Time involved in healthy eating, by @FoldableHuman

Thoughts

Dan Olsen of Folding Ideas made a video last year about Jamie Oliver’s chicken nugget aversion. It’s a brilliant metaphor for so many economic and social issues, not just a critique about whether you’re using the “dirty” part of a bird.

He concluded:

It’s an extension of the argument that poorness is the result of food choices, rather than food choices being largely dictated by being poor.

The biggest hole is the issue of time. With [cooking store-bought nuggets, and making them from scratch], the linear time is about comparable. But what’s not is the actual amount of work. It’s so self-evident I feel insane even pointing it out. Jamie’s fried chicken bites are good, but you spend the entire time making fried chicken. Plus, it generates a huge amount of mess that you’ll then need to clean up.

Food prep is extremely time and energy intensive, and it’s maddening that so much of the hey about healthy eating relies on pretending that it’s not.

There are entire YouTube channels and lines of books that claim to reduce food prep times and lead you to healthier meals, some of which I even watch and read. But it’s ridiculous that we rarely, if ever, talk about the systemic issues that lead to the situation where time equals health in the first place.

It reminds me of that South Park episode where the new Walmart and subsequent collapse of Main Street are blamed on people in the town penny pinching, with only a shallow exploration of the economic circumstances that lead to it. As usual, it’s easier to judge the unwashed masses for not saving what precious little money they have.


Russia withdraws from the ISS

Thoughts

The Economist reported in their World in Brief section:

Russia will withdraw from the International Space Station after 2024, said Yuri Borisov, Russia’s space chief. The country will focus on building its own orbital outpost. Mr Borisov’s predecessor had previously said that Moscow would consider extending its participation in the station’s operations only if the West lifts sanctions on Russia. Since the invasion of Ukraine, the space station had represented a rare avenue of co-operation between America and Russia.

This made me choke up.

In my last silly show I talked about how I missed looking forward to the future. The ISS was a symbol of global cooperation, and represented the idea that we could rise above (and maybe even solve) our terrestrial issues. The crew wear flag patches, but it’s a station full of humans and scientists first.

Was any of this worth it, Putin? Lavrov? You small, small men.


GPU prices a bit closer to normalcy

Hardware

GPU prices continue to fall across the board. I bought my RTX 3070 at the exact wrong time earlier this year; I could now get 3080 Ti or an AMD 6900 XT for about the same money, and I’ll bet they’d have more robust cooling than the two inadequate fans on this Zotac card that make me long for the days of my PowerMac G5’s over-the-top cooling. That was a long sentence.

But then I think back to all the fun memories of playing multiplayer games with Clara during the past four months, and I’d say it’s worth it.

It’s a perverse instinct to not be happy with what one has, because you could have something else. It means you fall into the trap of never being happy with anything. I’ve decided to make a note of whenever this happens in the hopes that maybe I can train my little capitalist brain out of it!

One way I’ve found that helps is realising that you had the same chance of getting something worse as well as better. Or as the late great PC gamer Henri Cartier-Bresson said, the best graphics card is the one you have. Wait, that was cameras.


Which 3 English bands would you save?

Media

This was a mental exercise so fraught with peril and judgement, I’ve decided to post my response here instead.

A selection of English bands.

Brace yourself, mine are, without reservation:

  • The Beatles
  • Fleetwood Mac
  • Pet Shop Boys
  • Dire Straits

I count from zero because I work with computers. That’s legit, right?

Note the question was specifically which you’d save, not which you think are the best. These bands were the soundtrack to my childhood, and I still love them today. There are also some others I’d sorely miss. Don’t judge me… but I know you still will.


Q&A about my NW-A55 Walkman

Hardware

My recent Walkman post generated a ton of email and comments; thanks to most of you for sharing your ideas and questions!

I say most, because it seemed to attract more trolls than anything I’ve written in a long time. It’s disheartening to have something you enjoyed (and tried to share with people) immediately shat on by those who don’t even bother to read it. At times it makes me wonder why I even blog in the first place; but then I remember all the rest of you :).

