ZFS isn’t just for NAS boxes

I’m still surprised by the number of online tutorials and social media posts that dismiss ZFS as being only useful for file servers, or only bring it up in that context. I wholeheartedly recommend it for this purpose, but at least on FreeBSD it hasn’t been limited to that for years:

  • The official Poudriere system for building ports for pkgng uses ZFS to create isolated pools that are blown away once a port is built. This way the environment is clean to start, and you don’t junk up your production system. Packages you install on FreeBSD now have been built this way.

  • It’s invaluable for laptops or consumer-grade desktops with flaky hardware precisely because it always remains consistent, even if a suspend or hibernation fails, or a battery dies. You can’t say the same for other file systems, even with journaling or softupdates enabled. Don’t have the memory or CPU for deduping or aggressive compression? Don’t turn on those features!

  • Simple snapshotting lets you make substantive changes to any portion of your system, and roll it back. Allan Jude demonstrated at AsiaBSDCon 2019 the idea of using ZFS for in-place, atomic upgrades of the base system. I use it to try on new desktop environments and software.

  • iocage uses ZFS by default for creating jails, and it’s increasingly the preferred approach for ezjail and manual builds. Other approaches for using jails are, at the very least, tedious.

  • In the same vein as jails, ZFS with bhyve is 👌. I think that may have been the first time on this blog I used an emoji inline in text.

  • Send/receive, inline compression, and encryption in the latest OpenZFS versions don’t quite get to HAST-levels of high availability for true geo redundancy, but it’s ideal for remote backups and restores. And hey, you can use it with HAST and GELI too!

Ken Akamatsu on the Raspberry Pi 4 model B

Ken Akamatsu recently commented on the most recent Raspberry Pi 4 model B, saying he thought its power draw was too high, and that he thought the Pi 2 model B still had the best power to performance ratio.

Yes, Ken Akamatsu of Love Hina, Mahou Sensei Negima, and most recently UQ Holder! I haven’t read the latter yet, but the others were such cultural touchstones from my teens and first years of university. Years later when I started dating Clara, I realised she’d done the same thing and printed all those Negima spell cards. Heck, Nodoka even appeared as recently as last week here.

That adorable key visual came out thirteen years ago. I feel old.

I only discovered Ken’s Twitter recently, but was already relieved to hear he’s on the mend after some scary medical fun. Turns out he’s a bit of an electronics buff too; here’s his tweet about the PC Engine mini of which I only just learned.

But back to the Pi 4 model B. It’s an interesting new entry in the lineup; the Pi was originally billed as an educational reincarnation of the BBC Micro. Early reports were quick to dismiss comparisons between it and the Arduino for embedded uses. But since then, Pi variants—Pis variant?—save become smaller and smaller, and eschewing (gesundheit) ports in favour of using GPIO headers. I can’t speak to it being easier to develop for, but that also wouldn’t surprise me if true.

The Pi 4 model B bucks this trend with Gigabit Ethernet, USB 3.0, and even dual HDMI ports, both of which are far more useful for desktop applications and media centres.

Ansible name parameters in cron

Speaking of Ansible, I was late to adding cron jobs the right way instead of using lineinfile. And immediately got this:

[DEPRECATION WARNING]: The ‘name’ parameter will be required in future releases.. This feature will be removed in version 2.12. Deprecation warnings can be disabled by setting deprecation_warnings=False in ansible.cfg.

I wasn’t sure what name should be… did it need to be the name of the script or binary being executed? From the docs:

When crontab jobs are managed: the module includes one line with the description of the crontab entry “#Ansible: ” corresponding to the “name” passed to the module, which is used by future ansible/module calls to find/check the state. The “name” parameter should be unique, and changing the “name” value will result in a new cron task being created (or a different one being removed).

