Search Results: "Russell Coker"

17 July 2024

Russell Coker: Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Review

After the VoLTE saga [1] and the problems with battery life on the PinePhonePro [2] (which lasted 4 hours while idle with the screen off in my last test a few weeks ago) I m running a Galaxy Note 9 [3] with the default Samsung OS as my daily driver. I don t think that many people will be rushing out to buy a 2018 phone regardless of my review. For someone who wants a phone of such age (which has decent hardware and a low price) then good options are the Pixel phones which are all supported by LineageOS. I recommend not buying this phone due to the fact that it doesn t have support for VoLTE with LineageOS (and presumably any other non-Samsung Android build) and doesn t have support from any other OS. The One Plus 6/6T has Mobian support [4] as well as LineageOS support and is worth considering. The Note 9 still has capable hardware by today s standards. A 6.4 display is about as big as most people want in their pocket and 2960 1440 resolution in that size (516dpi) is probably as high as most people can see without a magnifying glass. The model I m using has 8G of RAM which is as much as the laptop I was using at the start of this year. I don t think that many people will have things that they actually want to do on a phone which needs more hardware than this. The only hardware feature in new phones which beats this is the large folding screen in some recent phones, but $2500+ (the price of such phones in Australia) is too much IMHO and the second hand market for folding phones is poor due to the apparently high incidence of screens breaking. The Note 9 has the Dex environment for running as a laptop if you connect it to a USB-C dock. It can run nicely with a 4K monitor with USB keyboard and mouse. The UI is very similar to that of older versions of Windows. The Samsung version of Android seems mostly less useful than the stock Google version or the LineageOS version. The Samsung keyboard flags words such as gay as spelling errors and it can t be uninstalled even when you install a better keyboard app. There is a Bixby button on the side of the phone to launch the Bixby voice recognition app which can t be mapped to any useful purpose, The Google keyboard has a voice dictation option which I will try out some time but that s all I desire in terms of voice recognition. There are alerts about Samsung special deals and configuration options including something about signing in to some service and having it donate money to charity, I doubt that any users want such features. Apart from Dex the Samsung Android build is a good advert for LineageOS. The screen has curved sides for no good reason. This makes it more difficult to make a protective phone case as a case can t extend beyond the screen at the sides and therefore if it s dropped and hits an edge (step, table, etc) then the glass can make direct contact with something. Also the curved sides reflect sunlight in all directions, this means that the user has to go to more effort to avoid reflecting the sun into their eyes and that a passenger can more easily reflect sunlight into the eyes of a car driver. It s an impressive engineering feat to make a curved touch-screen but it doesn t do any good for users. The stylus is good as always and the screen is AMOLED so it doesn t waste much power when in dark mode. There is a configuration option to display a clock all the time when the screen is locked because that apparently doesn t use much power. I haven t felt inclined to enable the always on screen but it s a nice feature for those who like such things. The VoLTE implementation is apparently a bit unusual so it s not supported by LineageOS and didn t work on Droidian for the small amount of time that Droidian supported it. Generally this phone is quite nice hardware it s just a pity that it demonstrates all of the downsides to buying a non-Pixel phone.

10 July 2024

Russell Coker: Computer Adavances in the Last Decade

I wrote a comment on a social media post where someone claimed that there s no computer advances in the last 12 years which got long so it s worth a blog post. In the last decade or so new laptops have become cheaper than new desktop PCs. USB-C has taken over for phones and for laptop charging so all recent laptops support USB-C docks and monitors with USB-C docks built in have become common. 4K monitors have become cheap and common and higher than 4K is cheap for some use cases such as ultra wide. 4K TVs are cheap and TVs with built-in Android computers for playing internet content are now standard. For most use cases spinning media hard drives are obsolete, SSDs large enough for all the content most people need to store are cheap. We have gone from gigabit Ethernet being expensive to 2.5 gigabit being cheap. 12 years ago smart phones were very limited and every couple of years there would be significant improvements. Since about 2018 phones have been capable of doing most things most people want. 5yo Android phones can run the latest apps and take high quality pics. Any phone that supports VoLTE will be good for another 5+ years if it has security support. Phones without security support still work and are quite usable apart from being insecure. Google and Samsung have significantly increased their minimum security support for their phones and the GKI project from Google makes it easier for smaller vendors to give longer security support. There are a variety of open Android projects like LineageOS which give longer security support on a variety of phones. If you deliberately choose a phone that is likely to be well supported by projects like LineageOS (which pretty much means just Pixel phones) then you can expect to be able to actually use it when it is 10 years old. Compare this to the Samsung Galaxy S3 released in 2012 which was a massive improvement over the original Galaxy S (the S2 felt closer to the S than the S3). The Samsung Galaxy S4 released in 2013 was one of the first phones to have FullHD resolution which is high enough that most people can t easily recognise the benefits of higher resolution. It wasn t until 2015 that phones with 4G of RAM became common which is enough that for most phone use it s adequate today. Now that 16G of RAM is affordable in laptops running more secure OSs like Qubes is viable for more people. Even without Qubes, OS security has been improving a lot with better compiler features, new languages like Rust, and changes to software design and testing. Containers are being used more but we still aren t getting all the benefits of that. TPM has become usable in the last few years and we are only starting to take advantage of what it can offer. In 2012 BTRFS was still at an early stage of development and not many people wanted to use it in production, I was using it in production then and while I didn t lose any data from bugs I did have some downtime because of BTRFS issues. Now BTRFS is quite solid for server use. DDR4 was released in 2014 and gave significant improvements over DDR3 for performance and capacity. My home workstation now has 256G of DDR4 which wasn t particularly expensive while the previous biggest system I owned had 96G of DDR3 RAM. Now DDR5 is available to again increase performance and size while also making DDR4 cheap on the second hand market. This isn t a comprehensive list of all advances in the computer industry over the last 12 years or so, it s just some things that seem particularly noteworthy to me. Please comment about what you think are the most noteworthy advances I didn t mention.