I’ve aggregated the most common questions below.

Can you expand on your comment about device anxiety?

This was overwhelmingly what I got asked the most via email, but not on public forums. This tells me people are worried about it, but are too shy to admit it. Either way, I’d be happy to. I’ll dedicate a proper post or podcast to it.

Does it work well with audiobooks or playlists?

I didn’t buy with these in mind, and haven’t tested it with them. Going by what others said, it might not be well suited to it.

I got one and didn’t like the interface

I do, but I agree it’s subjective, and not as good as a classic player with fully-hardware controls. I listen to albums though, so I choose one, pocket it, and use the hardware side controls.

Doesn’t it take a long time to index media?

It can. It’s a trade-off I’m willing to make, given the flexibility in being able to transfer files like a USB drive. I also don’t usually listen to FLAC or similarly huge formats, so it’s less of an issue.

This Walkman isn’t cheap!

I said it in the context of their $4,000 players, but you’re right, you need a few hundred bucks spare. If you do want one but are cash-strapped, you can also buy them second-hand on Japanese auction sites too. Which leads to…

How do shipping proxies work?

We use Buyee. Clara regularly gets shipments from Japan, and has tried a bunch of different proxies, so I trust her experience. The site lets you bid on items, or you can submit a request for an online store. They buy it on your behalf, send it to their warehouse, and notify you. We’ll often wait until we have a few items, then get them to send it. I use similar services to buy music from domestic US stores.

Your iPhone’s DAC is just as good, isn’t it?

I don’t know; as I said I’m not an audiophile, so I can only go by my subjective experience. Audio files sound better to me. The player might have a better DAC, or better signal processing, or Sony has more smarts in equalisation.

Why not something like a modern SanDisk player?

This was as much about Walkman nostalgia. Most budget players also use OLEDs, which flicker in my eyes and give me headaches even with brief interactions. The A50 and A100 series devices use crisp, high-res LCDs.

What don’t you like about streaming services? They work for me

I’ve talked about this a few times before, but it’s more to do with why I prefer buying music. Collecting physical albums (and ripping them) is fun, it directly supports the artist, and I get something that can’t be revoked, replaced, or relicenced without my knowledge or permission.


Resource use of FreeBSD desktop environments

Software

Prolific FreeBSD writer and excellent person Vermaden recently performed a resource use comparison between various popular desktop environments.

Recent conventional wisdom suggests that the bigger DEs have been improving their resource use, with some like Plasma getting memory use closer to the traditional lightweight stalwarts like Xfce. This is due to the efforts of the desktop developers, and improvements in the underlying toolkits like Qt.

Beastie

Vermaden’s experience installing them from FreeBSD ports closer aligns with my expectations and past experience. MATE (the fork of classic Gnome 2) comes out on top for resource use (or lack thereof), followed by Xfce, Gnome 3, and KDE Plasma.

It’s an interesting exercise, and I’m all for encouraging efficiency. The industry has a nasty habit of soaking up improvements for little technical or usability benefit, either in the interest of saving money in the short term, or adding bullet points to a marketing deck. Or worse, the new features or design hinder usability.

But it’s worth remembering that resource use is only one metric; a computer that’s turned off isn’t using anything! I imagine a chart with features plotted against memory: provided both scale linearly, it’s easy to pick something that hits the sweet spot for features you use, your available resources, and how much time and inclination you have to spend tinkering with a system.

There’s also no shame in wanting something pretty, especially given how much some of us spend in front of these machines in our work and personal lives. Vermaden didn’t do this, but I see other people in the open source community poke fun at those who want something nice as well as functional. Technical specifications make something possible, but art makes life worth living. The fact we all have opinions about what that is, and what it should look like, is why we call it subjective.

