This site requires IE6

Welcome to the new and wonderful world of the “modern” web, where you can be running a browser released 2 months ago and it’s considered OK to not support it because it’s not one of the big three.

I particularly adore the fearmongering security theatre used as an excuse for their not bothering with progressive enhancement and compatibility.

Now, I suppose to be fair I should concede that although I do label it as a “blatant lie”, it is possible that I might be wrong and this might not actually be a lie: It could just be that they’re simply incompetent at web development.

No Free Napkins

Once upon a time, I was on my way to work in the morning. I was catching the tram to the CBD.

I hadn’t felt awesome before I left home, but as I sat on the tram i started feeling worse and worse. In particular, my nose started running. And I didn’t have any tissues with me. No good.

At a certain point, in the CBD but still not quite at work, I had to do something because my runny nose was becoming unmanageable. So, spotting a 7-11, I jumped off the tram. In a hurry.

With no time to fuck around, I ran into the 7-11 and headed for the pies and sausage rolls, looking for napkins. There weren’t any. Instead, there was a sign saying that napkins were available at the counter. So I ran to the counter.

“I need some napkins please”, I said.

The cashier handed me one tiny napkin. Nowhere near enough for the massive torrent of mucus I’d been holding back for about 15 minutes by that point.

“I need more than that, I have to blow my nose”, I managed to get out without leaking anything anywhere.

With an expression conveying very clearly exactly how few fucks he gave, the cashier refused.

“No, only one. You can buy tissues”, he said.

“I don’t have time for that, give me more napkins”, I said.

“No”, came the reply, continuing to be accompanied by the aforementioned expression.

So I blew my nose on the napkin he had given me.

Met with roughly a megalitre of mucous at high pressure, the flimsy and insubstantial napkin disintegrated, sending pieces of wet napkin and most of the megalitre of snot all over the cashier’s counter and all over the chewing gum and chocolate bars in front of it. This procedure left me holding half of an inadequate-for-blowing-ones-nose napkin which was dangling and dripping many ropes of horrible semi-liquid stuff. Once the procedure was complete, every subtle movement of my hand caused an exponential jiggling in the awful thing I was holding, and that jiggling then caused a hundred fresh droplets to rain down onto the counter in a hundred interesting new trajectories.

As I turned and left the store, taking care to put what hadn’t dripped onto the counter, products, and floor into the bin, I said:

“Next time, don’t be a cunt”

983 days uptime

bye bye hactar. You were a good server. It’s a pity we didn’t quite make it to 1000 days.

(the machine was decommissioned today by people who aren’t me. Interestingly, this action immediately caused a website outage. I’ll refrain from any more blatant “I told you so”‘s).

Nice work, youtube!

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand this is what happens when you have people who don’t understand the technology work on one layer of abstraction, using inefficient frameworks to build things that could be built better with just a little skill and hard work, with no incentive or curiosity to care about any of the thousand other layers of abstraction:

youtube.com is literally more than 50% invalid HTML.

Nice work!

I’m guessing their unit tests don’t include running the output through a HTML validator.

There’s an old saying…

They fucking renewed Alex Kurtzman’s contract?!?

There’s an old saying that I think is apropos here: “Never Attribute to malice that which can be attributed to stupidity”

I suppose technically I had jumped the gun on trek: I saw the malice and interpreted and called it out as such. But I suppose, technically speaking, until today, you could have made the claim that it was just stupidity, and that CBS had accidentally hired Alex Kurtzman as a TV showrunner rather than as filler for a septic tank system.

But today proves that it wasn’t stupidity at all, it was definitely malice. CBS’s goal is to kill off Star Trek.

But there’s still one part of it that I still don’t understand: Why renew Kurtzman’s contract? He’s already killed it off pretty effectively already – does he really need another 5 years?

I suppose it has been around for a long time and it’s got a habit of being revived and renewed. So if you hate Star Trek and you want to kill it off and make damn sure it stays dead, you might extend Kurtzman’s contract. That would make sense I guess.

While I’m here, I should post the poster that I made a while ago for RedLetterMedia’s excellent 5-hour series of reviews of picard:

Can a sequence of bytes be offensive?

Do you find this image offensive?

(This is an enlarged version, Here’s the original BMP).

OK. So I think we can all agree that’s not a pretty picture, but it’s not offensive.

What if I do a hexdump of the file:

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(Much, much more…)
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00039eb

I’m still not having any problem.

OK, one final step. Let’s open it in a text editor:

Hmmm. This time I think opinions might vary.

