Software disenchantment @ tonsky.me

Programs can’t work for years without reboots anymore. Sometimes even days are too much to ask. Random stuff happens and nobody knows why.

What’s worse, nobody has time to stop and figure out what happened. Why bother if you can always buy your way out of it. Spin another AWS instance. Restart process. Drop and restore the whole database. Write a watchdog that will restart your broken app every 20 minutes. Include same resources multiple times, zip and ship. Move fast, don’t fix.

That is not engineering. That’s just lazy programming. Engineering is understanding performance, structure, limits of what you build, deeply. Combining poorly written stuff with more poorly written stuff goes strictly against that. To progress, we need to understand what and why are we doing.

Source: Software disenchantment @ tonsky.me

About 20 years ago, I was working as a Unix sysadmin, and sat in on a meeting about moving an internally-developed application from another data center to mine. It ran on Windows, and died, literally, every day, and required a restart of the whole machine to fix. The manager in the meeting (who, I note, I recommended not be hired, and who was fired for sexual harassment just a few months later) said, “OK, we’ll just schedule it as part of maintenance tasks to preemptively reboot the machine every night.”

I literally snorted. I asked if it were not possible to, you know, actually fix the program? Find the memory leak, or whatever was the problem? I mean, it was written by us; couldn’t we get the programmer to fix their own program? The answer was, of course, no, with the added insinuation that it ridiculous that I suggest that the programmer still had work to do!

About 4 years ago, I wrote a program that helped a lot of people get their jobs done much more easily and efficiently. Per Douglas Adams, “This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” I was forced to hand the program over to another team, where it has run, with only one tiny patch, for 4 years now. It is not a trivial program, or architecture. To my knowledge, neither the clients nor server ever crash, or need to be restarted. I’m very proud of this.

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Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 Moving into General Availability | Hacker News

I am giving up. WSL1 was a great invention but Microsoft gave up on it, either because of the filesystem performance problems or because of the debuggers.

It was a very nice dream, pity it didn’t work out.

Source: Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 Moving into General Availability | Hacker News

I’ve been making the same sort of comments about this technology for a long time now. Please pardon my schadenfreude. It would seem that the “Microsoft loves Linux” astroturfing for this feature is showing some cracks, and people are finally being honest about the actual impact of the technology on development workflows. Several people in the comments get one step away from my own conclusion: just install VirtualBox or VMware Workstation, and be done with it.

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What the Hobby Lobby Ruling Means for America – The New York Times

If the court follows the logic of its Hobby Lobby decision in the decades to come, it’s not so hard to imagine a job market where people must interview employers about their religious and political views. Or where people who need to make a living may just feel compelled to accept a work environment increasingly shaped by their employers’ beliefs.

Source: What the Hobby Lobby Ruling Means for America – The New York Times

Scary quote by the Times, from years ago, but which I’m just now seeing. Scary, because you might feel pressured to adopt a more Christian-aligned mindset. God forbid!

Everyone who works for someone else feels at least a little pull towards their mindset, even if it’s just one person working for one other person. If you’re already compatible, great! If not, you have to decide for yourself if you’re so incompatible that it’s better to find other work, or start your own business.

The Times seems to be pretending that only Christian-owned companies have a culture that some people might feel uncomfortable with. The truth is that every organization — including companies — has a culture, and some people who are a part of it — including employees — may not feel completely comfortable in it. People join all sorts of organizations — companies, churches, charities, sporting leagues, neighborhood groups — with which they don’t completely agree, because they get enough out of the association that they are willing to put up with the stuff they don’t like. This is called “living in a society.” We all have to “live and let live.” You know, do our thing, while not preventing others from doing theirs.

As our society becomes more insular because of social media and, now, quarantine, this concept is indeed becoming lost. Also, I can understand why this writer at the Times, in that ivory tower of monoculture, seems to be confused about this situation. And, frankly, the fact that a Christian built a business with an overtly-Christian culture is easy target to attack because it’s so rare.

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Windows. And Skyrim. Again.

I’m on vacation. At a beach. I don’t find the beach compelling. So I’m bored. Bored, but with a computer. Unfortunately, for this exercise, the computer is a MacBook Pro. And I want to play Skyrim. I’ve been having just a lovely time playing through it again on a PC I stitched together from parts, but how does one play it on a Mac? Good question.

