander mimics the orginal Norton Commander for DOS, with a text editor and familiar blue interface. I love that this exists, though I’ll admit I keep it around mostly for nostalgia.

  • Ranger arguably spawned the current next-gen console file managers, and its where I’ve stuck around. It uses a column interface like the macOS Finder which makes visualising directory trees easy, and I still think it’s the easiest to configure.

  • nnn is a multi-modal file manager with numbered tabs, file icons, and even a disk usage visualiser. I need to give it more of a look.

  • fff is is the most recent one I’ve looked at. It’s genuinely impressive how much functionality and performance has been wrung out of pure bash scripts.

  • lf feels like a snappier Ranger with a broad subset of its features included in a single binary file. I could see myself installing this on servers, and using Ranger on the desktop.

Let me know if you have other suggestions, I may be slightly obsessed with the concept right now.

A modern web payment login process

I couldn’t help but chuckle about how desensitised I’ve become to this:

  1. Click the link to the well-known external payment processor.

  2. Type my username (from my password manager).

  3. Click Continue.

  4. Click all the “traffic lights”.

  5. Click Continue.

  6. Be told I missed some, and to try again.

  7. Click all the “crosswalks”, after figuring out what a “crosswalk” is. An angry hiker? This isn’t a word we use here, so that’s an 1i7n fail.

  8. Click Continue.

  9. Type my password (from my password manager).

  10. Choose a two-factor auth method out of a list of one.

  11. Click Continue.

  12. Wait for the 6-digit code.

  13. Type the 6-digit code.

  14. Read premature validation text warning me in scary red text that the code I’m in the middle of typing “should be six digits”.

  15. Click Continue.

  16. Click Agree and Pay.

  17. Wait to return to merchant store.

  18. Receive timeout alert.

Wait, what was I buying again? Was this service trying to tell me I needed to save money? Touché.

The Stanley Parable Ultra Deluxe: Please play it!

For all my nostalgia over Commodore and Win16 platforms, we’re living in the golden age of surrealist puzzle games right now. If you’re like me and not into headline-grabbing AAA first-person shooters, they might have slipped you by.

The Stanley Parable may be the best example. It’s made it onto a few of my game lists, but I’ve never reviewed it. This was deliberate; it’s nigh impossible to do it justice without divulging spoilers.

You start as Stanley, an office drone who discovers his coworkers are missing. It’s your job to wander around and figure out why. The British narrator directs you to certain choices, but it’s up to you whether you follow his lead or mess up his story. The forth wall isn’t broken as much as its utterly obliterated.

Clara and I haven’t jumped or laughed this hard over a game in years.

Screenshot of the initial scene in The Stanley Parable, showing Stanley's blank computer console and office desk with his 427 employee number.

It’s hard to describe, but despite being an American game, it wouldn’t be out of place among surrealist English comedies on a movie night. You’ll love this game if you’re into that sense of humour, which you should be. Are you… still in the broom closet Stanley?

The game was re-released with bonus content last month, and I was not prepared for how good it’d be. Buy and play it, right now! I’d still recommend playing on a desktop for the original authentic experience, but it also works great on the Nintendo Switch.

Expertise is expensive, conspiracies aren’t

I’ve been preoccupied again thinking about these:

  • Good journalism costs money, and journalists need to get paid.

  • Conspiracy theories, misinformation lies, and junk science can be (and are) generated and posted for free.

  • Such nonsense is easily manipulated by people with ulterior motives, and is corrosive to the health of our societies and democracies.

  • The primary business model of search engines and social media is to monetise free content.

  • Paywalls are the digital equivalent of buying a newspaper, but they run against the above business model, and therefore isn’t the content that gets organically or algorithmically disseminated.

I was of the firm belief that a technical solution existed for this, waiting to be discovered and implemented. But as with so many things, the real issue is business models, incentives, and structure. Those are meatspace issues.

Voting in the Australian elections by post

Clara and I just sent in our votes. We may not be in the electorate on voting day, so we were approved for a postal ballot. Voting is compulsory in Australia, though even if it weren’t, its still a civic responsibility.

Photo showing the postal vote envelopes and some of the material that came with them.