To me the idea of an “offensive word” doesn’t really make any sense. A word is just a sequence of letters. I’m a computer guy, so to me it’s just a sequence of bytes. But I don’t think any word can be said to be offensive any more than we could claim that the letters in that word are also offensive. And I don’t think we should ban the letter “f”.

It’s the intention and meaning that we derive from the word that matters – the way we read it, not the word itself. The first image is innocuous because you are looking at that stream of bytes as a bitmap image. In the last one, you’re parsing it as english, and it causes a very different reaction. But even then, there’s no hate in a list of “bad words” that I pulled off the internet. I’d argue that the final image is precisely as offensive as the first two because it’s just a list that I pulled off the net. Nobody yelled this at anybody. It wasn’t used for a hateful purpose. Therefore it’s innocuous.

The point is that we should look for the message people are trying to convey when they use a word before we have an emotional reaction to the word itself. I’ll grant that certain words do cause real problems for some people, and that certain words have been used historically in very hateful ways, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that every possible use of that word is negative. There are indeed certain words that might currently be almost entirely negative, but that won’t necessarily always be the case, and it might not be the case all over the world now, and it certainly doesn’t apply to every word that has been used, for example, as a slur.

Then there’s the whole “freedom of expression should trump the right to not be upset” argument, wherein I will argue that there is exactly one thing that the muricans did actually – wait for it, I’m gonna say it – The Americans did get freedom of speech right. Or at least, pretty close. But that’s a whole other wall of text.

I just thought this was an interesting demonstration of how your perception of data can change, depending on how you look at it :)

The State of Pulseaudio in 2021

Every now and then I like to revisit an old topic.

So, let’s revisit pulseaudio and my hatred for it, shall we?

Now, you’re not an old greybeard like me, so you’re probably saying to yourself right now “OMG still with pulseaudio?!? That attitude is sooooo 2008!”

Well, for all the people over the years who have repeated the line of pure bullshit propaganda that “pulseaudio is much better these days and almost sorta kinda works most of the time, if you squint”, I’d like to present my first, reflexive solution to the fact that today I had no audio in zoom on a laptop with a current version of pulseaudio. A solution which, I might add, solved my problem instantly:

$ sudo bash -c "while true; do pkill -9 pulseaudio; done" &

Sure, it might not be efficient or pretty, but it worked. And it serves as a perfect metaphor for the state of Linux audio for this past decade and change, which can be summed up as “If you have an audio problem on Linux, the fault lies with pulseaudio”.

There have been multiple occasions where I’ve been trying to figure out some weird audio behaviour, only to realise “Oh OF COURSE! How silly of me! this machine has pulseaudio installed!”, and disable pulseaudio, and the problem goes away.

I’d file bugs for all this stuff, but I’m sure the fault lies with gnome (which I don’t use), or KDE (which I don’t use), or nginx, or my distro, or perhaps Microsoft Office. I’m sure these things are not actually problems with pulseaudio, because Lennart’s software never has any bugs.

I for one welcome the next decade’s worth of “if there’s a weird issue on Linux, The problem lies with systemd”, and being told in my bug reports that the problem is in the default configuration that comes with Mac OS X Server.

Now it’s off to go read the documentation (yet again) on how to disable this godawful dreck to stop it from automatically starting itself. Unfortunately we’re not in the days where just removing it is a simple option anymore (thanks for the totally unnecessary hard dependency, mozilla!)

Buying “For All Mankind”

I’ve been watching this show called For All Mankind. It’s glorious. One day there will almost certainly be a blog post here gushing about it. It has the potential to be my favourite TV show ever. I’ve told pretty much everyone I know about it.

But it’s an Apple TV show, so I can’t ethically recommend any legitimate means of watching it.

Today, I decided to do a thing that I do every now and then: make a good-faith effort to find a way to reward creators of content like this in an ethical way.

In other words, I want to buy For All Mankind on DVD or bluray.

So I decided to hit up apple for a chat to ask them when it’s coming out in a format where it can actually be purchased (as opposed to rented, which is what you get when you “buy” it from Apple TV), and unencumbered by DRM.

That went about as well as you’d expect.

The TL;DR version is that Apple won’t even discuss the possibility of you buying one of their shows on DVD without you providing your personal information. Much less actually release a show on a medium where you can actually buy it. Not only that, but they insist on using misleading terms like “buy”, and “purchase the content legitimately” even when called out on it. I guess they do deserve some minimal number of points for consistency.

So, if you want to watch For All Mankind, the most ethical way I can recommend to watch it is by using The Pirate Bay. You get very high-quality web-download rips there regularly every week.

And I really do recommend watching it. It’s great.