It might also largely be a moot point thesedays. My low-end Japanese Panasonic Let’s Note laptop I use as my on-call machine has 8 GiB of memory, which is more than enough even for a full Plasma environment, and it still feels as fast as my Mac. And with the increasing complexity in modern browsers, and the existence of bloated Electron applications, the DE is becoming a smaller part of the equation.


Ukraine/Russia peace talks “didn’t make sense”

Thoughts

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the truth, for once:

  1. He claimed peace talks “didn’t make sense” (ABC News Australia).

  2. Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey agreed in talks to resume Black Sea grain exports blocked by Russia (Sydney Morning Herald).

  3. Russian missiles attack a grain export ship in Odesa. Russia and their paid social media bots denied the attack, then they rolled back. Really. (Moscow Times).

Don’t forget: this war would be over today if the Kremlin wanted. Hypocrisy is but one of their crimes against their Slavic brethren.

As a reminder, Ukraine’s United24 site lets you donate for defence, demining, medical aid, and reconstruction. You can also set up an automatic monthly donation.

We need to keep talking about this. Bad people win in darkness. 🌻


Tech you like that’s gone

Software

Lucas Holt asked what tech people liked that’s gone. I never miss an opportunity to engage in some tech nostalgia, so here’s a selection of mine:

Hardware

  • Palm, in all its generations. I use a IIIx and LifeDrive today, which I HotSync to my Pentium I tower to Palm Desktop.

  • The 11-inch MacBook Air. Modern ARM MacBook Airs still don’t have the form factor, keyboard, or versatility of these machines. Apple wants to sell iPads in that size now.

  • FireWire. Its ease of use and performance kicked arse over USB and SCSI. FireWire 400 and 800 drives were what I built my first ZFS arrays from.

  • ThinkPads. Modern ones are still above average for PC hardware (which admittedly wouldn’t be hard thesedays), but the original keyboard and design language are long gone.

  • Sun SPARC hardware. I made the fateful decision to get a PowerMac G5 instead of a SPARCStation during high school, and I still regret it.

Software

  • Serif fonts on product packaging! Modern tech logos and marks are so boring.

  • Lotus Organiser. Apple made it trendy to hate skeuomorphic design a decade ago, but this Filofax-style binder with pages for calendars, contacts, notes, to do list items, and journal entries was so well executed. PIM could be fun! I’ve got a post pending about it.

  • iTunes. The original one that Apple bought and refined was an awesome music organiser and player. Honourable mention: Winamp.

  • BeOS. I didn’t use it much, but I miss what it represented. The industry can rarely stomach two options in anything (iOS/Android, Mac/Windows, etc), but at least someone gave it a shot. And the UI was awesome.

  • The Cobind Desktop. There’s no much online about this classic RPM Linux distro, but it was my introduction to the Xfce desktop in the day. Back when Linux was distributed on dozens of CDs, Cobind took Red Hat, chose a few best-of-breed programs, and distributed it on a single disc. My FreeBSD desktops for years were shameless clones of what Cobind did on Linux.

  • Windows 2000’s UI. It was clean, simple, consistent, relatively easy to use, and I’d even say quite attractive. It was the last time Microsoft refined the Windows 95-era interface (itself aped from other systems).

  • Classic Visual Basic. I wouldn’t use it now if it existed, but there’s no question I had a ton of fun with it as a kid. I moved onto to Borland stuff when I got older, but I made so many silly little games and pointless utilities in it. There was even a DOS version, if you can believe it.


CNBC on why Starbucks failed in Australia

Thoughts

CNBC ran a story and video back in 2018 about why Starbucks failed in Australia. This was pre-COVID pandemic, and more Starbucks stores have opened since, but the general message still applies.

They interview two local Australian business experts and some local coffee shop owners about why they thought this was the case. Their arguments largely percolated into:

  • Australia having been introduced to cafe culture by Greek and Italian immigrants in the 1950s, including knowing your barista by name and hanging out with friends at your local.