The first attempt at an answer was to try using Parallels. Again. No bueno. Still no clues on the internet, which just seems wrong. Then again, if it were possible to do this, you’d think Parallels would advertise that fact, along with the other games they say it supports.

The only other realistic avenue was to try using Bootcamp to run Windows on the machine, directly. I’ve resisted this for a long time, because I just didn’t buy a Mac to run Windows games. Philosophy aside, this is surprisingly easy. I even still had the Windows 10 ISO file from when I built the PC, and Bootcamp found it on my hard drive, and offered to use it. I just clicked a couple of times, expanded the partition a bit, and waited. Within 15 or 20 minutes, I was in Windows (and denying all of Microsoft’s telemetry options).

Then begins the process I know pretty well by now:

  • Update Windows
  • Use Edge to install Firefox
  • Use the master key to setup 1Password
  • Get logged into Steam
  • Download and install Steam
  • Install Skyrim
  • Download and install Skyrim Script Extender
  • Get logged into NexusMods.com
  • Download and install Vortex
  • Download the dozen or so mods I like
  • Use Vortex to…

BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH

And this one was like there were 2 interleaved slides forming the BSOD message, and they were jiggling back and forth, stuck down in the lower, left quadrant of the screen, and that was enough for me. It just confirmed that this isn’t something that’s going to be well supported, and I don’t have time for this kind of nonsense any more. I rebooted into macOS, and immediately used Bootcamp to wipe out the Windows partition.

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Coronavirus in N.Y.C.: Why Closing Public Schools Is a ‘Last Resort’ – The New York Times

New York City has the largest public school system in the United States, a vast district with about 750,000 children who are poor, including around 114,000 who are homeless. For such students, school may be the only place they can get three hot meals a day and medical care, and even wash their dirty laundry.

Source: Coronavirus in N.Y.C.: Why Closing Public Schools Is a ‘Last Resort’ – The New York Times

So, in addition to all the roads, the electricity, the water and sewer, the welfare, the Social Security, the Medicare/Medicaid, the farm subsidies, Fannie/Freddie/FHA — and, apparently, now, homeless shelters running on top of the public education system — tell me again how nationalizing health care would be some sudden, unimaginable lurch into communism.

The best answer is to deregulate the industry and let the market truly sort it out, but the Anthems and the Uniteds and the Aetnas of the country are not going to let that happen, so the system will eventually fall over on itself, and the government will be forced to nationalize the system. This is what they’re waiting for: all those companies will become part of the government, and their C-levels are going to get some sort of huge payout/off.

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Ebay (and PayPal); Is This Really the Best We Can Do?

I see various Ebay competitors advertising on TV. It’s not hard to see why. It’s 2020, and Ebay’s web site hasn’t fundamentally changed for 20 years. Their incestuous relationship with PayPal, and all its attendant problems, is legendary.

I have an account balance. I keep getting emailed about it every month. It’s only $28.11, but it’s been, like, a year now, and I’m really tired of those emails. So I finally decided I’d try to get the amount sent to me as a check, because I don’t want these folks touching my bank accounts.

So I look around Ebay’s site, and, of course, I can’t find any reference to how to do this. So I search, and find a Q/A about it, and on their own site, to boot. I see that I have to actually call them to request a credit to be paid to me, like it was still 1998, and they hadn’t actually bought a payment processor. Really?! So I click the link, and then another, and another. Five clicks in, I see a phone number. I dial it, enter my one-time code, and get put on hold. Then I have a thought! I want an iPad cover, and that amount of money should just about cover it. So I hang up the phone, and start searching around.

Of course, I find something I want on Amazon, because, as bad as Amazon’s search is, Ebay’s is much, much worse. Then I go back to Ebay, and dig it up. I try to be very careful in the checkout process, but there’s no option to change any purchase methods. I double check the email I get, and, of course, Ebay has not used my balance; they’ve charged my credit card.

So I redial the phone number I called before, tell the system twice that I don’t have a one-time passcode, get put into a queue. When I get to talk to someone, I tell them what I want, and they ask for my account number. I don’t know what this is, and can’t find it immediately. She asks if I’ve made any recent purchases, so she can look up my account. I tell her the one I just made, and then she asks 3 different questions relating to getting a refund for that item. Once I finally get through to her what I’m really asking, she puts me on hold.