My kudos to the AEC for making this so easy. In past years I’ve voted early, but this was even better. About the only difficulty was refolding that metre-long senate paper!

My journey back to Fedora Workstation

Long-time readers of my rambling would remember I ran Fedora on my laptops for many years. FreeBSD’s Wi-Fi and suspend/resume support was patchy enough that I kept it on the desktop, and Fedora just worked. I also like to keep my toes in a few camps to see how things are progressing on the other side of the fence, and to keep my Linux skills up.

I stopped using Fedora around the time I made the switch on the server side to Debian for Linux workloads. I figured I’d make my life easier by running the same Linux family everywhere.

People categorise Linux distributions based on their package managers, because it’s such an important interface and probably among the first things people use when configuring a system. But the philosophies behind their designs peek through in other ways too, from configuration locations to file systems.

Over time I got work Macs, and FreeBSD became good enough on my laptops. But then Steam and Proton got me back into the Linux desktop again… I can’t understate how much fun it is having access to PC games and GPUs again without needing to touch Windows.

Ubuntu had been fine for this, but its use of Snaps over Flatpaks (or even just package repos) and a few other wrinkles have made it feel decidedly less Debian-y than I remember. It’s hard to quantify, but it felt flaky.

After distro hopping more times than I care to admit, I tried Fedora again after a few friends and people I trust reported positive experiences with Workstation and the immutable Silverblue. It just worked again, save for some Nvidia adventures which I don’t fault Linux distro maintainers for. I even did an update from 35 to 36, and I haven’t had a system upgrade outside the BSD ecosystem go so smoothly.

There are broader questions about the direction Linux is taking, some of which I think is warranted, and others that make me relish my time in FreeBSD, NetBSD, and illumos. But for a desktop game machine I mostly dual-boot into to play Steam games and Minecraft, I’m remembering why I liked using this. If you’re a desktop Linux user in 2022, it’s probably the best experience you’ll get.

How Ukraine’s banks continued to operate

The Kyiv Independent has an interesting analysis of how Ukraine’s National Bank maintained customer operations and liquidity during Russia’s invasion:

[The] regulator has a clear framework for responding to various events that ensure the reliable and constant operation of Ukraine’s banking system, the preservation of public funds, and the continuity of payments … the regulator also requires business continuity plans from banks to be drafted in advance.

The Ukrainian banking sector’s high degree of digitalization and the broad usage of remote financial services has also played a role.

It’s sobering to think businesses have to factor in foreign aggression into their business continuity plans, and abhorrent that they’ve had to be invoked now thanks to Putin and his cadre of sycophants.

Frankly, I think it’s incredible that these systems have held up so well in the face of what they’ve been dealing with. One thing I’ve learned for certain from working in infocomm: Ukrainian engineers are among the best in the industry. Don’t bet against them. 🌻

The hot (running) AMD Radeon 6950 XT

Hot on the heels of Nvidia’s new RTX 3090 Ti graphics card, AMD announced a revision to their 6000 series including their high-end 6950 XT.

For those outside the niche world of high-end consumer GPUs, these are the halo cards that gamers look at from afar with binoculars, creative professionals judge the performance per watt/dollar and stick with their current kit, and the affluent purchase for bragging rights. I hope they have the case space, and an air conditioner hose to point directly at the card’s intakes.

These cards supposed to be ridiculous, and a showcase of what the company is capable of producing. But impressions from the outside world are that Nvidia and AMD are inking out minor performance gains by throwing escalating amounts of power at the problem.

It feels like we’re back in the Pentium 4 days, where clocks and performance were the only guiding consideration. Intel had to go back to the mobile chips to base their Core architecture on after NetBurst became more prophetic a name than they must have first thought.

Will we see a similar reset with GPUs? The rumours are that the 4000 series from Nvidia will be even more power hungry, and I’ve read journalists speculate that the RTX 3090 Ti was to get ahead of public perception before a wider launch of these space heaters.

Intel is also a wild card here. If they could offer even three quarters the performance of an equivalent AMD or Nvidia card but with half or less of the power draw, I’d be very interested. I think the planet would be too.