Waycross derailment in the US

Remote railfanning took an unexpected turn last night US time, or early afternoon in Sydney.

Clara and I had Virtual Railfan’s Folkston camera in Georgia up on our TV while we worked today, and we couldn’t help but notice a mixed-freight CSX train come to a stop. I saw the boom gates for the level crossing raise, indicating the train was going to be there for a while.

Screenshot from Virtual Railfan's Folkston, Georgia webcam, showing a CSX freight diesel locomotive waiting on a rail line behind a level crossing.

I was about to jump on and write a post about how I’d been learning more about how such signals work, before I saw someone in the live stream’s chat window comment about a derailment up the line in Waycross.

We jumped over to that stream by Virtual Railfan, and saw several uncovered wagons sitting in the dirt next to the main line. Crews were already there with trucks and excavators. Note the exposed bogie wheels in the far left, just above the blue and white truck.

Screenshot from Virtual Railfan's Waycross, Georgia webcam, showing three derailed hoppers with an excavator and engineers in hard hats.

It wasn’t clear from the video what the train was carrying. I’ve watched enough rail video around Georgia and Florida by now to know it could have had ammonium nitrate fertiliser which… would not have been fun in a derailed car. That might have explained the crews hosing down the hoppers, not sure.

This is the second time this year a goods train has had an incident in the US state of Georgia. I hope the drivers were okay.

Update: Almost ten hours since the derailment, that other train is still waiting at that Folkston level crossing. That’s a long night.

GamersNexus launches a Ukraine charity shirt

My favourite hardware review channel on YouTube has launched another in their Hardware Heart series, and it looks beautiful. From the description:

100% of the profit from the sale of this shirt will be given evenly to two charities (World Central Kitchen & International Fund for Animal Welfare). These organizations are donation-funded and are leading the charge on providing food and necessities to the people who have been affected by the conflict. World Central Kitchen supports both the remaining inhabitants of Ukraine and the refugees who have fled to neighboring countries. They work with IFAW on delivering food for people and their pets around Ukraine and outside of it.

THIS IS A PRE-ORDER AND SHIRTS WILL BE PRINTED TO ORDER. Sales will close on 11th May 2022 and WILL NOT re-open.

Steve also discussed it on his most recent news video which is worth checking out.

They did a shirt for the Australian bushfires in 2019-20 which raised more than $20,000. Let’s get the number even higher this time. Π‘Π»Π°Π²Π° Π£ΠΊΡ€Π°Ρ—Π½Ρ–. πŸ’™πŸ’›

Limited charity shirt for Ukraine relief.

Dealing with depression (fun!)

So many of my technical posts here started because I learned something, and I figured it was worth making someone else’s life easier if I shared it. Today we’re doing some brain hacking, and exploring some thoughts that I’m sure are not uncommon in Our Current Worldβ„’ right now.

For some personal background, is a phrase with four words. I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember. It was misdiagnosed a few times growing up, but it took a few panic attacks in my late twenties and early thirties for medical professionals to see exactly what was going on and to help with treatment and mental exercises. I still jump when a bus beeps a horn across the street, and my workspace always has to face into a room to avoid fight-or-flight panic, but that’s become manageable over the last few years.

What’s blindsided me over the last six months is depression. For all the family turmoil my sister and I suffered as kids, I only ever had what could best be described as teenage angst and sadness. I’ve been lucky that I’ve always had something to do, think about, and enjoy, even in the midst of bad things. I had worries about my future, but that manifested as anxiety, not depression.

I’m not sure what the spark was late last year. I suspect it was some family trauma, an overall case of ennui at the state of the world, not being able to travel (the main thing Clara and I save money to do), and not feeling like I was giving friends and work the attention they deserved. Easy things became difficult, and difficult things became insurmountable. That feedback loop is difficult to unwind once those neural networks are established.

One of my favourite quotes from my dad used to be that “only boring people get bored”, but now I appreciate that’s simplistic. Depression is insidious precisely because it sucks the joy and motivation out of doing things you otherwise love, or that you know you want to do. I look over at the pile of half-completed hobbies at my desk now, and shake my head with bemusement and exasperation that I can’t work up the fortitude to pick any of them up again.

Which leads me to what to do about it. It’s hard, and might not always be possible, but you need to see someone about it. I empathise that in the pits of it, it can seem ridiculous to think someone else could understand what you perceive to be a messed up state of mind, let alone offer help. I went through many sleepless nights thinking yeah, but what could they do, it’d be pointless. But in my case she was able to observe and offer insight I didn’t expect.

“Touch grass” has become a meme, but it does help too. I hadn’t noticed that I’d retreated indoors again instead of using our balcony for work and personal projects like I had last year. Sunshine and fresh air do wonders for my outlook, even if temporarily. I’ll take it.