1 July 2024

Russell Coker: VoLTE in Australia

Introduction In Australia the 3G mobile frequencies are to be reused so they are in the process of shutting down the 3G service. That means that everyone has to use VoLTE (Voice Over LTE) for phone calls (including emergency calls). The shutdown time varies by telco, Kogan Mobile (one of the better services which has good value for money and generally works well) shut down their 3G service in January. Aldi Mobile (another one of the good services which is slightly more expensive but has included free calls to most first-world countries and uses the largest phone network) will shut theirs down at the end of August. For background there s a Fosdem talk about OpenSIPS with VoLTE and VoNR [1], it s more complex than you want to know. Also VoNR (Voice over New Radio) is the standard for 5G voice and it s different from VoLTE and has a fallback to VoLTE. Another good lecture for background information is the Fosdem talk on VoLTE at the handset end [2]. The PinePhonePro In October 2023 I tried using my PinePhonePro as my main phone but that only lasted a few days due to problems with calls and poor battery life [3]. Since then I went back to the Huawei Mate 10 Pro that I bought refurbished in June 2019 for $389. So that has been my main phone for 5 years now, giving a cost of $1.50 per week. I had tried using a Huawei Nova 7i running Android without Google Play as an experiment but that had failed, I do many things that need Android apps [4]. I followed the PinePhone wiki to get my PinePhonePro working with VoLTE [5]. That worked fine for me, the only difference from the instructions is that I had to use device /dev/ttyUSB3 and that the modem kept resetting itself during the process and when that happened I had to kill minicom and start again. After changing the setting and saving it the PinePhonePro seemed to work well with VoLTE on a Kogan Mobile SIM (so definitely not using 3G). One issue I have found is that Plasma Mobile (my preferred FOSS phone GUI) appears to have a library issue that results in polling every 14ms even when the screen is locked [6]. If you have a few processes doing that (which means the most lightly used Plasma system) it really hurts battery use. The maintainer has quite reasonably deferred action on this bug report given the KDE 6 transition. Later on in the Trixie development cycle I hope to get this issue resolved, I don t expect it to suddenly make battery life good. But it might make battery life acceptable. I am now idly considering carrying around my PinePhonePro in a powered off state for situations where I might need to do high security operations (root logins to servers or online banking) but for which carrying a laptop isn t convenient. It will do well for the turn on, do 30 mins of work that needs security, and then turn off scenario. Huawei Mate 10 Pro and Redmi 9A The Huawei Mate 10 Pro has been my main phone for 5 years and it has worked well, so it would be ideal if it could do VoLTE as the PinePhonePro isn t ready yet. All the web pages I ve seen about the Mate 10 Pro say that it will either allow upgrading to a VoLTE configuration if run with the right SIM or only support it with the right SIM. I did a test with a Chinese SIM which gave an option of turning on VoLTE but didn t allow any firmware updates and the VoLTE option went away when I put an Australian SIM in. Some forum comments had led me to believe that it would either permanently enable VoLTE or allow upgrading the firmware to one that enables VoLTE if I used a Chinese SIM but that is not the case. I didn t expect a high probability of success but I had to give it a go as it s a nice phone. I did some tests on a Redmi 9A (a terrible phone that has really bad latency on the UI in spite of having reasonably good hardware). The one I tested on didn t have VoLTE enabled when I got it, to test that I used the code *#*#4636#*#* in the dialler to get the menu of SIM information and it showed that VoLTE was not provisioned. I then had to update to the latest release of Android for that phone and enter *#*#86583#*#* in the dialler to enable VoLTE, the message displayed after entering that magic number must end in DISABLE . I get the impression that the code in question makes the phone not check certain aspects of whether the carrier is good for VoLTE and just do it. So apparently Kogan Mobile somehow gives the Redmi 9A the impression that VoLTE isn t supported but if the phone just goes ahead and connects it will work. I don t plan to use a Redmi 9A myself as it s too slow, but I added it to my collection to offer to anyone else I know who needs a phone with VoLTE and doesn t use the phone seriously or to someone who needs a known good phone for testing things. Samsung Galaxy Note 9 I got some Samsung Galaxy Note 9 phones to run Droidian as an experiment [7]. But Droidian dropped support for the Note 9 and I couldn t figure out how to enable VoLTE via Droidian, which was very annoying after I had spent $109 on a test phone and $215 on a phone for real use (I have no plans to try Droidian again at this time). I tried installing LineageOS on one Note 9 [8] which was much easier than expected (especially after previously installing Droidian). But VoLTE wasn t an option. According to Reddit LineageOS doesn t support VoLTE on Samsung devices and you can use a magisk module or a VoLTE enabler module but those aren t supported by LineageOS either [9]. I downloaded an original image for the Note 9 from SamsMobile.com [10]. That image booted past the orange stage (where if you have problems then your phone is probably permanently useless) but didn t boot into the OS. A friend helped me out with that and it turned out that the Heimdal flash tool on Linux didn t do something it needed to do and that Odin on Windows was required. After using Odin everything was fine and I have a Note 9 with VoLTE running the latest Samsung firmware which is security patch level 1st July 2022!!! So I have a choice between using a Note 9 for data and SMS while running a current version of Lineage OS with all security fixes or running a Samsung image with no security updates for 2 years which supports phone calls. So based on this I have to recommend Pixel as the phone of choice, it has a decent level of support from Google and long term support from LineageOS. According to the LineageOS web site you can run the current version of Lineage on the original Pixel phone from 2016! Of course getting VoLTE to work on it might be another saga, but it would probably be easier to do with LineageOS on a Pixel than on a Samsung phone. Conclusion The operation of the Note 9 for me is decent now apart from the potential security issues. The same goes for selling one of the phones. The PinePhonePro still has potential to become my daily driver at some future time if I and others can optimise power use. Also a complicating factor is that I want to have both Jabber and Matrix be actually instant IM systems not IM with a 5 minute delay, so suspend mode isn t a good option. Pixel phones will be a much higher priority when looking at phones to buy in future. The older Pixel phones go for as little as $100 on eBay and can still run the latest LineageOS. VoLTE seems needlessly complicated.

Russell Coker: Links June 2024

Modos Labs have released the design of an e-ink display connected by USB-C [1]. They have provided a lot of background information on e-ink displays which isn t available elsewhere. Excellent work! Informative article about a company giving renters insecure locks while facilitating collusion to raise rents [2]. Insightful video by JimmyTheGiant about the destruction of housing estates in the UK [3]. I wonder how much of this was deliberate by the Tories. Insightful video by Modern Vintage Gamer about the way Nintendo is destroying history by preventing people playing old games [4]. Interesting video by Louis Rossmann about the low quality of products and reviews on Amazon [5]. We all know about Enshittification, but it seems that Amazon is getting to the stage of being unusable for some products. Amusing video by Folding Ideas about Decentraland an attampt at a blockchain based second life type thing which failed as you expect blockchain things to fail [6]. The top comment is a transcription of the actions of the speaker s pet cat. ;)

1 June 2024

Russell Coker: Links May 2024 (late)

VoltageDivide has an interesting article on Unconventional Uses of FPGAs [1]. Tagline Every sensor is a temperature sensor, nearly everything is a resistor or a conductor if you try hard enough and anything is an antenna. Datasheets are just a suggestion, and finally, often we pretend things are ideal, when they often are not. Interesting blog post about the way npm modules that depend on everything exposed flaws in the entire npm system [2]. The conclusion should have included use a fake name for doing unusual tests . Krebs on Security has an interesting article about MFA bombing [3]. Looks like Apple has some flaws in their MFA system, other companies developing MFA should learn from this. Joey wrote an informative blog post about the Vultr hosting company wanting to extract data from VMs run for clients to train ML [4]. If your email is stored on such a VM it could be generated by an AI system. John Goerzen wrote an interesting post looking at the causes of the xz issue from a high level [5]. Interesting article about self proclaimed Autistic pro-natalists [6]. They seem somewhat abusive to their kids and are happy to associate with neo-Nazis. :( Joey Hess wrote an interesting blog post about the possibility of further undiscovered attacks on xz [7]. Going back to an earlier version seems like a good idea. The Guardian has an interesting article about Amazon s 2 pizza rule and the way the company is structured [8]. It s interesting how they did it, but we really need to have it broken up via anti-trust legislation. John Goerzen wrote an informative post about Facebook censorship and why we should all move to Mastodon [9]. Facebook needs to be broken up under anti-trust laws. Kobold Letters is an attack on HTML email that results in the visual representation of email changing when it is forwarded. [10]. You could have the original email hide some sections which are revealed with the recipient forwards it for a CEO impersonation attack.

