Elizabeth Warren breaking up big IT

This post was originally written in March 2019, but didn’t leave the drafts folder. I’m publishing now before it becomes even more outdated.

American presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren called for big tech companies to be broken up. Even if it only ever amounts to a hypothetical, it’s a useful discussion to have given how much control these few companies have on the lives of so many people.

I can see the merits of the idea:

  • Private monopolies are incompatible with free markets; their size prevents upstarts from effectively competing.

  • These tech companies wield sufficient control to unilaterally dictate how the internet works. This should be of grave concern regardless of technical merit; and it surprises me these companies get such a free pass.

  • Microsoft was found guilty of monopolistic practices that have been far eclipsed by these large tech companies. Being sued for a bundled browser and the AARD code sound quaint by comparison.

  • These companies have done nothing to earn our trust.

But I can see some counterpoints:

  • These companies benefit from the so-called network effect. People use large social networks because their friends are there. It’s unclear to me breaking up companies wouldn’t naturally end up causing the same scale companies to grow out again; like a modern Bell System.

  • It could potentially give foreign companies an advantage. Those of us outside the US have been living with that reality already, but there’s a larger, undemocratic country that could easily eclipse it.

My key point over years has been the same: our economies are set up to incentivise parasitic and unethical behaviour. Until this peverse reward system is addressed, I fear any other actions are tantamount to perennial Titanic deck chair rearrangement.

I’ll be interested to see where this discussion goes.

Alamy Kiwi stock photos

This Alamy stock photo is captioned “group of people holding Australian flag”. It’s an all too common source of confusion, and understandable given our British Blue Ensign derivatives are so similar and dull. Here’s Australia’s ugly flag for those unfamiliar.

Canada and the United States changed theirs, can we get new ones please?


BSD questions from @romanzolotarev

@romanzolotarev asked two great questions last week. The first was on which stack we use:

  1. BSD, sh, vi 🐡😈
  2. Linux, Bash, Vim 🐧
  3. something else (reply)

I use 1 and 2 professionally, no prizes for guessing which I prefer. I stopped preinstalling Vim on BSD servers and use stock nvi and sh. My workstations have other combinations:

  • Work laptop and personal Mac: macOS, ksh, Vim
  • Work bhyve box: FreeBSD, ksh, nvi
  • Personal laptop and tower: FreeBSD, ksh, Vim
  • Personal tinkering VM and vintage boxes: NetBSD, ksh, nvi

And on keyboards, the options were:

  1. built-in, stock keyboard
  2. external, upgraded
  3. I don’t use a keyboard

I’m on call most times, and like working from coffee shops, so I use 1. It’s difficult with the godawful Mac butterfly keyboards, so thesedays I blog with a tiny Panasonic Let’s Note. At desks I do 2 using:

  • Work: KBtalKing with Cherry MX Browns
  • Home: Leopold FC660 with Topres, the world’s greatest switches.

Hetalia and Free! boys

Clara and I were watching some randomised Good Mythical Morning episodes last Friday night, and noticed some Hetalia and Free! boys over the shoulder of this contributor and their owner.

A canine contributer to Good Mythical Morning sitting with his owner

Anime culture is a global, multi-billion dollar industry, but I still feel like it’s an in-thing when I see it in the real world.


Add new Postgres schema to search path

Speaking of things I always, always forget for some reason, use this to put a new schema in your search path:

SET search_path TO schema;

From the PostgreSQL docs:

When objects are referenced in any other context without schema qualification (table modification, data modification, or query commands) the search path is traversed until a matching object is found. Therefore, in the default configuration, any unqualified access again can only refer to the public schema.

I guess I don’t need it often enough to commit to memory. Conversely, I still reference the non-existant DUAL table even though I haven’t touched an Oracle DB for almost a decade.

Commodore SFD-1001, and the Teac FD-505

I’ve talked before about how fascinating eBay is for learning about vintage computer hardware. We have two friggen awesome oddities today.