Dear Ronald D Moore: Your show is really great. I’d love to give you and your production company some money to support it’s ongoing creation, but Apple refused to help me with that. If you want to reach out to me and let me know how I can do that, Please do. I’d happily pay premium prices for a box set, I’ll be all like “shut up and take my money”. Thanks.

Here’s the chat log in full:

(well, almost full. This is the last screengrab I took. It was very close to the end of the chat. After this it was pretty much just “well, thanks for nothing I guess? Bye.”)


image of a long, text-based chat with apple tech support. Sorry, vision-impaired people!

Top notch reporting

Full Article archived here

Nice one, ABC. That’s some top-notch journalism right there.

Firstly, I’m struck by the neutral tone of this article reporting on this…uh… “extra-legal”… murder. And I find myself wondering what the tone would be like if it was a nuclear scientist in a western country who had been killed. I can’t help but agree with the phrase “shameful double standards”. This was an act of terrorism, pure and simple.

Secondly: What, you couldn’t afford to have an actual interpreter translate the tweet?

tweet translation straight from google translate, with the nonsense translation obscured by an ellipsis

Nah, rather than wait an hour or two and spend maybe a couple of hundred bucks on having an actual interpreter give an actual translation of what was actually said, we’ll just run the tweet through google translate! And hey, if google translate returns something clearly nonsensical, we’ll just edit that part out!

Nice one, ABC. I can see why you’re in favour of making google and facetube pay for the media they link to. With reporting of this high caliber it’s clearly worth it.

My thoughts on the Star Trek: Lower Decks Trailer

So the trailer for Star Trek: Lower Decks is finally here. I thought I’d share my thoughts on it:

Why would I bother watching this trailer? It’s got “Star Trek” in the title, and it’s being made by CBS in 2020. That’s all I need to know. All I would achieve by watching it is angering myself and wasting 90 seconds (or however long it is, I haven’t even looked) of my life.

Plus, they haven’t bothered getting back to me with billing information after I contacted them when they announced Strange New Worlds:
I Contacted them a few months ago. They never replied

So I’m just going to assume that they don’t want me to watch it, anyway. They clearly didn’t want me to watch Discovery or Picard.

I’m not even going to bother talking about why I’m not going to watch the trailer for Strange New Worlds when that comes out. If the trailer and the show comes out and I haven’t mentioned it at all, you can just assume CBS never got back to me with that billing information.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

RIP Star Trek
1966 – 2005

Murderers

Just in case anybody is wondering why I refer to every member of all armed forces as a murderer, Here’s why. It’s because of all the murdering they do.

I’ve heard theories about how on the whole the “defense” (lol, there’s a misnomer) force does good. Apparently they build schools and hospitals and stuff in parts of the world where bad things have happened. And apparently they do this much cheaper than, say, a builder could do it.

OK, so, firstly, for 25 billion dollars per year, I could build you a whole lotta schools and hospitals. I’m betting more than the military could, because I wouldn’t be spending that money on tools optimised for murder: The builders I sent out to build schools wouldn’t have access to attack helicopters, so they wouldn’t be able to murder anybody using mounted machine guns in attack helicopters. They wouldn’t have assault rifles, so their ability to murder people with assault rifles would be greatly diminished. You’re less likely to “accidentally” napalm a kindergarten if you’re not given any napalm as part of your “let’s go build a hospital” loadout. So not only would I save a bunch of money by not buying attack helicopters, assault rifles, and napalm, but I expect it would also have an effect on the number of murders done. Also, I’m no builder, but I suspect that a trowel is probably going to be a more effective tool for bricklaying than an assault rifle, in addition to being much much cheaper.

And, secondly, let’s say that I’m totally wrong and that attack helicopters are absolutely the best tool for the job of raising a building (which would make them super versatile, because they’re also pretty good for razing buildings) and that they’re cheaper than builders. Even if you’re building these schools and hospitals at one tenth the cost that a builder could, I’ll pay the extra to not have the whole “murder” and “warcrimes” things being done with my tax dollars, thanks.

Who wants to make a bet with me? I’ll bet you that nobody spends life in prison as a result of this.

Disband all armed forces immediately. The only things that they do better than anybody else are murder and warcrimes.

End Of An Era

In the next day or so, the seti@home project goes into “hibernation”.

I’ve been contributing my spare CPU time to this project for over 20 years. More than half my life. A whole bunch of posts on this blog are about seti@home milestones.

I’m pretty avid about it, because I think that SETI is probably the single most important bit of science we can be doing. That’s a whole discussion, perhaps for another day.

I keep track of the statistics on an irregular basis. I contribute as much as possible, including donating CPU time of servers and workstations I control.