28 May 2024

Russell Coker: Creating a Micro Users Group

Fosdem had a great lecture Building an Open Source Community One Friend at a Time [1]. I recommend that everyone who is involved in the FOSS community watches this lecture to get some ideas. For some time I ve been periodically inviting a few friends to visit for lunch, chat about Linux, maybe do some coding, and watch some anime between coding. It seems that I have accidentally created a micro users group. LUGs were really big in the mid to late 90s and still quite vibrant in the early 2000 s. But they seem to have decreased in popularity even before Covid19 and since Covid19 a lot of people have stopped attending large meetings to avoid health risks. I think that a large part of the decline of users groups has been due to the success of YouTube. Being able to choose from thousands of hours of lectures about computers on YouTube is a disincentive to spending the time and effort needed to attend a meeting with content that s probably not your first choice of topic. Attending a formal meeting where someone you don t know has arranged a lecture might not have a topic that s really interesting to you. Having lunch with a couple of friends and watching a YouTube video that one of your friends assures you is really good is something more people will find interesting. In recent times homeschooling [2] has become more widely known. The same factors that allow learning about computers at home also make homeschooling easier. The difference between the traditional LUG model of having everyone meet at a fixed time for a lecture and a micro LUG of a small group of people having an informal meeting is similar to the difference between traditional schools and homeschooling. I encourage everyone to create their own micro LUG. All you have to do is choose a suitable time and place and invite some people who are interested. Have a BBQ in a park if the weather is good, meet at a cafe or restaurant, or invite people to visit you for lunch on a weekend.

26 May 2024

Russell Coker: USB-A vs USB-C

USB-A is the original socket for USB at the PC end. There are 2 variants of it, the first is for USB 1.1 to USB 2 and the second is for USB 3 which adds extra pins in a plug and socket compatible manner you can plug a USB-A device into a USB-A socket without worrying about the speeds of each end as long as you don t need USB 3 speeds. The differences between USB-A and USB-C are:
  1. USB-C has the same form factor as Thunderbolt and the Thunderbolt protocol can run over it if both ends support it.
  2. USB-C generally supports higher power modes for charging (like 130W for Dell laptops, monitors, and plugpacks) but there s no technical reason why USB-A couldn t do it. You can buy chargers that do 60W over USB-A which could power one of our laptops via a USB-A to USB-C cable. So high power USB-A is theoretically possible but generally you won t see it.
  3. USB-C has DisplayPort alternate mode which means using some of the wires for DisplayPort.
  4. USB-C is more likely to support the highest speeds than USB-A sockets for super speed etc. This is not a difference in the standards just a choice made by manufacturers.
While USB-C tends to support higher power delivery modes in actual implementations for connecting to a PC the PC end seems to only support lower power modes regardless of port. I think it would be really good if workstations could connect to monitors via USB-C and provide power, DisplayPort, and keyboard, mouse, etc over the same connection. But unfortunately the PC and monitor ends don t appear to support such things. If you don t need any of those benefits in the list above (IE you are using USB for almost anything we do other than connecting a laptop to a dock/monitor/charger) then USB-A will do the job just as well as USB-C. The choice of which type to use should be based on price and which ports are available, EG My laptop has 2*USB-C ports and 2*USB-A so given that one USB-C port is almost always used for the monitor or for charging I don t really want to use USB-C for anything else to avoid running out of ports. When buying USB devices you can t always predict which systems you will need to connect them to. Currently there are a lot of systems without USB-C that are working well and have no need to be replaced. I haven t yet seen a system where the majority of ports are USB-C but that will probably happen in the next few years. Maybe in 2027 there will be PCs on sale with only two USB-A sockets forcing people who don t want to use a USB hub to save both of them for keyboard and mouse. Currently USB-C keyboards and mice are available on AliExpress but they are expensive and I haven t seen them in Australian stores. Most computer users don t wear out keyboards or mice so a lot of USB-A keyboard and mice will be in service for a long time. As an aside there are still many PCs with PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports in service so these things don t go away for a long time. There is one corner case where USB-C is convenient which is when you want to connect a mass storage device for system recovery or emergency backup, want a high speed, and don t want to spend time figuring out which of the ports are super speed (which can be difficult at the back of a PC with poor lighting). With USB-C you can expect a speed of at least 5Gbit/s and don t have to worry about accidentally connecting to a USB 2 port as is the situation with USB-A. For my own use the only times that I prefer USB-C over USB-A are for devices to connect to phones. Eventually I ll get a laptop that only has USB-C ports and this will change, but even then adaptors are possible. For someone who doesn t know the details of how things works it s not unreasonable to just buy the newest stuff and assume it s better as it usually is. But hopefully blog posts like this can help people make more informed decisions.