Okay, that makes sense. Done.

  user: root
  name: "Earworm"
  job: "bennie-bennie-bennie-bennie-bennie-and-the-jets.pl"
  special_time: monthly

President Widodo raises plastic at G20

This has become a theme on my blog here of late, so I was happy to read the news. Jun Suzuki and Marimi Kishimoto reported for the Nikkei Asian Review:

The [plastic] issue came up at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, where global leaders agreed that marine plastic waste is a serious issue and pledged to take “concrete” steps to tackle the problem. President Joko Widodo of Indonesia – the only Southeast Asian G-20 member – had said he wanted to bring up the mounting plastic problem at the meet.

I’m encouraged to see this. The economically developed world should help.

The Asia-Pacific region accounts for 60% of improperly disposed of plastic waste, or mismanaged waste, according to data from nonprofit research organization Our World in Data. This type of waste has a high possibility of entering the ocean through rivers or other waterways.

I’d be keen to see how much of that is plastic the rest of the world ships to them to deal with.

Why do most PC laptops have awful screens?

I got spam this morning from a well-known PC manufacturer discussing their awesome new line of laptops. Their industrial design and technical specifications are on point. Then I checked their screen resolution, and they’re FHD for 14-inch, and 768p for their 13.3-inch. I couldn’t believe it.

PC users of either Windows or *nix persuasions like to make fun of Macs, and they have some fair points. To use a car analogy, nobody needs more than a Toyota Corolla to get from point A to B, so therefore anything else is frivolous and expensive. Okay I’m taking the piss a bit here, but there’s a grain of truth to it when one removes experience from the equation.

But once you’ve have a 2× HiDPI Retina screen, going to standard resolutions is awful. Photos look grainy. Colours are washed out. Fonts are blurry and ill-defined. And something I’ve really come to appreciate: you can’t crank the resolution up in a pinch to check out a ton of logs at once. The 1.5× default on Windows is a nasty hack; neither high enough to cleanly double everything, and still too low for most of the visual benefit. And most *nix desktops copy it.

Not everyone feels like they’re missing out having low resolution screens, just as I’m sure I’m not missing out getting an affordable, reliable car. That’s fine. The irony also isn’t lost on me that half my computing life is spent looking at Retina screens powered by Macs with laughably-poor GPUs. But screens are one of my flags I plant for computing: they’re either 2× HiDPI, or they’re not worth buying. I look at the damned things for most of my life now, so I want them to be nice!

It deserves its own post, but it’s why I still think the LG UltraFine 4K is the best screen I’ve ever owned. I don’t need 5K, or a certain expensive stand. It has high pixel density, colours look fantastic, and it’s the perfect size, regardless of the computer powering it.

But for whatever reason the majority of PC laptops and external screens sold today are firmly stuck in the mid 2000s. The last innovation was widescreens, the merits of which are still being debated. I’m not sure why things are so static, but I have theories:

  • Part of this has to be the fault of OS and application developers not making a compelling case for it. Apple make a big deal about how detailed their screens are.

  • GPUs on lower-end PCs are even worse than what Apple ship, which limits their ability to drive 2× displays. There are some theories that this is Intel’s fault for refusing to let OEMs ship discrete GPUs on certain boards. Either way, our mobile phones have better graphics than most laptops.

  • Windows defaults to 1.5×, and it’s incomplete. If this is people’s first experience with HiDPI screens, I can understand why being underwhelmed is the prevailing attitude.

  • Gamers also prioritise refresh rates and lower image retention over resolution and colour accuracy, and they’re about the only people still building their own computers. I’m glad the DIY spirit is still alive out there at all, but that’s also for another post.

But I think the biggest reason is inertia: people are used to looking at crappy screens with spindly ClearType text and either don’t know any different, or don’t care. Some people still press the Search button on search engines too, rather that hitting Return.

My FreeBSD Panasonic laptop has a great screen, and while things are a little snug running at 2× HiDPI, it has sufficient resolution to enable it. And subsequently, everything looks gorgeous! I hope this will be the norm one day, not just for computers one has to carefully check.

Sashin’s House at the Top of the World

Bob Geldof ended his 1992 album The Happy Club with a spoken word song called The House at the Top of the World. My parents frequently played it.

