Kent Ridge Park in Singapore

Travel

I saw the name Kent Ridge Park scroll by my feed earlier in the week, and it took me right back to my childhood! I used to hike through it all the time, especially during school holidays. Waking up at sunrise to beat the humidity and heat, then going for a wander for a few hours was a great way to clear my head.

Photo of Kent Ridge Park from the Singapore National Parks Board

I forgot it also had historical significance:

A historical park where one of the last battles for Singapore was fought during World War II, Kent Ridge Park is a great place for families and history buffs to learn about the heritage of our nation.

I need to get out and do more walks like this. Sydney has tons of them too.


Let’s circle back on this nuanced lede

Media

Perfect It may have done just that:

At the end of the day, ditching buzzwords would be a win-win. There’s no problem getting buy-in—it’s not bleeding-edge; every thought leader is in alignment with it. It should be the low-hanging fruit going forward. When you open the kimono, however, you have to admit you can’t move the needle: corporate groupthink, fads and fetishes, and basic inertia make a perfect storm. Even if you’re giving 110%, you don’t have the bandwidth to boil the ocean like that. It seems like there’s no ROI—it is what it is.

But if words are your wheelhouse, you can disrupt that and level up. If you think outside the box, you can leverage some next-level technology to pivot and raise the bar to get synergy and make a paradigm shift. You won’t ever get a hard stop on buzzwords, but you can be truly impactful.

I hope what I just had was a hiccup, and not something worse.


Discovering 850 watt SFX power supplies exist

Hardware

Small form-factor computer enthusiasts have to accept compromises to save space. Tall air coolers for dense CPUs might protrude too far, and liquid radiators might be too wide. Larger graphics cards might be too long to fit, take up too many PCI slots, or need additional physical support. But even if our smaller cases could accommodate all this, our power supplies might not.

My current desktop power supply is a Corsair 750 W Platinum SFX. I’ve used Corsair power supplies for more than a decade; they’re quiet, well constructed, easy to cable up, and have outlived other components by years. They’re also packaged thoughtfully; something you don’t realise is nice until you get it.

But I thought 750 watts was the highest one could go in this form factor, which limited hardware options like graphics cards.

Turns out, in the time I looked there are a few 850 W, which is what the 6900XT and 3080 recommend. Here’s EVGAs, which fortunately is called a Supernova, not a Collateral Damage, Shootout, Vengence, or Hyper-Extreme Fury. Ah, PC hardware manufacturers, always at the forefront of class and taste!

EVGA 850W PSU, with its box

I guess the bigger question is whether you’d want to run these cards in a confined space, even if you could. The NR200P is an airflow-focused case, but I already feel like I’d be pushing its thermal limits with anything more than it currently has. But it’s also where the industry is trending.


Weird Al had 100 gigs of RAM

Hardware

I’m old enough to remember when Weird Al Yankovic’s It’s All About the Pentiums first came out. Every few years I like to listen back and see how much more has changed from those heady days of the late 1990s!

Today I gravitated to these two lines:

Defraggin’ my hard drive for thrills;
I got me a hundred gigabytes of RAM

Defragmentation isn’t necessary if you’re on an SSD, and if anything could add to wear without benefit. But I do miss those animations.

The bigger observation there is memory. A hundred gigs seemed ridiculous and unobtainable at the time. Consumer-level machines still measured memory in megabytes, and people had memories of a decade prior when this was kilobytes, or even less. I still remember a kid at my school being amazed that my Commodore 16 from eBay didn’t have 16 MiB of memory.

But memory has felt like an exception to Moore’s Law for a while, at least in practice. While many of the song’s bombastic lines have long been superseded, most people still don’t have 100 GiB of memory in 2022, more than two decades later. My experience is that people are rarely running with more than 16, or 6 times less.

I think that’s interesting, and makes me wonder why.

The first, and most obvious reason, was that the song was supposed to be a bit silly! Earnestly analysing satire puts me right back into high school extension English class, with all the unsubstantiated certainty that comes from saying that “closed curtains represent the passage of time” (my personal favourite).