Another guy joins the call, and quickly refunds the money, but there’s no option here. Before I can even bring up how this will be refunded, he says he’s sent it TO PAYPAL, and then informs me that it will be SEVERAL DAYS before this transfer finalizes. So now I have to wait, and deal with it there. Sigh. At least there, I know I can have them cut me a check for a hefty fee, but then I’m done with both Ebay and PayPal.

Ebay created a way for collectors to connect with each other, and the marketplace corrected for the scarcity economics of finding buyers for old junk in local areas. This took the premiums out of it, and leveled the playing field. Now, whatever you might want to sell, the Ebay price for it IS the market price for it, even if you don’t use Ebay, and this is a win for people who are trying to buy esoteric things. Basically everything that can be sold, is sold on Ebay, so there’s a market price just about everything now. But, as an application, and as a business, it’s run its course. It’s boring. It’s overburdened by hassle. You take your life in your hands every time you sell something on the platform. Luckily, this has left the door open to competitors.

If you search on Ebay competitors, you find something fascinating. None of the top 10 sites are auction sites. Ebay has set the price in the “e-market” space, and the only “auctions” happening now are the figurative dances to weave your way through hundreds of no-name accounts all selling the same thing for differences of a few dollars.

But this list of sites is geared towards people who are trying to make a living selling handmade tchotchkes or Chinese knockoff imports. What about poor schlubs like me, who just want to clean out their closet? An another list, I see about 2 dozen eligible alternatives for selling stuff you don’t want any more. So I think a lot of people are finding newer applications to do the same thing, without all the overhead.

The next time I want to try to sell something, I will try a different platform.

For example, I see Decluttr is a clearinghouse, buying things and then selling them for a profit. They have a particular bent towards tech and… Lego. And I may or may not have about 8 large tubs of Lego that I’m tired of moving around in storage… However, I just looked at how that works, and apparently they simply buy Lego at $1/lb. Are you serious with me right now? Sheesh. I know I could get a lot more for my collection…

on…

Ebay.

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SETI@home Search for Alien Life Project Shuts Down After 21 Years

SETI@home has announced that they will no longer be distributing new work to clients starting on March 31st as they have enough data and want to focus on completing their back-end analysis of the data.

Source: SETI@home Search for Alien Life Project Shuts Down After 21 Years

Back around 1999, I brought up a bunch of high-end Unix equipment, after it was moved from another data center to “mine.” This included a Sun E10000 — a “Unix mainframe” — $15M of EMC disk cabinets, a 384-DTL tape-changer robot and a bank of tape drives, and various development machines, like a 20-CPU E4000, and a E450.

The E10K cost $500,000 at the time, and was “half-racked” with 44 CPU’s. This, of course, was the first thing I setup, because it was extremely interesting. So, while everything else was being configured, it was just sitting there doing nothing.

I had heard about SETI@home, and thought it was cool, but I didn’t want to commit any of my personal machines to running it. But I knew that they had created clients for every platform available, including Solaris, and I put two and two together.

I set the application up to run on the E10K. Forty-four instances of it. I figured it was a good “burn-in” test for the config. For about a month, it ran at 100% utilization. Of course, when the Oracle developers finally started using the machine in anger, I shut it all down. But, in that month, I shot up the leaderboards for the project, and cracked the top 1000 contributors.

Very cool to see their link to other “open” distributed science projects you could donate CPU time to.

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An American who was quarantined to check for signs of coronavirus says he’s facing more than $2,600 in bills from his government-mandated hospital stay

Frank Wucinski and his 3-year-old daughter Annabel evacuated Wuhan, China, in February and were then quarantined at Marine Corps Station Miramar, near San Diego, for two weeks.

Source: An American who was quarantined to check for signs of coronavirus says he’s facing more than $2,600 in bills from his government-mandated hospital stay

Forced quarantine for coronavirus? Check. Uncovered medical bills from multiple providers? Check. For ridiculous amounts? Check. GoFundMe? Check. Yep! It’s health care in America!
 