  • The fact the menus weren’t tailored to local tastes. Sugary drinks are less popular here, and Australians have self-professed “sophisticated” preferences.

  • Their rapid expansion meant it was too easy to get, and thus they couldn’t form a “connection” to the brand. This is in contrast to the US, where growth was more organic.

The last one was marketing speak I’m not qualified to decode, but the first two sound about right. But there are a few more things at play.

First, the report downplayed just how much most Australians hate Starbucks. Mention the chain in polite company, and one will be ridiculed for drinking burnt floor sweepings imported from a country that puts high-fructose corn syrup into everything. Such an opinion isn’t logically consistent; other American chains like McDonald’s are so entrenched that they even have a local name. Certain Australians had fierce loyalties to locally manufactured cars, despite them being owned by Detroit.

My experience as an outsider moving back is that Australians tend to treat new American imports with scepticism. It has to be significantly better for people to take it seriously, and Starbucks simply wasn’t.

But that might not always hold true. Australia’s demographics continue to evolve, and people who grew up with ubiquitous Starbucks and Coffee Bean in Asia are now filling branches here. I can see the Chatswood Starbucks out our apartment window, and it’s packed on a Sunday night. Opening a branch in Newtown or Surry Hills however would make fedoras and penny farthings roll.

A decade ago I wrote about why Starbucks was so popular in Singapore, but I’ve noticed even that’s starting to change a bit. More independent cafes are springing up across the island, and local kopitiam-style chains are also asserting their mix of nostalgia and local flavour into their offerings.

It seems to me the real problem was a lack of market research, and overestimating how many chain coffee shops an already saturated Australian coffee landscape could absorb.

I love Australian coffee, and miss it dearly when I travel overseas, but I also go to Starbucks sometimes. The warm couches and general ambience remind me of those times growing up in Singapore and sharing a brew with my mum before she went to chemo, or those precious few times I’d hang out with my dad before he’d be off on another month-long business trip. Yes it doesn’t taste amazing, but that’s not the point.

As my dad used to say, Starbucks is less of a coffee shop and more a chair rental service with free drinks. Maybe their ads needs to push that!


Number pads

Hardware

I’ve been getting more into personal accounting stuff, and extending how I track income, expenses, and virtual budget envelopes. I love spreadsheets more than I’m probably supposed to, but I’m also working on an sqlite3 system that will let me ingest CSVs and build reports for envelope forecasts and tax.

There are plenty of open source software packages, but I like building a data model for exactly how my mind works. This, coupled with the joy I feel seeing reconciled numbers match up, perhaps says more about how my mind works than I care to admit.

I belabour all of this on account (HAH!) of being insufferable, and because I’ve been looking at number pads again. Turns out, IBM was onto something when PC keyboards came bolted with number pads. Typing strings of numbers vertically is so much easier and faster than using the top row of a regular keyboard.

HUH!

The irony is I have exactly two keyboards with this numpad arrangement: an IBM Model M keyboard that’s too loud to use in the confindes of a tiny apartment, and a 1985 Commodore 128! And while the idea of using a homebrew Commodore BASIC program to track expenses tickles me in all the right ways, I’d like to also do it while at coffee shops to supplement the laptop keyboard, or at my main desk.

A detached number pad appeals to me because I can move it out of the way when not in use, and being portable I can use it with my laptop at coffee shops. For when I’m running my homebrew Commodore BASIC program in VICE, obviously.

I’m of two minds which to get. Lenovo make a numpad with ThinkPad switches, which somehow feels right given the computer line is all but mandatory equipment for business types. It’s not as cool or retro as the original with non-island keys, but I’m sure it’d suffice.

The alternative is building an over-engineered mechanical numpad, like the KBDPad Mark II. This one makes me excited just thinking about: a mechanical keyboard I build myself, that I use for amateur accounting? Yes please!

There’s no accounting for some people’s tastes. But I’d be keen to hear any of your advice.