And yet, plenty of other lines have long been met or surpassed, including T1 network connectivity, monitor sizes, 32-bit binaries, sending faxes, and Y2K compliance. Why not memory?

The easiest, and most widely-accepted advice for people complaining of slow performance at the time was to add more memory. Swapping memory to IDE or early SCSI hard drives was a miserable experience, even if you had a fancy 10,000 RPM caviar device. Heck, I had a spreadsheet at a part-time job in high school that was so massive, it ground my Vaio laptop to dust. Thesedays, we have SSDs with excellent random access performance, and fat buses with less latency to make swap a bit less frustrating. OSs like FreeBSD and macOS also have ARC to optimise memory before hitting slower storage.

But we also have new pressures. People are running hundreds of tabs in their browsers, which have become de facto operating systems in their own right. A decade or more of efficiency gains have been eaten by the likes of Electron applications. Fire up a few conferencing or chat applications, and that’s much of your memory gone.

The other issue is the trend towards consolidation. Manufacturers like Apple are embedding memory directly on their CPUs to increase performance and energy efficiency, which also removes the ability to upgrade. It’s not new behaviour from Cupertino, but I worry about the signal it sends to an industry that so regularly copies what Apple does while pretending to criticise it.

Memory keeps getting faster, and our software keeps soaking it up. Yet take a glance at OEM and system integrator websites, and most machines are still shipping with 8 GiB standard. I had this on my mid-tier MacBooks and ThinkPads a decade ago.

The general public isn’t asking for a hundred gigs, but I’d love to see the baseline rise up a bit. It doesn’t feel like we’ve budged meaningfully here for years. Or is that just me?


AMD Ryzen 7000

Hardware

AMD recently launched their new Ryzen 7000 series CPUs, which look awesome. ServeTheHome had the best summary with screenshots, and GamersNexus did a detailed video going over the specifications and expected US pricing.

This latest generation gets the new AM5 socket, which uses LGA like modern Intel CPUs in lieu of having pins on the CPU itself. I wonder how long it’ll take before unscrupulous American retailers start shipping boards with bent LGA pins?

The new generation also supports DDR5 memory, and PCIe generation 5. DDR5 remains stubbornly expensive and difficult to buy, and consumer GPUs still aren’t even saturating PCIe4, but the latter would be useful for high-speed storage.

I don’t have much more to add than what the those outlets discussed, though I do note the TDP has also gone up. AMD claim these chips will have improved performance-per-watt over past Ryzen chips, though I’m surprised even the entry level silicon will be more power hungry than the last AM4 generation. Couple that with Nvidia’s projected massive power draw for their 4000-series GPUs, and we’re in for some fun… especially with current power prices.

Thermals and power are really where ARM continues to kick proverbial arse. I will continue buying AMD kit for home game machines and workstations, but MacBooks and mobile phones operate at a whole other level.


The Mentour Pilot on responsibility

Media

Petter produces my favourite aviation videos on YouTube. He’s sincere, thorough, avoids sensationalism, and takes the time to explore human and procedural factors when discussing everything from incidents to aircraft design. He’s also just really engaging and fun to watch, and has been responsible for getting me back into playing flight sims again.

Clara and I have been recently going through his Mentour Now spinoff channel, and just watched his response to a YouTuber who deliberately crashed his plane for clicks. Now there’s a phrase I never thought I’d write.

Petter concluded, emphasis his:

The aviation industry is serious. It’s built on the premise of safety, and that everyone involved thinks about safety as their primary priority. And this is definitely not what [he] has done here.

As an aviation content creator, you have to be aware of the kind of message you’re sending. I am very aware that hundreds of thousands of people are going to see what I’m saying. So I have to make sure what I’m saying and doing is well researched, and that it has a positive impact on my viewers. It has to be positive, constructive, and it has to forward safety.

[He’s] set a really bad example, for people [in aviation], and the general public who might get the complete wrong perception about what we’re supposed to do as pilots in emergency situations.

From that perspective, I feel bad for all the great aviation YouTubers out there who spend their days creating good, constructive, instructive content. Their life is likely going to become harder now because of his actions.

Food scientist Ann Riordan has voiced similar sentiment about responsibility, the potential for serious harm, and how bad-faith actors make the lives of honest people that much harder.