I’m not really worried about this thing being as bad as everyone says, but IF it is, the half of the country who live paycheck-to-paycheck and who are underinsured — thanks to wage stagnation in a booming economy, and an out-of-control medical insurance industry — will make for a lot of personal catastrophes.
 
People may not like the idea of socializing medicine, but when folks have to declare bankruptcy due to medical bills, we’re already socializing that cost, and it happens all the time. Don’t tell me that companies just eat those bills. They raise rates to keep their profits looking good, and pass those costs on to insurance companies, who then charge higher premiums.
 
This feedback loop avoids the righteous, self-correcting “market” that capitalism is supposed to provide, because only companies are involved in making the decisions about health care now (almost), and thanks to monopoly trends, they have almost no more choice in the matter. The “market” is broken.
 
If we could get an honest-to-God market in health care insurance, I think the problem could actually sort itself out in a generation. But the people in charge — the Anthem’s, Aetna’s, United’s, etc. of the industry — surely won’t let Congress let that happen. So we’re going to go on squeezing the middle class over health insurance until the system collapses, and we’re forced into nationalized health care.
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Barbra Streisand on Why Trump Must Be Defeated in 2020 (Column) – Variety

Every morning I wake up, holding my breath while I turn on my phone to see the latest news. I think to myself, “It can’t be worse than yesterday.” But when the news loads, I think, “Ohhhhh, yes, it is worse”…

Source: Barbra Streisand on Why Trump Must Be Defeated in 2020 (Column) – Variety

Me too, Babs, but my definition of what’s wrong in this world is much, much more fundamental than complaining about any one politician’s capricious actions, even if they are the President, or the Speaker of the House.

No wonder doctors report that more people than ever are anxious and depressed. Since 2016, we’ve been dragged down into the mud of Trump’s swamp.

Right, because that trend started in 2016, with the election of the current President.

Now we’re facing another kind of war, against the coronavirus. Trump got rid of our pandemic specialist two years ago and has defunded the Centers for Disease Control because he continues to ignore science.

He didn’t “defund” the CDC, he trimmed it. When questioned about this specific situation, he said, “Hey, we can staff it back up if we need to, and it looks like we need to.” It sounded like a perfectly-legitimate, business-based rationale to me.

Trump can never live up to Obama’s legacy, so he’s trying to erase it. He inherited a growing economy and now claims credit for it, saying it’s the best in history … but that’s another lie.

This is amusing to me, because I watched people on the Right castigate Clinton for taking credit for Reagan/Bush’s economy during his entire 8 years. I’ll tell you this for free: No one on the opposite side hears this argument. It’s a so-called dog whistle to your own side.

In this upcoming election, we must bring back dignity and grace.

I don’t see much “dignity” or “grace” in the Democratic candidates who are left (as of this Super Tuesday). In fact, the only person I see at the top of the political food chain, who I would consider dignified or graceful, is Mike Pence, and the Left haaates him. They vilify and mock him at every opportunity, specifically because of his Christian-based dignity and grace. So please save us your sanctimonious and hypocritical calls for dignity and grace.

As with so much that is wrong with American politics, the Clintons rewrote the rules and changed the game. There was nothing dignified or graceful about Bill’s #metoo crimes and indiscretions, nor in their coverup, nor in Hillary’s endless victim-blaming media tour. And we are still living in their post-dignity-and-grace political world. For now.

I look forward to more insightful deconstructions of this pablum than I can provide.

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Ah… Windows, My Old “Friend”

I didn’t want to be here again. I swore I was done with Windows. But, here I am.

Years ago, I picked up Skyrim on a Steam sale, and immediately fell in love with it. I got pretty far along with it. I think I was getting to level 70 or so, but memory fades.

Then I discovered modding, and nexusmods.com.

By the time I was done, my character was so OP, and my save files so jumbled, that I lost interest, and started playing other things.

Then Windows 10 came along, and I got caught up in the hype. Since we had an Xbox 360 and an Xbox One, I thought it would be neat to get everything together, and make a Microsoft “family” unit, like you can do in with Apple gear. I upgraded all 3 of my family PC’s, hoping to be able to limit my kids’ screen time through it. Then Windows 10 went crazy, with its adverts and “push ware.” And Microsoft’s “family” thing was a complete fiasco for me. Despite six hours on the phone with Microsoft, I couldn’t join one of my kid’s Xbox account to the family unit. On top of this, the time limits for his new account didn’t work at all. So I downgraded all 3 PC’s back to 7.