I’m the number 49 contributor in the country. I’m glad that I managed to crack the top 50 (this happened fairly recently) before the project shut down.

I also managed to crack the 99.9th percentile – I’ve accumulated more credit than 99.90051% of all SETI@Home Users. This is also a fairly recent development. I’m also glad that I managed to crack three-nines before the project shut down.

I’m ranked 1,797 out of 1,806,205 in the world.

I’ve contributed 28.91 quintillion floating-point operations:

Suffice to say that it’s something that I’m passionate about. My Drake Equation simulator is an example of that.

I’m… displeased… by this development.

The announcement that the project is going into “hibernation” came less than a month ago. Here’s the stated reasons:


We’re doing this for two reasons:

1) Scientifically, we’re at the point of diminishing returns; basically, we’ve analyzed all the data we need for now.

2) It’s a lot of work for us to manage the distributed processing of data. We need to focus on completing the back-end analysis of the results we already have, and writing this up in a scientific journal paper.

With regard to point one: My drake equation simulator, and common sense, tells me one thing about SETI: it’s a long-haul game. Given the size of the galaxy and the delays in communication between stars, any communication with extraterrestrial intelligence is going to be a slow process. Another important factor is that given the size of the galaxy, if an alien civilization starts broadcasting today, the likelihood is that it’s going to be thousands of years – perhaps even a hundred thousand – before we receive that transmission. And that’s only taking civilisations in our galaxy into account. The SETI project might run for hundreds of years and not find anything. And it should. A couple of decades for a project like this is an infinitesimal blip compared with the timespans we’re talking about with regard to extraterrestrial intelligence. If you’re going to make the claim that “we’ve analyzed all the data we need for now”, then that can only mean one of two possibilities: 1: You’re not actually doing SETI, or 2: you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. There is new data coming in every second of every day. That first signal we detect could be tomorrow. Or it could be a thousand years from now. If we stop looking it’ll be never.

Some fuckwitspeople argue that running a project like SETI is expensiveblah blah blah. They seem to think that because we haven’t found anything in a few decades (well, nothing definite – we have found a couple of interesting and unexplained signals, the Wow! Signal being the most famous) that we should save our money and give up. This is ludicrously short-sighted thinking. The SETI project needs to be a LONG-term project. In the hundreds or thousands of years. It’ll take a hundred thousand years of SETI before we can say that we’re (probably) the only intelligence in the galaxy, and even then we could get a signal the next day. And no result is a result where SETI is concerned – not getting signals gives us some indication of the rarity of intelligence (or, at least, EM radio tech) in the galaxy.

As for point two, this basically boils down to “we’ve decided we can’t be bothered”. If it’s a lot of work then that means you haven’t automated it properly. Writing this up as a paper? What I’m hearing is “it’s more important that I get published than answering one of the most important and fundamental questions out there”. I’ll be expecting to see my name attributed on the paper.

There are nearly 2 million seti@home users. Lots of us are computer nerds. I’m sure you could have found some volunteers to do all that hard work you can’t be bothered with any more. I’d be happy to do as much as I can. But you didn’t ask, instead you just shut down a project that I’ve been invested in for most of my lifetime.

Obviously, seti@home isn’t all of SETI, obviously there will be a bunch of other SETI being done. The Breakthrough listen project is doing some great stuff. But this is a blow to science. Seti@home was a pioneer of distributed computing. And I think that the way it’s being shut down is a huge disservice to science and to all the people who have volunteered our processor time and electricity over the decades. I’m not impressed.

My machines, on the other hand, will be relieved. Their processors will be running much cooler from now on. I’ll go through processor fans much less quickly. And my wallet will probably appreciate the reduction in electricity consumption: I’ll be interested to see the difference in my power bill. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s noticeable.

Before The Dawn

“It’s always darkest before the dawn”
– Morons

It isn’t. Before dawn, there’s a period called “pre-dawn” where there’s a glow on the horizon from the approaching sun. This is the ~hour-long period between astronomical sunrise and actual sunrise. And it’s fairly bright. That’s why astronomers make a distinction between astronomical sunrise/sunset and actual sunrise/sunset – because the light from the sun in this period is enough to interfere with astronomical observations.

So, to summarise, just before the dawn there’s a period of dim light which is actually as bright as the night gets before actual daytime (barring things like supernovae). The darkest part is around midnight when the sun is on the opposite side of the planet. It’s not always darkest before the dawn, it’s darkest before the period of light before dawn. And in fact that’s not even “darkest”, because you have things like stars and the moon lighting things up. It’s actually darkest in caves, where there is no dawn.

But who lets facts get in the way of a bland metaphor?