Today we sat at the top of the world, this time at my friend Sashin’s place on the outskirts of Sydney, with Valty and Kiri. The sky and landscape both seemed to go on forever from this hill.

View into the distance showing the new Sydney Metro line with endless trees and sky.

Sashin also has an excellent website you should check out.

Rubenerd Show 395: The corned mindfulness episode

Rubenerd Show 395

Podcast: Play in new window | Download

51:02 – Join Ruben as he takes a somewhat narcissistic view of work, life in one’s thirties, mindfulness or lack thereof, charities, the events in Hong Kong, the ergonomic considerations behind corn chips, wandering around Artarmon thinking the same things, and a classic clip from Flight of the Conchords. You want to sit down but you sold you chair, so you... you just stand there. Recorded over a few weeks in June 2019.

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

Released June 2019 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.


Streetcars in the US

Both these videos were interesting. Clara and I took the Metro around LA, but I was struck by how one of the largest cities in the world mostly had the equivilent of what in Australia we’d call trams.

Play Los Angeles: The Great American Transit Experiment

This video by Vox theorised streetcars are becoming so popular in the US because they’re cheaper, easier to sell politically, and can spur development. I sure would rather move to a new place near public transport, though as the video points out, that doesn’t help with accesibility for people in existing areas.

Play The real reason streetcars are making a comeback


Spellging mistaes for this week

I’ve discussed a few times here my preference for getting ideas and blog posts out over quibbling details like spelling and literary finesse. I still say the latter sounds like a shampoo. But I made a few of the former mistakes this week which deserve calling out. Here I was talking about Cray supercomputers:

Seeing the care and attention that went into crafting these supercomputers was awe-inspiring, as was the performance they mustered. In a world of car analogies, Cray was McClaren: cool, unobtainable, and incredible.

I’m glad my car nut dad didn’t see that. I think he’s still trying to forgive me for multiple uses of Ferarri back in the day. And for being a closet Williams F1 fan, cough. And then we had my recent Ansible post:

Still, in practical terms this means the user module, and the authorized_key module which is only used on users, refer to users differently. There must be a German word for things that concurrently make sense and don’t.

Technically these don’t constitute spelling mistakes, but why did only the first instance of user garner monospacing? I can hear my sister retorting that my face is monospaced, which is even less helpful.

Disambiguating licence plates

I was standing by a set of traffic lights near our office this evening when I witnessed an ungainly SUV drive past. I appreciate ungainly is a superfluous descriptor for SUVs, but this one looked even more like a beached whale than normal. Except, whales are sleek. Anyway my eyes darted down and saw their ABBA vanity plates which made me grin. I could already imagine the occupants exiting the vehicle in white jumpsuits, perhaps like this:

Screenshot showing me summoning Bride Nero!

Ah Fate/Grand Order, still the only mobile game I’ve taken seriously, though it would need many more hours for it to surpass SimCity 3000, Commander Keen, and Train/Flight Simulator. But I digress.

As I stole a second glance when crossing the street, I realised the plates didn’t say ABBA at all, they were spelled A88A. Even in Vim they appear the same in my periphery. This was of course the intended effect; licence plates were doing this for years before URL hacks brought us del.icio.us and bit.ly.

As I think about it, that’s not a good thing. The primary purpose of licence plates is to uniquely identify vehicles and therefore their owners, presumably to report their illegal or dangerous activities. Our memory centres and attention are already compromised for reading regular plates, let alone under duress.

Singapore did away with this. Cars over there don’t even have vowels for their middle letter to avoid inadvertent words being spelled, let alone a chosen one. The only time I saw vanity plates over there that weren’t just strings of numbers were cars driven over from Malaysia, such as the crown for the Johor royals. Singapore plates even have a friggen checksum, which is awesome.

I guess if there were any silver lining, it’s that for every confusing vanity plate, there must be a simple one that instantly recognisable. You wouldn’t rob a bank with a getaway car showing Q for plates. And while it seems to be changing in Australia, there are likely other easily-identifiable characteristics about a car who’s owner can afford to have such a plate.