Then I bought a PS4, gave my monster game rig to my son, retired the other 2 PC’s, gave away the 360, and washed my hands of Microsoft, and Office.

Skyrim went on sale on the Playstation store, and I thought, “Hey, there won’t be a way for me to break the game with the mods available in the Creators Club.” Turns out I was wrong on that point… but I avoided the OP ones, and I started playing again, just concentrating on the main quest. I got to about level 30 again, and just kept getting bogged down by the slowness, and the controls, the lack of SkyUI for inventory management, and the inability to “fudge” the rules a little, from time to time.

Like, really, I hauled 100 pounds of dwarven scrap metal back from some ruins, to craft thousands of dwarven arrows from it, and level up smithing very quickly. I’m not spending literal hours of real time, chopping firewood for this. I’m going to open the console, and type player.additem 6f993 100, and just get on with it.

So I quit playing.

Then I got a bright idea. Skyrim is an old game, right? It should run on old hardware just fine, right? I still had the old PC’s lying around. Could they run the game better than the console?… I put a 760 in one machine, and quickly found that it would “hitch” every few seconds. I started digging into the problem, and discovered that the machine was so old that it had a Core 2 Duo, and that’s actually below even the modest Skyrim SE minimum requirements.

Another old PC had a Phenom II X6, which wasn’t a bad chip. That was enough to run Skyrim, but the power supply in that machine didn’t have enough juice to run the 760, so I was left with using some 5970 piece of junk. It wouldn’t run the game at all, because it was stuck at DX 9.

Time passed.

Parallels advertised that their latest version supports DX 12. Like a fool, I paid good many to upgrade, only to prove that running Skyrim under Parallels is also a hitch-ridden exercise. If someone has figured out how to make this work well, I’d love to hear about it. It doesn’t seem to be accessing the texture memory of the GPU on the Mac. I don’t know if that’s an architecture limitation or a configuration problem. I couldn’t find anything about this from searching.

Time passed.

I got the itch to play Skyrim again, so I took another look at my Phenom-based computer. I started looking into the detailed power requirements, and thought, you know what? They’re probably just being safe. I could probably run the 760 with the power supply I have, if I just adapt some of the power leads to hook into it. So I ordered what I needed.

Then I thought, hey, let me double check my junk pile. Lo and behold! I had a power supply that could run on the Phenom-based computer, and comfortably power the 760! I had totally forgotten that I had helped a friend with some home networking stuff, and he had given me the thing because he didn’t need it any more. I noticed that it needed one power adapter to plug into the motherboard, so I ordered it too. And then I noticed that I didn’t need the adapter. So I installed it, and got the game loaded, and found that it ran great!

And now I have 3 power adapter cords that I don’t need.

The only niggle now was that I had a lot of noise in the audio line. And it got worse when I actually ran the game. I was just using the baked-in sound card, so I installed a spare Creative XFi card. That didn’t fix it. Then I figured out that the noise was coming from the HDMI line. So I muted it. Then I disabled it. Then I pulled the audio feed from my monitor out of my mixer entirely.

I’ve been using HDMI audio on my PS4 all along, but it has an optical output jack… And I’ve since bought a Thunderbolt 3 dock for my MBP which also has an optical output jack… So I took the opportunity to buy a cheap digital audio switch, and swap out everything for TOSLINK audio.

By now, the game is playing so much better on the PC than the console, there’s no going back. So I did the last step. I bought an SSD, and cloned the HDD onto it. Even on this 10-year-old PC, Skyrim is playing like butter at the 60Hz monitor frame limit, inventory management is a breeze, the controls work well, and load times are, like, half a second.

Skyrim. I can’t believe how much effort this game has caused me to expend. This time, for sure, whatever else happens, I’m finishing the main quest, and putting it to bed. But the whole exercise reminded me of why I have always been drawn to this hobby. Hacking stuff together and figuring out the solutions to all the problems along the way is interesting to me, and I guess I’ve kind of missed it.

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