20 May 2024

Russell Coker: Respect and Children

I attended the school Yarra Valley Grammer (then Yarra Valley Anglican School which I will refer to as YV ) and completed year 12 in 1990. The school is currently in the news for a spreadsheet some boys made rating girls where unrapeable was one of the ratings. The school s PR team are now making claims like Respect for each other is in the DNA of this school . I d like to know when this DNA change allegedly occurred because respect definitely wasn t in the school DNA in 1990! Before I go any further I have to note that if the school threatens legal action against me for this post it will be clear evidence that they don t believe in respect. The actions of that school have wronged me, several of my friends, many people who aren t friends but who I wish they hadn t had to suffer and I hadn t had to witness it, and presumably countless others that I didn t witness. If they have any decency they would not consider legal action but I have learned that as an institution they have no decency so I have to note that they should read the Wikipedia page about the Streisand Effect [1] and keep it in mind before deciding on a course of action. I think it is possible to create a school where most kids enjoy being there and enjoy learning, where hardly any students find it a negative experience and almost no-one finds it traumatic. But it is not possible to do that with the way schools tend to be run. When I was at high school there was a general culture that minor sex crimes committed by boys against boys weren t a problem, this probably applied to all high schools. Things like ripping a boy s pants off (known as dakking ) were considered a big joke. If you accept that ripping the pants off an unwilling boy is a good thing (as was the case when I was at school) then that leads to thinking that describing girls as unrapeable is acceptable. The Wikipedia page for Pantsing [2] has a reference for this issue being raised as a serious problem by the British Secretary of State for Education and Skills Alan Johnson in 2007. So this has continued to be a widespread problem around the world. Has YV become better than other schools in dealing with it or is Dakking and Wedgies as well accepted now as it was when I attended? There is talk about schools preparing kids for the workforce, but grabbing someone s underpants without consent will result in instant dismissal from almost all employment. There should be more tolerance for making mistakes at school than at work, but they shouldn t tolerate what would be serious crimes in other contexts. For work environments there have been significant changes to what is accepted, so it doesn t seem unreasonable to expect that schools can have a similar change in culture. One would hope that spending 6 years wondering who s going to grab your underpants next would teach boys the importance of consent and some sympathy for victims of other forms of sexual assault. But that doesn t seem to happen, apparently it s often the opposite. When I was young Autism wasn t diagnosed for anyone who was capable of having a normal life. Teachers noticed that I wasn t like other kids, some were nice, but some encouraged other boys to attack me as a form of corporal punishment by proxy not a punishment for doing anything wrong (detentions were adequate for that) but for being different. The lesson kids will take from that sort of thing is that if you are in a position of power you can mistreat other people and get away with it. There was a girl in my year level at YV who would probably be diagnosed as Autistic by today s standards, the way I witnessed her being treated was considerably worse than what was described in the recent news reports but it is quite likely that worse things have been done recently which haven t made the news yet. If this issue is declared to be over after 4 boys were expelled then I ll count that as evidence of a cover-up. These things don t happen in a vacuum, there s a culture that permits and encourages it. The word respect has different meanings, it can mean treat a superior as the master or treat someone as a human being . The phrase if you treat me with respect I ll treat you with respect usually means if you treat me as the boss then I ll treat you as a human being . The distinction is very important when discussing respect in schools. If teachers are considered the ultimate bosses whose behaviour can never be questioned then many boys won t need much help from Andrew Tate in developing the belief that they should be the boss of girls in the same way. Do any schools have a process for having students review teachers? Does YV have an ombudsman to take reports of misbehaving teachers in the way that corporations typically have an ombudsman to take reports about bad managers? Any time you have people whose behaviour is beyond scrutiny or oversight you will inevitably have bad people apply for jobs, then bad things will happen and it will create a culture of bad behaviour. If teachers can treat kids badly then kids will treat other kids badly, and this generally ends with girls being treated badly by boys. My experience at YV was that kids barely had the status of people. It seemed that the school operated more as a caretaker of the property of parents than as an organisation that cares for people. The current YV website has a Whistleblower policy [3] that has only one occurrence of the word student and that is about issues that endanger the health or safety of students. Students are the people most vulnerable to reprisal for complaining and not being listed as an eligible whistleblower shows their status. The web site also has a flowchart for complaints and grievances [4] which doesn t describe any policy for a complaint to be initiated by a student. One would hope that parents would advocate for their children but that often isn t the case. When discussing the possibility of boys being bullied at school with parents I ve had them say things like my son wouldn t be so weak that he would be bullied , no boy will tell his parents about being bullied if that s their attitude! I imagine that there are similar but different issues of parents victim-blaming when their daughter is bullied (presumably substituting immoral for weak) but don t have direct knowledge of the topic. The experience of many kids is being disrespected by their parents, the school system, and often siblings too. A school can t solve all the world s problems but can ideally be a refuge for kids who have problems at home. When I was at school the culture in the country and the school was homophobic. One teacher when discussing issues such as how students could tell him if they had psychological problems and no-one else to talk to said some things like the Village People make really good music which was the only time any teacher said anything like It s OK to be gay (the Village People were the gayest pop group at the time). A lot of the bullying at school had a sexual component to it. In addition to the wedgies and dakking (which while not happening often was something you had to constantly be aware of) I routinely avoided PE classes where a shower was necessary because of a thug who hung around by the showers and looked hungrily at my penis, I don t know if he had a particular liking to mine or if he stared at everyone that way. Flashing and perving was quite common in change rooms. Presumably as such boy-boy sexual misbehaviour was so accepted that led to boys mistreating girls. I currently work for a company that is active in telling it s employees about the possibility of free psychological assistance. Any employee can phone a psychologist to discuss problems (whether or not they are work related) free of charge and without their manager or colleagues knowing. The company is billed and is only given a breakdown of the number of people who used the service and roughly what the issue was (work stress, family, friends, grief, etc). When something noteworthy happens employees are given reminders about this such as if you need help after seeing a homeless man try to steal a laptop from the office then feel free to call the assistance program . Do schools offer something similar? With the school fees paid to a school like YV they should be able to afford plenty of psychologist time. Every day I was at YV I saw something considerably worse than laptop theft, most days something was done to me. The problems with schools are part of larger problems with society. About half of the adults in Australia still support the Liberal party in spite of their support of Christian Porter, Cardinal Pell, and Bruce Lehrmann. It s not logical to expect such parents to discourage their sons from mistreating girls or to encourage their daughters to complain when they are mistreated. The Anglican church has recently changed it s policy to suggesting that victims of sexual abuse can contact the police instead of or in addition to the church, previously they had encouraged victims to only contact the church which facilitated cover-ups. One would hope that schools associated with the Anglican church have also changed their practices towards such things. I approve of the respect is in our DNA concept, it s like Google s former slogan of Don t be evil which is something that they can be bound to. Here s a list of questions that could be asked of schools (not just YV but all schools) by journalists when reporting on such things:
  1. Do you have a policy of not trying to silence past students who have been treated badly?
  2. Do you take all sexual assaults seriously including wedgies and dakking?
  3. Do you take all violence at school seriously? Even if there s no blood? Even if the victim says they don t want to make an issue of it?
  4. What are your procedures to deal with misbehaviour from teachers? Do the students all know how to file complaints? Do they know that they can file a complaint if they aren t the victim?
  5. Does the school have policies against homophobia and transphobia and are they enforced?
  6. Does the school offer free psychological assistance to students and staff who need it? NB This only applies to private schools like YV that have huge amounts of money, public schools can t afford that.
  7. Are serious incidents investigated by people who are independent of the school and who don t have a vested interest in keeping things quiet?
  8. Do you encourage students to seek external help from organisations like the ones on the resources list of the Grace Tame Foundation [5]? Having your own list of recommended external organisations would be good too.
Counter Arguments I ve had practice debating such things, here s some responses to common counter arguments. Conclusion I don t think that YV is necessarily worse than other schools, although I m sure that representatives of other private schools are now working to assure parents of students and prospective students that they are. I don t think that all the people who were employed as teachers there when I attended were bad people, some of them were nice people who were competent teachers. But a few good people can t turn around a bad system. I will note that when I attended all the sports teachers were decent people, it was the only department I could say such things about. But sports involves situations that can lead to a bad result, issues started at other times and places can lead to violence or harassment in PE classes regardless of how good the teachers are. Teachers who know that there are problems need to be able to raise issues with the administration. When a teacher quits teaching to join the clergy and another teacher describes it as a loss for the clergy but a gain for YV it raises the question of why the bad teacher in question couldn t have been encouraged to leave earlier. A significant portion of the population will do whatever is permitted. If you say no teacher would ever bully a student so we don t need to look out for that then some teacher will do exactly that. I hope that this will lead to changes both in YV and in other schools. But if they declare this issue as resolved after expelling 4 students then something similar or worse will happen again. At least now students know that when this sort of thing happens they can send evidence to journalists to get some action.