The first is a 5.25-inch external Commodore SFD-1001 unit from 1984-85. If you hadn’t heard of it before, me too. I have a dark brown 1541 drive that matches the original Commodore 64, but I’d never heard of this one before. According to the ever-reliable C64 Wiki, it was five times faster than the 1541. Thanks to altamontfinds for the image:

Last year I wrote about the Epson SD800/SD700 unit that combines a 3.5-inch and 5.25-inch drive into one 5.25-inch bay. Turns out Teac also made one, the FD-505. Thanks to zacmis for the image:

You could put your Teac FD-505 into an empty Commodore SFD-1001, and feed the ribbons out to your vintage computer tower. That’d be amazing.

Intermittent fasting, and metabolism

There’s a resurgent interest online about intermittent fasting, based on the increase in tweets, news articles, and videos being posted about it. Most extrapolate off a research paper published in 2016, titled Intermittent Fasting and Human Metabolis. It concluded:

It is well known that in humans, even a single fasting interval (e.g., overnight) can reduce basal concentrations of metabolic biomarkers associated with chronic disease such as insulin and glucose. For example, patients are required to fast for 8–12 hours before blood draws to achieve steady-state fasting levels for many metabolic substrates. Therefore the important clinical and scientific question is whether adoption of a regular intermittent fasting regimen is a feasible and sustainable population-based strategy for promoting metabolic health. In addition, research is needed to test whether these regimens can complement or replace energy restriction and if so, whether they support long-term weight management. Below, we briefly summarize the major conclusions that can be drawn based on the current evidence.

Click through and read all their findings, it’s well worth it.

I was told the story growing up that you needed to eat a huge breakfast, and then many times during the day. It always felt like a struggle, unless it was a treat when travelling. So I decided to skip breakfast beyond some water and a black coffee most days since early February, and felt no difference in energy. And without any other changes in my lifestyle, I’ve gone down a belt hole size.

Vague anecdotes based on a paper concluding more research needs to be done is almost, but not entirely, meaningless. But passing on out of interest.

User 'polkitd' disappeared during update

I was upgrading packages on an older FreeBSD box with UFS2, like a gentleman, and the process aborted with this:

[103/168] Installing polkit-0.114_2...
===> Creating groups
Creating group 'polkitd' with gid '565'.
===> Creating users
Creating user 'polkitd' with uid '565'.
pw: user 'polkitd' disappeared during update
pkg: PRE-INSTALL script failed

I’ve only ever seen this once before, and was solved by regenerating the password database, as listed under Examples in the pwd_mkdb(1) manpage:

# /usr/sbin/pwd_mkdb -p /etc/master.passwd

The Cayenne Convection Oven

I was searching for a NetBSD-specific package, but somehow ended up on an entirely unrelated page for the Cayenne Convection Oven, Half Size:

Vollrath Convection Ovens offer the perfect opportunity for operations to break into the fresh-baked market or expand existing menus. Ideally suited for dough products, pastries, and cakes- use with pre-made frozen products to achieve fresh-baked sales with high speed and minimal fuss.

The manufacturer is quick to warn though:

Due to the unique efficiency of Convection Ovens, traditional recipe times and/or temperatures must be adjusted to achieve the best results. When considering a traditional oven recipe, you should generally either lower the temperature by about 25° F, or lower the baking time by approximately 25%.

I’m not sure what 25° furlongs are in metres, but I’m sure it runs on a single tank of kerosene. Here’s a picture with some of the aforementioned baked goods; it looks delightful.

Perl 5.28.2 in ports and perlbrew

Everyone’s favourite programming language is now at stable release version 5.28.2. From the perldelta:

Perl 5.28.2 represents approximately 4 months of development since Perl 5.28.1 and contains approximately 2,500 lines of changes across 75 files from 13 authors.

Perl continues to flourish into its fourth decade thanks to a vibrant community of users and developers. The following people are known to have contributed the improvements that became Perl 5.28.2: Aaron Crane, Abigail, Andy Dougherty, David Mitchell, Karen Etheridge, Karl Williamson, Leon Timmermans, Nicolas R., Sawyer X, Steve Hay, Tina Müller, Tony Cook, Zak B. Elep.

A fix for the semi-notorious GDBM test failures didn’t make it, but presumably it’ll be in for 5.28.3. I wasn’t personally bitten by it, but saw enough people mention on newsgroups and Twitter.

The indelible mat@ has updated Perl in FreeBSD ports, and it’s ready for brewing elsewhere. I’ll consider this my secular Easter::present :).