I don’t feel like I have an especially severe case, but I have newfound respect for those of you who’ve spent your entire lives like this. Feeling like your own mind is working against your happiness, self-worth, and productivity is so many levels of fucked. You and I are worth more than these degrading thoughts. Big love from me.

A Sydney (Harbour!) wave and a smile

The last week has been hard again, so I took an unscheduled break. The highlight of the long weekend had to be walking across the Harbour Bridge for a change of scenery with Clara and her Blue Bear Cat. The break in our monsoon weather was rather nice.

Hope you’re well. We’ll return to our regularly-scheduled programming soon.

Photo taken from the Sydney Harbour Bridge on a fresh but partly-cloudy day.
Photo of Clara's little Blue Bear Cat enjoying the sunshine in Chatswood.

Vintage social network sentences

I read this on someone’s old blog post, and it took me a moment to realise it wasn’t a sentence:

Mixx Facebook Twitter Digg delicious reddit MySpace StumbleUpon

Also, how many of those are still around? Are we down to three?

Remote railfanning, and a live GP38-3 in Florida

Picture the scene: is a phrase with three words. Clara and I are camped out at a unique double-diamond rail crossing waiting for locomotives to pass us. Just as the morning sun crested the horizon, we heard the sound of two rebuilt CSX GP38-3s pulling an intermodal train. We hurriedly took a bunch of pictures and looked up the locomotive number online.

Granted the title gave away the punch line here, but Clara and I weren’t in Plant City, Florida on their chilly morning; we were half the planet away the following evening in Australia. It was equal parts surreal and awesome.

I grew up obsessed with trains, but I’ve had a resurgent interest in it of late, due in no small part to games like Train Simulator, and delightful YouTube channels like Distant Signal. When Danny suggested we follow Virtual Railfan’s web streams from around the US, we had no choice. It was so much fun seeing the very lines he explored in his videos, live!

This was the second locomotive in this consist, but the first I was able to screenshot by the time I saw it:

View of the CSX loco passing the double diamond in Plant City in early morning.

I looked up the loco number, and it’s a rebuilt GP38-3. I have a soft spot for GP38-2s from the original Train Simulator, so it seemed fitting that it’d be the first American loco I’d spot for real :).

We’ve had Japanese commuter railway cameras up for a while, but rural America has been a fun change of pace.

A market failure with sunk costs

Have you ever wondered why people seem content on making the world a bit crappier, if it means they don’t lose a buck? A quid? Another insignificant amount of financial value?

Every time our company has moved to a bigger office, we’re faced with a wall of Ethernet cables that have been cut off a patch panel. The previous tenant would have spent peanuts on the panel, and probably won’t be using such a panel with butchered Ethernet connectors it at their new address, but they had to take it because it was theirs. Our ops guys then have to spend days tracing where each cable goes, crimping new connectors, and attaching them to a new panel.

That paragraph invoked the word panel at least four times. Panel. Patch panel. I heard you like panels.

The same thing happened when Clara and I moved panels. Moved house… damn it. The previous panel tenant must have affixed a water filter to the kitchen tap. When they moved out, they took the liberty of removing it and part of the tap assembly with them. Because they paid for it. It’s unlikely their new apartment would have the same tap as here, so they probably threw it away. But it now means we have a kitchen tap that sort of works, unless we or the landlord could be bothered to track down the specific model number and find a replacement.

This attitude of I paid for it, so screw the next person is the perfect example of a market failure and a negative-sum game. Both deal with societal loss when someone acts in their own selfish interest. Any incidental benefit gained from the previous tenants in these examples is disproportionately borne by the next person in money and effort. That sucks!

Technically, a tap that sucks would be the opposite of what you’d want. Like a decimated patch panel, which would be a patch panel with 10% of its ports damaged. Pardon, 10pc; with apologies to incorrect style guides.

Clara and I leave apartments in better condition than when we moved in, and the company I work for always leaves offices with things plugged in neatly for the next tenants. But that just shows that under our current economic system, regular people like you and I subsidise the selfish.

As with everything from digital privacy to patch panel shenanigans, you have to look at the incentives to understand the ways in which people behave. If you were selfish, why would you want to fix this system if others are willing to part with their time and money to accommodate you?

They may be right… but it won’t stop me oiling those hinges even if we’re about to move out, or leaving a labelled patch panel behind. Sucker!

Feedback on fake requests and back doors

Last Thursday I wrote about Brian Krebs’s report on fake law enforcement requests for user data, and Bruce Schneier connecting the dots over back doors. It made for some grim, if not altogether surprising reading.

Many of you emailed with what seems like an obvious connection in retrospect: these were classic phishing attacks, or at least social engineering. The only difference is the target were people who were trained and should have known better, instead of your parents logging in and thinking an email attachment has some juicy information.

It reminds me of that PayPal email I got last year that has to rank among the least professional I’ve ever received from a company I do (did?) business with. It’s hard to feel like we’re making ground or winning against fraudsters when even the professionals can’t do things properly.