18 May 2024

Russell Coker: Kogan 5120*2160 40 Monitor

I ve just got a new Kogan 5120*2160 40 curved monitor. It cost $599 including shipping etc which is much cheaper than the Dell monitor with similar specs selling for about $2500. For monitors with better than 4K resolution (by which I don t mean 5K*1440) this is the cheapest option. The nearest competitors are the 27 monitors that do 5120*2880 from Apple and some companies copying Apple s specs. While 5120*2880 is a significantly better resolution than what I got it s probably not going to help me at 27 size. I ve had a Dell 32 4K monitor since the 1st of July 2022 [1]. It is a really good monitor and I had no complaints at all about it. It was clearer than the Samsung 27 4K monitor I used before it and I m not sure how much of that is due to better display technology (the Samsung was from 2017) and how much was due to larger size. But larger size was definitely a significant factor. I briefly owned a Phillips 43 4K monitor [2] and determined that a 43 flat screen was definitely too big. At the time I thought that about 35 would have been ideal but after a couple of years using a flat 32 screen I think that 32 is about the upper limit for a flat screen. This is the first curved monitor I ve used but I m already thinking that maybe 40 is too big for a 21:9 aspect ratio even with a curved screen. Maybe if it was 4:4 or even 16:9 that would be ok. Otherwise the ideal for a curved screen for me would be something between about 36 and 38 . Also 43 is awkward to move around my desk. But this is still quite close to ideal. The first system I tested this on was a work laptop, a Dell Latitude 7400 2in1. On the Dell dock that did 4K resolution and on a HDMI cable it did 1440p which was a disappointment as that laptop has talked to many 4K monitors at native resolution on the HDMI port with the same cable. This isn t an impossible problem, as I work in the IT department I can just go through all the laptops in the store room until I find one that supports it. But the 2in1 is a very nice laptop, so I might even just keep using it in 4K resolution when WFH. The laptop in question is deemed an executive laptop so I have to wait another 2 years for the executives to get new laptops before I can get a newer 2in1. On my regular desktop I had the problem of the display going off for a few seconds every minute or so and also occasionally giving a white flicker. That was using 5120*2160 with a DisplayPort switch as described in the blog post about the Dell 32 monitor. When I ran it in 4K resolution with the DisplayPort switch from my desktop it was fine. I then used the DisplayPort cable that came with the monitor directly connecting the video card to the display and it was fine at 5120*2160 with 75Hz. The monitor has the joystick thing that seems to have become some sort of standard for controlling modern monitors. It s annoying that pressing it in powers it off. I think there should be a separate button for that. Also the UI in general made me wonder if one of the vendors of expensive monitors had paid whoever designed it to make the UI suck. The monitor had a single dead pixel in the center of the screen about 1/4 the way down from the top when I started writing this post. Now it s gone away which is a concern as I don t know which pixels might have problems next or if the number of stuck pixels will increase. Also it would be good if there was a dark mode for the WordPress editor. I use dark mode wherever possible so I didn t notice the dead pixel for several hours until I started writing this blog post. I watched a movie on Netflix and it took the entire screen area, I don t know if they are storing movies in 64:27 ratio or if the clipped the top and bottom, it was probably clipped but still looked OK. The monitor has different screen modes which make it look different, I can t see much benefit to the different modes. The standard mode is what I usually use and it s brighter and the movie mode seems OK for the one movie I ve watched so far. In other news BenQ has just announced a 3840*2560 28 monitor specifically designed for programming [3]. This is the first time I ve heard of a monitor with 3:2 ratio with modern resolution, we still aren t at the 4:3 type ratio that we were used to when 640*480 was high resolution but it s a definite step in the right direction. It s also the only time I recall ever seeing a monitor advertised as being designed for programming. In the 80s there were home computers advertised as being computers for kids to program, but at that time it was either TV sets for monitors or monitors sold with computers. It was only after the IBM PC compatible market took off that having a choice of different monitors for one computer was a thing. In recent years monitors advertised as being for office use (meaning bright and expensive) have become common as are monitors designed for gamer use (meaning high refresh rate). But BenQ seems to be the first to advertise a monitor for the purpose of programming. They have a desktop partition feature (which could be software or hardware the article doesn t make it clear) to give some of the benefits of a tiled window manager to people who use OSs that don t support such things. The BenQ monitor is a bit small for my taste, I don t know if my vision is good enough to take advantage of 3840*2560 in a 28 monitor nowadays. I think at least 32 would be better. Google seems to be really into buying good monitors for their programmers, if every Google programmer got one of those BenQ monitors then that would be enough sales to make it worth-while for them. I had hoped that we would have 6K monitors become affordable this year and 8K become less expensive than most cars. Maybe that won t happen and we will instead have a wider range of products like the ultra wide monitor I just bought and the BenQ programmer s monitor. If so I don t think that will be a bad result. Now the question is whether I can use this monitor for 2 years before finding something else that makes me want to upgrade. I can afford to spend the equivalent of a bit under $1/day on monitor upgrades.

30 April 2024

Russell Coker: Links April 2024

Ron Garret wrote an insightful refutation to 2nd amendment arguments [1]. Interesting article from the UK about British Gas losing a civil suit about bill collecting techniques that are harassment [2]. This should be a criminal offence investigated by the police and prosecuted by the CPS. David Brin wrote a new version of his essay about dealing with blackmail in the US political system [3]. Cory Doctorow gave an insightful lecture about Enshittification for the Transmediale festival in Berlin [4]. This link has video and a transcript, I read the transcript. The Cut has an insightful article by a journalist who gave $50k in cash to a scammer and compares the scam to techniques used to extort false confessions [5]. Truth Dig has an informative article about how Nick Bostrom is racist and how his advocacy of eugenics influences Effective Altruism and a lot of Silicon Valley [6]. Bruce Scneier and Nathan Sanders wrote an insightful article about the problems with a frontier slogan for AI development [7]. Brian Krebs wrote an informative article about the links between Chinese APT companies and the Chinese government [8].

28 April 2024

Russell Coker: USB PSUs

I just bought a new USB PSU from AliExpress [1]. I got this to reduce the clutter in my bedroom, I charge my laptop, PineTime, and a few phones at the same time and a single PSU with lots of ports makes it easier. Also I bought a couple of really short USB-C cables as it s been proven by both real life tests and mathematical modelling that shorter cables get tangled less. This power supply is based on Gallium Nitride (GaN) [2] technology which makes it efficient and cool. One thing I only learned about after that purchase is the new USB PPS standard (see the USB Wikipedia page for details [3]). The PPS (Programmable Power Supply) standard allows (quoting Wikipedia) allowing a voltage range of 3.3 to 21 V in 20 mV steps, and a current specified in 50 mA steps, to facilitate constant-voltage and constant-current charging . What this means in practice (when phones support it which for me will probably be 2029 or something) is that the phone could receive power exactly matching the voltage needed for the battery and not have any voltage conversion inside the phone. Phones are designed to stop charging at a certain temperature, this probably doesn t concern people in places like Northern Europe but in Australia it can be an issue. Removing the heat dissipation from inefficiencies in voltage change circuitry means the phone will be cooler when charging and can charge at a higher rate. There is a Certified USB Fast Charger logo for chargers which do this, but it seems that at the moment they just include PPS in the feature list. So I highly recommend that GaN and PPS be on your feature list for your next USB PSU, but failing that the 240W PSU I bought for $36 was a good deal.

