A Commodore 128 shipping update

It’s been months since my last Commodore 128 post, so some of you might be wondering what’s up. Unfortuantely, nothing really has progressed.

In my post back in March I listed all the stuff I had in transit:

  • A Commodore VIC-II to S-video cable
  • C128 VDC 64 KiB memory upgrade, which arrived!
  • Replacement 8563 VDC IC for the C128’s 80-column mode
  • New switching power supply for my Plus/4

The other three have disappeared. Tracking numbers indicate they’ve been “handed over to the domestic carrier”, or indicate they’ve never left their country of origin. The most recent update was the third of March, which was already late when I wrote that post a month ago.

My Arena tote backpack was more than three months late owing to the current state of the world, so I’m holding out that these will arrive soon. The world is still going through a lot right now, and I’ve got plenty of other vintage computer projects to occupy myself in the interim.


Best career advice you received at uni

This post was originally drafted in August last year. I didn’t post it for some reason, but I’m rectifying this now.

A tweet went by yesterday soliciting the best career advice you received in your twenties. Most of the replies followed the standard tropes of being yourself, seeking forgiveness over permission, not being afraid to take risks, the importance of perseverance, and to not take things personally.

Forgiveness over permission aside, all of these are true. But I also put them in the same bucket as well-meaning *nix people saying you should use FreeBSD because it’s a complete system compared to Linux that requires a distro. That might be true, but what does it mean? How is it actionable? How does it help people, today?

It reminded me of the Sunscreen Song:

Advice, is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts, and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

So here’s some of my own rehashed experience I wish people had told me. They may only apply if you have a similar personality or disposition!

  • Build rapport with your lecturers. Ask them questions, make jokes, offer to grab coffee to go over assignments. You’ll learn useful stuff, including more honest takes than what they may give publicly. Being memorable is an asset that will help in sticky situations or group assignment disputes. Heaven forbid, you might even realise than some (cough) of them are people too! I count a few from UTS as friends now.

  • Be vocal about your interests, especially if they’re related to the field where you want to go. Start a blog, or message about it on social networks. IT employers love seeing you be passionate about something, because it shows you’re genuine.

  • Don’t take risks if they impact your mental health. I know some people who quit jobs or changed majors in a blaze of glory, and live off that high. I’ve always had the next job or study path lined up well in advance. There is absolutely no shame in that, despite what certain self-help gurus might suggest.

And most important of all:

  • Put on your own oxygen mask before attending to others. Give yourself permission to do self-care, even if you need to blow off extra commitments to do so. Others won’t benefit from your good will, compassion, empathy, or generosity if you’re a nervous, tired wreck. Or worse, it can backfire.

Some of my posts appearing on NetBSD Planet

NetBSD

I was searching for something related to pkgsrc, and came across some of my posts quoted on NetBSD Planet. Sure enough, my name is right there in in the footer, alongside some pretty significant names I recognise.

This made my week, I’m genuinely honoured! This also shows I need to write more about NetBSD and pkgsrc.

If this post made it to NetBSD Planet, it’d be a post about NetBSD Planet on NetBSD Planet. Which I’d then have to quote back here. Then if they quoted that, it’d be a NetBSD Planet post on a…


Some of these kitchen gadgets we do need

Speaking of coffee, Tony Naylor wrote a provocative (!!) article earlier this month about ten kitchen gadgets we don’t need. I feel it’s my responsibility to correct the record here on a few of them.

To start, need is a loaded word. It’s normal in places like Singapore to have very little in the way of kitchen utensils and appliances at all, becuase groceries are expensive and eating out is so affordable and quick. Even in Western kitchens, you could argue all you need is a fridge and microwave. Or if you can afford to not live out of microwave meals, maybe all you need is a sharp knife, pot, cutting board, and an induction hob.

With that lengthly disclaimer aside, let’s take a look at these and whether the author was correct or wrong .

  • Ice-cream maker. Weak agree. I don’t think you should eat much of this anyway.

  • Honey dipper. Agreed, a spoon works fine.

  • Coffee bean grinder. Hard disagree! Maybe the UK has a dearth of good coffee beans, but freshly roasted stuff that’s just been ground at home smells incredible and tastes great. Pre-ground has nothing on it.

  • Bread maker. We don’t eat much bread, but I could see how they’d make fresh bread cheaper and more accessible. Sure, we can wash our dishes and clothes by hand, and only wear hand-weaved hats (hats?), but machines offer consistent quality when we’re tired or don’t have time.

  • Garlic press. I’ll admit to being suckered into these. Tony is right, all they do is make mess. One of those flat, handheld cheese graters works much better.

  • Manual spiraliser. Weak disagree. Eating vegetables is healthier than pasta. Anything you can get to make light work of making “vegetable” pasta should be encouraged.