OpenSSH 9.0 released

This is a big release from the OpenBSD project. Alongside a new quantum-resistant key exchange method and several important portability improvements and bug fies, probably the biggest change is the way scp(1) is handled. From the release notes:

This release switches scp(1) from using the legacy scp/rcp protocol to using the SFTP protocol by default.

Legacy scp/rcp performs wildcard expansion of remote filenames (e.g. “scp host:* .") through the remote shell. This has the side effect of requiring double quoting of shell meta-characters in file names included on scp(1) command-lines, otherwise they could be interpreted as shell commands on the remote side.

This creates one area of potential incompatibility: scp(1) when using the SFTP protocol no longer requires this finicky and brittle quoting, and attempts to use it may cause transfers to fail. We consider the removal of the need for double-quoting shell characters in file names to be a benefit and do not intend to introduce bug-compatibility for legacy scp/rcp in scp(1) when using the SFTP protocol.

Another area of potential incompatibility relates to the use of remote paths relative to other user’s home directories, for example - “scp host:~user/file /tmp”. The SFTP protocol has no native way to expand a ~user path. However, sftp-server(8) in OpenSSH 8.7 and later support a protocol extension “expand-path@openssh.com” to support this.

In case of incompatibility, the scp(1) client may be instructed to use the legacy scp/rcp using the -O flag.

If you use SSH, and that includes practically every Linux user and modern Windows Server admin now, please consider donating to the OpenBSD Foundation.

A list of my first computers

I talk about some of the machines I grew up with, but I don’t think I’ve ever compiled an actual list of them. It was a bit of a bittersweet exercise, given most of these no longer exist. My parents probably saved me from hoarding a ton of this stuff, though I miss it.

I’m sure you’ve got your own list; contact me if you compile one :).

The 1990s

  1. A whitebox 486-SX. I think it ran MS-DOS 5.x, then Windows 3.0, then MS-DOS 6.0 with 3.1. Was recycled when the hard drive died (much to my chagrin), but I did harvest the 5.25-inch floppy drive and ISA Sound Blaster 32 card.

  2. A whitebox Pentium 133 when we moved to Singapore. Was the first computer I used the Internet on, thanks to its external K56Flex modem. Was recycled when a power surge took it out. Years later I found someone on eBay selling the same bezel for the otherwise unremarkable chassis this machine was built in. No idea what I’ll use it for, but naturally I bought it.

  3. A DIY Pentium 200 MHz tower. This was the first computer I ever built myself from parts as a kid, and she still runs to this day! She now even includes the aforementioned parts from that first machine.

  4. An HP Brio BAx. 450 MHz Pentium III. This was our first “branded” computer we got at a tradeshow in Singapore. First ATX machine with PS/2 ports and USB… and the first I bricked with a BIOS update. Long taken to recycling.

  5. A Blueberry iMac DV. The recording studio my sister and I worked had them, and I’d been fascinated by Mac OS from the computers at school. Such an icon of the 1990s. I still have her, but she doesn’t boot.

The 2000s

  1. NTSC Commodore 16, 64, and Plus/4, parents bought from eBay for my 18th birthday. The 64 was sent to the Geekorium after he generously donated his PAL Commodore 128 to me a few years ago.

  2. An AMD Athlon XP tower I built from parts to play PC games on, mostly Age of Empires, Worms II, and Need For Speed. Didn’t know much about graphics, so don’t even remember what GPU I bought for her. My first experience with a burntout CPU when I realised I didn’t attach the heatsink properly. Was recycled.

  3. A Sony Vaio PCG-C1VM [sic] subnotebook. While attempting to upgrade her hard drive, I slipped with a knife (long story) and sliced a part of my hand open. I still have the scar! Needless to say, I recycled her and shouted good riddance, you piece of schmidt!

  4. An iBook G3, dual-USB port version. Probably my favourite laptop ever. Mac OS X barely ran on the iMac DV, but was beautiful on this machine. I did all my high school library studies on it. Also the first computer I booted NetBSD and FreeBSD on.

  5. PowerMac G5, parents bought for my graduation and when I started uni. Produced the first episodes of my silly, long-running podcast on her. Was such a fun machine to tinker with. Ended up selling her on eBay to fund my first MacBook Pro.

  6. ThinkPad X40 and X61, picked up from eBay for peanuts. I ran Fedora on them, because Wi-Fi was a bit flaky on FreeBSD. These were my coffee shop and library study computers. Absolute tanks. Ended up donating them, but I miss them.

  7. MacBook Pro 1,1, the first Intel Mac released. People forget that this generation used the 32-bit Core Duo CPU. Was a beta tester for the first Parallels Desktop virtualisation software on her, and was also set to triple-boot Solaris and FreeBSD.

  8. Toshiba Libretto 70CT, a tiny laptop I’d always wanted as a kid, picked up on eBay for peanuts.