Russell Coker: Galaxy Note 9 Droidian

Droidian Support for Note 9 Droidian only supported the version of this phone with the Exynos chipset. The GSM Arena specs page for the Note 9 shows that it s the SM-N960F part number [1]. In Australia all Note 9 phones should have the Exynos but it doesn t hurt to ask for the part number before buying. The status of the Note9 in Droidian went from fully supported to totally unsupported in the time I was working on this blog post. Such a rapid change is disappointing, it would be good if they at least kept the old data online. It would also be good if they didn t require a hash character in the URL for each phone which breaks the archive.org mirroring. Installing Droidian Firstly Power+VolumeDown will reboot in some situations where Power button on its own won t. The Note 9 hardware keys are: The Droidian install document for the Galaxy Note 9 9 now deleted is a bit confusing and unclear. Here is the install process that worked for me.
  1. The doc says to start by installing Android 10 (Q) stock firmware , but apparently a version of Android 10 that s already on the phone will do for that.
  2. Download the rescue.img file and the Droidian s image files from the Droidian page and extract the Droidian s image zip.
  3. Connect your phone to your workstation by USB, preferably USB 3 because it will take a few minutes to transfer the image at USB 2 speed. Install the Debian package adb on the workstation.
  4. To Unlock the bootloader you can apparently use a PC and the Samsung software but the unlock option in the Android settings gives the same result without proprietary software, here s how to do it:
    1. Connect the phone to Wifi. Then in settings go to Software update , then click on Download and install . Refuse to install if it offers you a new version (the unlock menu item will never appear unless you do this, so you can t unlock without Internet access).
    2. In settings go to About phone , then Software information , then tap on Build number repeatedly until Developer mode is enabled.
    3. In settings go to the new menu Developer options then turn on the OEM unlocking option, this does a factory reset of the phone.
  5. To flash the recovery.img you apparently use Odin on Windows. I used the heimdall-flash package on Debian. On your Linux workstation run the commands:
    adb reboot download
    heimdall flash --RECOVERY recovery.img
    Then press VOLUME-UP+BIXBY+POWER as soon as it reboots to get into the recovery image. If you don t do it soon enough it will do a default Android boot which will wipe the recovery.img you installed and also do a factory reset which will disable Developer mode and you will need to go back to step 4.
  6. If the above step works correctly you will have a RECOVERY menu where the main menu has options Reboot system now , Apply update , Factory reset , and Advanced in a large font. If you failed to install recovery.img then you would get a similar menu but with a tiny font which is the Samsung recovery image which won t work so reboot and try again.
  7. When at the main recovery menu select Advanced and then Enter fastboot . Note that this doesn t run a different program or do anything obviously different, just gives a menu that s OK we want it at this menu.
  8. Run ./flash_all.sh on your workstation.
  9. Then it should boot Droidian! This may take a bit of time.
First Tests Battery The battery and its charge and discharge rates are very important to me, it s what made the PinePhonePro and Librem5 unusable as daily driver phones. After running for about 100 minutes of which about 40 minutes were playing with various settings the phone was at 89% battery. The output of upower -d isn t very accurate as it reported power use ranging from 0W to 25W! But this does suggest that the phone might last for 400 minutes of real use that s not CPU intensive, such as reading email, document editing, and web browsing. I don t think that 6.5 hours of doing such things non-stop without access to a power supply or portable battery is something I m ever going to do. Samsung when advertising the phone claimed 17 hours of video playback which I don t think I m ever going to get or want. After running for 11 hours it was at 58% battery. Then after just over 21 hours of running it had 13% battery. Generally I don t trust the upower output much but the fact that it ran for over 21 hours shows that its battery life is much better than the PinePhonePro and the Librem5. During that 21 hours I ve had a ssh session open with the client set to send ssh keep-alive messages every minute. So it had to remain active. There is an option to suspend on Droidian but they recommend you don t use it. There is no need for the caffeine mode that you have on Mobian. For comparison my previous tests suggested that when doing nothing a PinePhonePro might last for 30 hours on battery while the Liberem5 might only list 10 hours [2]. This test with Droidian was done with the phone within my reach for much of that time and subject to my desire to fiddle with new technology so it wasn t just sleeping all the time. When charging from the USB port on my PC it went from 13% to 27% charge in half an hour and then after just over an hour it claimed to be at 33%. It ended up taking just over 7 hours to fully charge from empty that s not great but not too bad for a PC USB port. This is the same USB port that my Librem5 couldn t charge from. Also the discharge:charge ratio of 21:7 is better than I could get from the PinePhonePro with Caffeine mode enabled. rndis0 The rndis0 interface used for IP over USB doesn t work. Droidian bug #36 [3]. Other Hardware The phone I bought for testing is the model with 6G of RAM and 128G of storage, has a minor screen crack and significant screen burn-in. It s a good test system for $109. The screen burn-in is very obvious when running the default Android setup but when running the default Droidian GNOME setup set to the Dark theme (which is a significant power saving with an AMOLED screen) I can t see it at all. Buying a cheap phone with screen burn-in is something I recommend. The stylus doesn t work, this isn t listed on the Droidian web page. I m not sure if I tested the stylus when the phone was running Android, I think I did. D State Processes I get a kernel panic early in the startup for unknown reasons and some D state kernel threads which may or may not be related to that. Droidian bug #37 [4]. Second Phone The Phone I ordered a second Note9 on ebay, it had been advertised at $240 for a month and the seller accepted my offer of $200. With postage that s $215 for a Note9 in decent condition with 8G of RAM and 512G of storage. But Droidian dropped support for the Note9 before I got to install it. At the moment I m not sure what I ll do with this, maybe I ll keep it on Android. I also bought four phone cases for $16. I got spares because of the high price of postage relative to the case cost and the fact that they may be difficult to get in a few years. The Tests For the next phone my plan was to do more tests on Android before upgrading it to Debian. Here are the ones I can think of now, please suggest any others I should do. Droidian and Security When I tell technical people about Droidian a common reaction is great you can get a cheap powerful phone and have better security than Android . This is wrong in several ways. Firstly Android has quite decent security. Android runs most things in containers and uses SE Linux. Droidian has the Debian approach for most software (IE it all runs under the same UID without any special protections) and the developers have no plans to use SE Linux. I ve previously blogged about options for Sandboxing for Debian phone use, my blog post is NOT a solution to the problem but an analysis of the different potential ways of going about solving it [5]. The next issue is that Droidian has no way to update the kernel and the installation instructions often advise downgrading Android (running a less secure kernel) before the installation. The Android Generic Kernel Image project [6] addresses this by allowing a separation between drivers supplied by the hardware vendor and the kernel image supplied by Google. This also permits running the hardware vendor s drivers with a GKI kernel released by Google after the hardware vendor dropped security support. But this only applies to Android 11 and later, so Android 10 devices (like the Note 9 image for Droidian) miss out on this.

Russell Coker: Kitty and Mpv

6 months ago I switched to Kitty for terminal emulation [1]. So far there s only been one thing that I couldn t effectively do with Kitty that I did with Konsole in the past, that is watching a music video in 1/4 of the screen while using the rest for terminals. I could setup multiple Kitty windows taking up the rest of the screen but I wanted to keep using a single Kitty with multiple terminals and just have mpv go over one of them. Kitty supports it s own graphical interface so mpv vo=kitty works but took 6* the CPU power in my tests which isn t good for a laptop. For X11 there s a ontop option for mpv that does what you expect, but that doesn t work on Wayland. Not working is mostly Wayland s fault as there is a long tail of less commonly used graphical operations that work in X11 but aren t yet implemented in Wayland. I have filed a Debian bug report about this, the mpv man page should note that it s only going to work on X11 on Linux. I have discovered a solution to that, in the KDE settings there s a Window Rules section, I created an entry for Window class exactly matching mpv and then added a rule Keep above other windows and set it for force and yes . After that I can just resize mpv to occlude just one terminal and keep using the rest. Also one noteworthy thing with this is that it makes mpv go on top of the KDE taskbar, which can be a feature.