  • Pasta machine. Same as the bread maker, I could see these being useful if you eat enough of it.

  • Poaching paraphernalia Hard agree. Poached eggs are boiled eggs with needless faffing.

  • Electric juicer. Hard agree. If you can, eat fruit instead with their natural fibres and ruffage that help you process the insulin-spiking sugars.

That leaves a final score of 50%. I suppose that’s a pass.


James’s (aka capjamesg’s) coffee blog

There are still independent writers out there, blogging about cool stuff on their own domain, and with a simple theme that’s fast and easy to navigate! Today I’m checking out James’ Coffee Blog, which has a web feed here. I was going to make a pun about drip-feeding you espresso, but aren’t you glad I didn’t?

James got in contact with me last year about my posts and podcast episodes on coffee, mugs, and associated comestible apparatuses (apparatii?). He takes the craft of coffee making seriously, with reviews, lists of the best Scottish coffee roasters, and even does interviews with coffee industry insiders. I like the considered, yet conversational style of his posts, and his infectious enthusiasm. I’ll bet the posts they’re even more fun in printed form!

One thing he let me know today is that he’s even published an interactive coffee ratio calculator. I’ve found you can mostly wing it when it comes to brewing coffee, but you’d be amazed how much more flavour and less bitterness can be extracted with the correct ratios of water, coffee, and grind size. I came to my optimal ratio for my Aeropress machine and the beans I get shipped from the Blue Mountains through trial and error (and error, and error). This looks like a much more rational approach.

When I eventually (!) get around to publishing my OPML wire service thingy, he’ll be in it. And not just because he uses an Aeropress and a Hario V60, the two greatest mechanical devices for extracting caffeinated goodness.


Retrospective on John Oliver’s Bitcoin episode

John Oliver did an episode of his Last Week Tonight programme on Bitcoin back in March 2018. I thought it was worth watching again to see how much has changed in the intervening three years.

John’s opinion was that Bitcoin may have the technical potential to be faster and more secure than banks (we’ll get to those at the end), but that its practical use is tantamount to a pyramid scheme. He cited Bitcoin communities and companies that soaked their investors for millions of dollars with slick advertising, pump-and-dump tactics, and Ballmer-esque enthusiasm.

Play Cryptocurrencies: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

I’m glad he spent most of his time discussing the business and ethical realities at play here. There’s no point having a technically feasible system if its implementations and knock-on effects are unhelpful or harmful (see online tracking as another example). Externalities are a reality in any system, and denying their existence is a sure sign of immaturity.

Since 2018, the environmental impact of proof of waste (POW) work has become mainstream knowledge, with comparisons to the output of entire sovereign countries. Non-fungible trash (NFT) is now conning even more people, and claiming the scalps of industry professionals I used to admire and respect.

(POW really stands for “proof of work”, and NFTs are “non-fungible tokens”, not waste or trash. But I saw those alternative names floating around the Social Medias and thought they were brilliant. It’s truth in advertising)!

Since John filed that report, speculative blockchain humbug is now driving up the prices of silicon, networks, and storage devices in addition to ruining the lives of gamers with graphics cards. These devices are used in everything from personal computers, to medical devices and transport. I can see the appeal to make a quick buck, but redirecting these efforts in aggregate to pointless speculation makes no environmental, ethical, or business sense.

But it gets better! Even if we limit ourselves to the CIA triad yardstick of security, Bitcoin can only guarantee transactional Integrity. The ledger is public knowledge, so it’s hardly Confidential in practice. And thanks to laughably slow and energy intensive processing times, Bitcoin transactions can hardly be called Available. Even if we assumed it satisfied all of these, clearing houses and exchanges have fscked off with billions of people’s real money, and been the target of attacks themselves. I sympathise with the motivation to replace the banking system with something less brittle and more transparent. This ain’t it.

It’s rare that a situation is even sillier than what John and his team presented at the time, and now it’s even more bizarre. But that’s the reality in 2021.


Laptop, tablet, smartphone, or phone?

Serge Matveenko asked on Mastodon which of the above you could live with exclusively for a year, if given the choice. I chose laptop without a second thought, and I still stand by it after a day of rumination. Or sit by it, depending on the table I’m using.

I tolerate my relationship with smartphones. Leaving aside my privacy qualms with Android, and usability issues with iOS, I don’t like what they represent now. They used to be fun portable computers, now they’re just another invasive but necessary distraction with seemingly-arbitrary limits that make their use impractical for things they otherwise could excel at. They certainly have the processing power now to do what the likes of the OQO attempted, but their hobbled IO and lack of UI maturity keeps them from achieving it.