I’m relieved to see more people using their platforms to discuss these issues.


Today’s spam: customers have tills?

Thoughts

Today’s bit of spam made me smile:

get your customer’s till ringing

Wouldn’t you want customers ringing your till, not the reverse?


Answering “yeah, but is the solution secure?”

Internet

Secure from what? From whom? Where? And for how long?

Moving from dev and ops to solution architecture has been an eye-opening experience. The first thing you notice is that prospective clients rarely know what they want, and those that do may be confused, have conflicting requirements, or are acting under dangerous misconceptions. I’m sure everyone from business analysts to support engineers know exactly what I’m talking about.

The challenge with being the interface between sales and engineering is being able to speak to both groups. The former are motivated by KPIs and balance sheets to say “yes!” to everything, and the latter need to build something to a spec. But a sales person who commits to something infeasible is as useful as an engineer who implements an unworkable solution with bad data.

Security is a perfect example of this struggle in practice. Nobody wants insecure systems, save for pen testers and bounty hunters! Yet ask a businessperson to quantify what they mean when they say a system “has to be secure”, and most can’t. You may get some vague references to encryption, firewalls, VPNs, keys, securing data in flight and at rest, and maybe a tender for flavour, but nothing about how it fits together, or what problems each component is attempting to solve atomically and in aggregate.

It’s why I’m troubled by those ubiquitous YouTube VPN ads. Their sweeping security claims don’t pass muster, and give viewers the complete wrong information. It’s one thing to say they bypass georestrictions (at least for now), but the other claims about it protecting you from viruses, tracking, and fraud are dangerous nonsense. But I digress!

It’s an architects job (and others in pre-sales engineering) to walk people through their threat domain, including stakeholders, what they’re trying to protect, from whom, and within what financial, time, business, and legal constraints. Only then can you truthfully propose a solution that addresses their concerns.

It’s jarring when you realise security in the real world isn’t binary, both for sales people used to thinking it’s a checkbox alongside “speed” and “easy to use”, and engineers and technical writers like me who are used to dealing with mathematical certainty. And there are serious consequences for getting this wrong:

  • It might not address their security concerns, or not in the way they expected or required. Worse, they may erroneously think it protects them from things it doesn’t.

  • It might be too expensive or complicated to deploy or maintain in the first place.

  • It might be technically sound, but so impractical that people either don’t use it, or route around it to do their jobs.

The latter is a regular blindspot in technical forums, Q&A sites, and the orange peanut gallery. Show me a bulletproof system with perfect security, integrity checks, and high availability, and I’ll point you to someone uploading confidential documents to Dropbox instead. It’s expedient to blame this on PEBKAC, but in reality it’s evidence of a much earlier problem.

There are best practices for security that anyone who works in the industry would be negligent for not following. It’s also incumbent upon people in architecture to make the case for secure systems, and to make sure it’s being prioritised appropriately. But it’s also why it’s critical to reframe questions about security, or the entire exercise is moot.


It’s the first of September already

Thoughts

To afford ourselves the use of an adverb, that’s patently ridiculous.

Here are some historical events that happened on this day:


Goodbye, Gorby

Thoughts

Channel NewsAsia:

Gorbachev, the last Soviet president, forged arms reduction deals with the United States and partnerships with Western powers to remove the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe since World War II and bring about the reunification of Germany.

But he saw that legacy wrecked in the final months of his life, as the invasion of Ukraine brought Western sanctions crashing down on Moscow, and politicians in both Russia and the West began to speak of a new Cold War.

“Gorbachev died in a symbolic way when his life’s work, freedom, was effectively destroyed by Putin,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

To be clear, he was no saint. Much of the Western press were happy to turn a blind eye to all the horrible things he either authorised, or was complicit in. Working class Russians also saw their living standards plummet after Glasnost, even if the intentions were broadly positive. Whether you want to call it shock therapy, or necessary, depends on your view of history.

Still though, he did more for my German family than anyone in living memory, and the dissolution of the USSR resulted in the independence and freedom of millions of people across Eastern Europe. It’s telling that Putin characterises this as a blunder.