26 April 2024

Russell Coker: Humane AI Pin

I wrote a blog post The Shape of Computers [1] exploring ideas of how computers might evolve and how we can use them. One of the devices I mentioned was the Humane AI Pin, which has just been the recipient of one of the biggest roast reviews I ve ever seen [2], good work Marques Brownlee! As an aside I was once given a product to review which didn t work nearly as well as I think it should have worked so I sent an email to the developers saying sorry this product failed to work well so I can t say anything good about it and didn t publish a review. One of the first things that caught my attention in the review is the note that the AI Pin doesn t connect to your phone. I think that everything should connect to everything else as a usability feature. For security we don t want so much connecting and it s quite reasonable to turn off various connections at appropriate times for security, the Librem5 is an example of how this can be done with hardware switches to disable Wifi etc. But to just not have connectivity is bad. The next noteworthy thing is the external battery which also acts as a magnetic attachment from inside your shirt. So I guess it s using wireless charging through your shirt. A magnetically attached external battery would be a great feature for a phone, you could quickly swap a discharged battery for a fresh one and keep using it. When I tried to make the PinePhonePro my daily driver [3] I gave up and charging was one of the main reasons. One thing I learned from my experiment with the PinePhonePro is that the ratio of charge time to discharge time is sometimes more important than battery life and being able to quickly swap batteries without rebooting is a way of solving that. The reviewer of the AI Pin complains later in the video about battery life which seems to be partly due to wireless charging from the detachable battery and partly due to being physically small. It seems the phablet form factor is the smallest viable personal computer at this time. The review glosses over what could be the regarded as the 2 worst issues of the device. It does everything via the cloud (where the cloud means a computer owned by someone I probably shouldn t trust ) and it records everything. Strange that it s not getting the hate the Google Glass got. The user interface based on laser projection of menus on the palm of your hand is an interesting concept. I d rather have a Bluetooth attached tablet or something for operations that can t be conveniently done with voice. The reviewer harshly criticises the laser projection interface later in the video, maybe technology isn t yet adequate to implement this properly. The first criticism of the device in the review part of the video is of the time taken to answer questions, especially when Internet connectivity is poor. His question who designed the Washington Monument took 8 seconds to start answering it in his demonstration. I asked the Alpaca LLM the same question running on 4 cores of a E5-2696 and it took 10 seconds to start answering and then printed the words at about speaking speed. So if we had a free software based AI device for this purpose it shouldn t be difficult to get local LLM computation with less delay than the Humane device by simply providing more compute power than 4 cores of a E5-2696v3. How does a 32 core 1.05GHz Mali G72 from 2017 (as used in the Galaxy Note 9) compare to 4 cores of a 2.3GHz Intel CPU from 2015? Passmark says that Intel CPU can do 48GFlop with all 18 cores so 4 cores can presumably do about 10GFlop which seems less than the claimed 20-32GFlop of the Mali G72. It seems that with the right software even older Android phones could give adequate performance for a local LLM. The Alpaca model I m testing with takes 4.2G of RAM to run which is usable in a Note 9 with 8G of RAM or a Pixel 8 Pro with 12G. A Pixel 8 Pro could have 4.2G of RAM reserved for a LLM and still have as much RAM for other purposes as my main laptop as of a few months ago. I consider the speed of Alpaca on my workstation to be acceptable but not great. If we can get FOSS phones running a LLM at that speed then I think it would be great for a first version we can always rely on newer and faster hardware becoming available. Marques notes that the cause of some of the problems is likely due to a desire to make it a separate powerful product in the future and that if they gave it phone connectivity in the start they would have to remove that later on. I think that the real problem is that the profit motive is incompatible with good design. They want to have a product that s stand-alone and justifies the purchase price plus subscription and that means not making it a phone accessory . While I think that the best thing for the user is to allow it to talk to a phone, a PC, a car, and anything else the user wants. He compares it to the Apple Vision Pro which has the same issue of trying to be a stand-alone computer but not being properly capable of it. One of the benefits that Marques cites for the AI Pin is the ability to capture voice notes. Dictaphones have been around for over 100 years and very few people have bought them, not even in the 80s when they became cheap. While almost everyone can occasionally benefit from being able to make a note of an idea when it s not convenient to write it down there are few people who need it enough to carry a separate device, not even if that device is tiny. But a phone as a general purpose computing device with microphone can easily be adapted to such things. One possibility would be to program a phone to start a voice note when the volume up and down buttons are pressed at the same time or when some other condition is met. Another possibility is to have a phone have a hotkey function that varies by what you are doing, EG if bushwalking have the hotkey be to take a photo or if on a flight have it be taking a voice note. On the Mobile Apps page on the Debian wiki I created a section for categories of apps that I think we need [4]. In that section I added the following list:
  1. Voice input for dictation
  2. Voice assistant like Google/Apple
  3. Voice output
  4. Full operation for visually impaired people
One thing I really like about the AI Pin is that it has the potential to become a really good computing and personal assistant device for visually impaired people funded by people with full vision who want to legally control a computer while driving etc. I have some concerns about the potential uses of the AI Pin while driving (as Marques stated an aim to do), but if it replaces the use of regular phones while driving it will make things less bad. Marques concludes his video by warning against buying a product based on the promise of what it can be in future. I bought the Librem5 on exactly that promise, the difference is that I have the source and the ability to help make the promise come true. My aim is to spend thousands of dollars on test hardware and thousands of hours of development time to help make FOSS phones a product that most people can use at low price with little effort. Another interesting review of the pin is by Mrwhostheboss [5], one of his examples is of asking the pin for advice about a chair but without him knowing the pin selected a different chair in the room. He compares this to using Google s apps on a phone and seeing which item the app has selected. He also said that he doesn t want to make an order based on speech he wants to review a page of information about it. I suspect that the design of the pin had too much input from people accustomed to asking a corporate travel office to find them a flight and not enough from people who look through the details of the results of flight booking services trying to save an extra $20. Some people might say if you need to save $20 on a flight then a $24/month subscription computing service isn t for you , I reject that argument. I can afford lots of computing services because I try to get the best deal on every moderately expensive thing I pay for. Another point that Mrwhostheboss makes is regarding secret SMS, you probably wouldn t want to speak a SMS you are sending to your SO while waiting for a train. He makes it clear that changing between phone and pin while sharing resources (IE not having a separate phone number and separate data store) is a desired feature. The most insightful point Mrwhostheboss made was when he suggested that if the pin had come out before the smartphone then things might have all gone differently, but now anything that s developed has to be based around the expectations of phone use. This is something we need to keep in mind when developing FOSS software, there s lots of different ways that things could be done but we need to meet the expectations of users if we want our software to be used by many people. I previously wrote a blog post titled Considering Convergence [6] about the possible ways of using a phone as a laptop. While I still believe what I wrote there I m now considering the possibility of ease of movement of work in progress as a way of addressing some of the same issues. I ve written a blog post about Convergence vs Transferrence [7].

Russell Coker: Convergence vs Transference

I previously wrote a blog post titled Considering Convergence [1] about the possible ways of using a phone as a laptop. While I still believe what I wrote there I m now considering the possibility of ease of movement of work in progress as a way of addressing some of the same issues. Currently the expected use is that if you have web pages open on Chrome on Android it s possible to instruct Chrome on the desktop to open the same page if both instances of Chrome are signed in to the same GMail account. It s also possible to view the Chrome history with CTRL-H, select tabs from other devices and load things that were loaded on other devices some time ago. This is very minimal support for moving work between devices and I think we can do better. Firstly for web browsing the Chrome functionality is barely adequate. It requires having a heavyweight login process on all browsers that includes sharing stored passwords etc which isn t desirable. There are many cases where moving work is desired without sharing such things, one example is using a personal device to research something for work. Also the Chrome method of sending web pages is slow and unreliable and the viewing history method gets all closed tabs when the common case is get the currently open tabs from one browser window without wanting the dozens of web pages that turned out not to be interesting and were closed. This could be done with browser plugins to allow functionality similar to KDE Connect for sending tabs and also the option of emailing a list of URLs or a JSON file that could be processed by a browser plugin on the receiving end. I can send email between my home and work addresses faster than the Chrome share to another device function can send a URL. For documents we need a way of transferring files. One possibility is to go the Chromebook route and have it all stored on the web. This means that you rely on a web based document editing system and the FOSS versions are difficult to manage. Using Google Docs or Sharepoint for everything is not something I consider an acceptable option. Also for laptop use being able to run without Internet access is a good thing. There are a range of distributed filesystems that have been used for various purposes. I don t think any of them cater to the use case of having a phone/laptop and a desktop PC (or maybe multiple PCs) using the same files. For a technical user it would be an option to have a script that connects to a peer system (IE another computer with the same accounts and access control decisions) and rsync a directory of working files and the shell history, and then opens a shell with the HISTFILE variable, current directory, and optionally some user environment variables set to match. But this wouldn t be the most convenient thing even for technical users. For programs that are integrated into the desktop environment it s possible for them to be restarted on login if they were active when the user logged out. The session tracking for that has about 1/4 the functionality needed for requesting a list of open files from the application, closing the application, transferring the files, and opening it somewhere else. I think that this would be a good feature to add to the XDG setup. The model of having programs and data attached to one computer or one network server that terminals of some sort connect to worked well when computers were big and expensive. But computers continue to get smaller and cheaper so we need to think of a document based use of computers to allow things to be easily transferred as convenient. With convenience being important so the hacks of rsync scripts that can work for technical users won t work for most people.