I work on laptops, but I also write on them, play games, tinker with them, and I’m interested in desktop/server OSs to an extent that I’m not with mobile OSs. That might just be my age showing, though. Laptops might be cheaper and lower spec’d than certain smartphones now, but they’re infinitely more functional and fun. I can also fire up a SIP tunnel, or a GoToMeeting bridge to take calls. There’s also the novelty and fun that I’m literally carrying around a full computer environment around with me. My childhood CRT desktop built to a cost couldn’t have ever been plonked down at a coffee shop!

Tablets are an interesting case. My work iPad is indispensable for iRL meetings, because I can take notes in front of people without looking rude. Laptop displays have the ergonomic advantage of being pointed at us, but meeting attendees can’t tell whether you’re paying attention or reading something else. Tablets are also nice to catch up on long-form content like the Nikkei Asia Review and The Atlantic, for example. But all of this could be replaced with a laptop and physical paper. And I still find their mobile OSs as frustrating and limiting to use for anything more substantial than note taking or reading. Again though, that might be my age showing.

As for regular or non-smart phones, I think I’d prefer a pager. It gives you a number to call back if you’re available, but it’s asynchronous nature would feel far less intrusive. I suppose that’s what voicemail is… kinda. I never had one, but I could tell my dad preferred it to the phone he ended up getting in the 1990s.


Umar Getazazov helps me fix things

Update: My apologies to Umar, his last name is Getagazov! You’d think someone who regularly gets called Reuben Shade instead of Ruben Schade would be more empathetic and careful about name spelling (cough).

At the start of the month I talked about discovering and archiving my Audioboom files with a Perl script. Umar emailed to let me know that I’d mixed up a few variables, which confirmed for me that I’d uploaded the wrong version to my lunchbox!

Umar was back at it again on Monday, by finally pointing me in the direction of a bug that has existed in my RSS feed for a while. Here’s what the commands look like on my recent Minecraft post:

# pkg remove openjdk8
# pkg install openjdk16

But this is what shows on my RSS feed:

# pkg remove openjdk8# pkg install openjdk16

I like having clean HTML and XML syntax, but in my haste to programmatically remove whitespace and fix indentation, I’d inadvertently moved text in pre elements to a single line. Regular HTML doesn’t respect whitespace or indentation, but these blocks sure do!

Thanks to Umar for helping me out. 👍


Happy International Webloggers Day 2021

No, it’s not official in any formal capacity. Yes, it’s also called Blogging Day, Blog Day, International Day of Bloggers, and various other things. I almost forgot all of them, but Antranig Vartanian reminded me on Mastodon with kind words that will will not go unchallenged!

Back in 2002, Dave Winer defined the blogChannelModule namespace, which can still be seen declared on a few RSS feeds:

<rss version="2.0" 
  xmlns:blogChannel="http://backend.userland.com/blogChannelModule">

The URL no longer resolves, like much of RSS’s early infrastructure. But fortunately Feedforall documented some of the elements. My favourite is blink:

<blogChannel:blink>
The url of a blog the blog publisher is promoting

Antranig’s English RSS feed will now be what my own RSS feed blinks at for the rest of June. This might become a regular, recurring feature here where I showcase someone I admire and respect.

It’s my hope that someone, somewhere, has implemented a UI for this feature in their reader or aggragator, and see this link pop up. A side project I’m working on right now sure does! But discussion of that is for another time.


Inline links to videos with play buttons

You know the adage that the cobbler’s son walks barefoot? It describes the phenomena where the care and attention we accord our professional lives don’t always translate into our personal ones. Nowhere is this more obvious than the scripts I use to create this site, which are a mishmash of gaffer tape, outdated knowledge, and temporary fixes!

Wouter Groeneveld of the excellent Brain Baking site (RSS feeds here) asked me on Mastodon how I generate thumbnails with play buttons for external videos, instead of using iframes. I’m sure it’d be trivial to add this to my Hugo CMS install, but I farm this off to a shell script called video.sh that sits in my blog repo. It uses youtube-dl to download the video thumbnail, overlays a transparent PNG play button with ImageMagick, and spits out HTML with the correct srcset attribute for grainy and Retina/HiDPI displays.

(At some point I want to replace this with a more robust Perl script using PerlMagick, WWW:YouTube::Download, and Text::Template, so I can handle different image sizes and other niceties, but this has worked surprisingly well for the last few years).

Here’s a recent music example about Esther Golton:

Play All The Room I Need

My motivation for doing this was to remove external dependencies, tracking, and JavaScript from this site. It has the side effect of making my site faster and simpler, but the real reason was that I didn’t think it was ethical to force external sites onto people they didn’t opt-in to. Or you might only use certain sites at arms length, such as via a VPN or proxy to protect your privacy.

A video thumbnail is static, hosted locally here, and linked to an external site that you can open yourself in a new tab. It doesn’t have the instant gratification of inline playback, but then I think videos are best viewed on the target site at larger size anyway.