24 April 2024

Russell Coker: Source Code With Emoji

The XKCD comic Code Quality [1] inspired me to test out emoji in source. I really should have done this years ago when that XKCD was first published. The following code compiles in gcc and runs in the way that anyone who wants to write such code would want it to run. The hover text in the XKCD comic is correct. You could have a style guide for such programming, store error messages in the doctor and nurse emoji for example.
#include <stdio.h>
int main()
 
  int   = 1,   = 2;
  printf(" =%d,  =%d\n",  ,  );
  return 0;
 
To get this to display correctly in Debian you need to install the fonts-noto-color-emoji package (used by the KDE emoji picker that runs when you press Windows-. among other things) and restart programs that use emoji. The Konsole terminal emulator will probably need it s profile settings changed to work with this if you ran Konsole before installing fonts-noto-color-emoji. The Kitty terminal emulator works if you restart it after installing fonts-noto-color-emoji. This web page gives a list of HTML codes for emoji [2]. If I start writing real code with emoji variable names then I ll have to update my source to HTML conversion script (which handles <>" and repeated spaces) to convert emoji. I spent a couple of hours on this and I think it s worth it. I have filed several Debian bug reports about improvements needed to issues related to emoji.

Russell Coker: Ubuntu 24.04 and Bubblewrap

When using Bubblewrap (the bwrap command) to create a container in Ubuntu 24.04 you can expect to get one of the following error messages:
bwrap: loopback: Failed RTM_NEWADDR: Operation not permitted
bwrap: setting up uid map: Permission denied
This is due to Ubuntu developers deciding to use Apparmor to restrict the creation of user namespaces. Here is a Ubuntu blog post about it [1]. To resolve that you could upgrade to SE Linux, but the other option is to create a file named /etc/apparmor.d/bwrap with the following contents:
abi <abi/4.0>,
include <tunables/global>
profile bwrap /usr/bin/bwrap flags=(unconfined)  
  userns,
  # Site-specific additions and overrides. See local/README for details.
  include if exists <local/bwrap>
 
Then run systemctl reload apparmor .

13 April 2024

Russell Coker: Software Needed for Work

When I first started studying computer science setting up a programming project was easy, write source code files and a Makefile and that was it. IRC was the only IM system and email was the only other communications system that was used much. Writing Makefiles is difficult but products like the Borland Turbo series of IDEs did all that for you so you could just start typing code and press a function key to compile and run (F5 from memory). Over the years the requirements and expectations of computer use have grown significantly. The typical office worker is now doing many more things with computers than serious programmers used to do. Running an IM system, an online document editing system, and a series of web apps is standard for companies nowadays. Developers have to do all that in addition to tools for version control, continuous integration, bug reporting, and feature tracking. The development process is also more complex with extra steps for reproducible builds, automated tests, and code coverage metrics for the tests. I wonder how many programmers who started in the 90s would have done something else if faced with Github as their introduction. How much of this is good? Having the ability to send instant messages all around the world is great. Having dozens of different ways of doing so is awful. When a company uses multiple IM systems such as MS-Teams and Slack and forces some of it s employees to use them both it s getting ridiculous. Having different friend groups on different IM systems is anti-social networking. In the EU the Digital Markets Act [1] forces some degree of interoperability between different IM systems and as it s impossible to know who s actually in the EU that will end up being world-wide. In corporations document management often involves multiple ways of storing things, you have Google Docs, MS Office online, hosted Wikis like Confluence, and more. Large companies tend to use several such systems which means that people need to learn multiple systems to be able to work and they also need to know which systems are used by the various groups that they communicate with. Microsoft deserves some sort of award for the range of ways they have for managing documents, Sharepoint, OneDrive, Office Online, attachments to Teams rooms, and probably lots more. During WW2 the predecessor to the CIA produced an excellent manual for simple sabotage [2]. If something like that was written today the section General Interference with Organisations and Production would surely have something about using as many incompatible programs and web sites as possible in the work flow. The proliferation of software required for work is a form of denial of service attack against corporations. The efficiency of companies doesn t really bother me. It sucks that companies are creating a demoralising workplace that is unpleasant for workers. But the upside is that the biggest companies are the ones doing the worst things and are also the most afflicted by these problems. It s almost like the Bureau of Sabotage in some of Frank Herbert s fiction [3]. The thing that concerns me is the effect of multiple standards on free software development. We have IRC the most traditional IM support system which is getting replaced by Matrix but we also have some projects using Telegram, and Jabber hasn t gone away. I m sure there are others too. There are also multiple options for version control (although github seems to dominate the market), forums, bug trackers, etc. Reporting bugs or getting support in free software often requires interacting with several of them. Developing free software usually involves dealing with the bug tracking and documentation systems of the distribution you use as well as the upstream developers of the software. If the problem you have is related to compatibility between two different pieces of free software then you can end up dealing with even more bug tracking systems. There are real benefits to some of the newer programs to track bugs, write documentation, etc. There is also going to be a cost in changing which gives an incentive for the older projects to keep using what has worked well enough for them in the past, How can we improve things? Use only the latest tools? Prioritise ease of use? Aim more for the entry level contributors?

11 April 2024

Russell Coker: ML Training License

Last year a Debian Developer blogged about writing Haskell code to give a bad result for LLMs that were trained on it. I forgot who wrote the post and I d appreciate the URL if anyone has it. I respect such technical work to enforce one s legal rights when they aren t respected by corporations, but I have a different approach. As an aside the Fosdem lecture Fortify AI against regulation, litigation and lobotomies is interesting on this topic [1], it s what inspired me to write about this. For what I write I am at this time happy to allow it to be used as part of a large training data set (consider this blog post a licence grant that applies until such time as I edit this post to change it). But only if aggregated with so much other data that my content is only a tiny portion of the data set by any metric. So I don t want someone to make a programming LLM that has my code as the only C code or a political data set that has my blog posts as the only left-wing content. If someone wants to train an LLM on only my content to make a Russell-simulator then I don t license my work for that purpose but also as it s small enough that anyone with a bit of skill could do it on a weekend I can t stop it. I would be really interested in seeing the results if someone from the FOSS community wanted to make a Russell-simulator and would probably issue them a license for such work if asked. If my work comprises more than 0.1% of the content in a particular measure (theme, programming language, political position, etc) in a training data set then I don t permit that without prior discussion. Finally if someone wants to make a FOSS training data set to be used for FOSS LLM systems (maybe under the AGPL or some similar license) then I ll allow my writing to be used as part of that.

31 March 2024

Russell Coker: Links March 2024

Bruce Schneier wrote an interesting blog post about his workshop on reimagining democracy and the unusual way he structured it [1]. It would be fun to have a security conference run like that! Matthias write an informative blog post about Wayland Wayland really breaks things Just for now which links to a blog debate about the utility of Wayland [2]. Wayland seems pretty good to me. Cory Doctorow wrote an insightful article about the AI bubble comparing it to previous bubbles [3]. Charles Stross wrote an insightful analysis of the implications if the UK brought back military conscription [4]. Looks like the era of large armies is over. Charles Stross wrote an informative blog post about the Worldcon in China, covering issues of vote rigging for location, government censorship vs awards, and business opportunities [5]. The Paris Review has an interesting article about speaking to the CIA s Creative Writing Group [6]. It doesn t explain why they have a creative writing group that has some sort of semi-official sanction. LongNow has an insightful article about the threats to biodiversity in food crops and the threat that poses to humans [7]. Bruce Schneier and Albert Fox Cahn wrote an interesting article about the impacts of chatbots on human discourse [8]. If it makes people speak more precisely then that would be great for all Autistic people!

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