Anthony Bourdain

I don’t often comment on the death of a celebrity, but Anthony Bourdain was one of the very few who managed to make an impression on me. Like many, I enjoyed his honest take on culture, his openness to the world that so many seem to lack. Exploring the bounties of food culture may have been his motivation, but an unwavering appreciation of humanity was his greatest achievement.

AMD unveils Threadripper 2

I honestly thought that the CPU wars were over and we’d reached a reasonable plateau. Maybe there would be efficiency gains between generations of silicon, but this is bananas.

AMD’s current high-end desktop Threadripper CPU has 16 cores and 32 threads. Which is insane in its own right. While the new version doubles that core and thread count, respectively, and it honestly looks like there’s room for more over the next generation or so. Moreover, this is created with a seven nanometre process, which has to be getting close to the boundaries of current physics, right?

Intel tried to make waves just before this announcement with a similarly ridiculous 28 core chip (which based on very little research on my part, looks to be a repurposed workstation part). I’m happy overall that there is competition at all in x86 land, but I do wonder to what benefit. Besides 3D rendering, scientific applications and some other niche applications that I clearly don’t know about, will an average consumer benefit from the additional core counts? I suppose that’s not really the point. These high-end components are meant to be drool-worthy: to attract the awe of the scene while serving as a test bed for trickle down innovations for more mainstream parts.

All that said, if I am ever considering building a PC in the future—who knows these days, honestly—then perhaps I’ll take a close look at AMD’s offerings.

Internet Friends on WWDC 2018

If you’re into the Apple side of technology, you’ve no doubt listened to endless hours of hot takes about the WWDC keynote. I really enjoyed the viewpoint in this episode. Their guiding star? A focus on what will make their current products more humane and provoke better emotions throughout their lives. As you might imagine those features the hosts Jon and Drew are most excited about probably overlap your own, what’s different is why and that difference makes for an entertaining listen.

Safari Team Deprecates Extensions

From the horse’s mouth:

Developer-signed Safari extensions are not supported in Safari 12. Safari extensions distributed in the Safari Extension Gallery are deprecated, and Safari 12 is the last release to support them. Safari by default will turn off Safari extensions using canLoad. Instead, use Content Blocker extensions. New submissions to the Safari Extensions Gallery will be accepted until the end of 2018.

From what I can tell there will still be some form of extensions, they’ll just depend on different, read: more secure, APIs. Some more unofficial reassurance from the peanut gallery on Hacker News (via floatingatoll):

Safari Extensions appears to run as JavaScript code in an internal webpage instance that has unrestricted DOM access to your tabs and their content. Safari App Extensions appears to separate “in-page JS code” from “out-of-page Objective-C code” and introduces a sandbox that protects the in-page JS code from inspection or alteration by the out-of-page ObjC code. If I understand that correctly, then I feel this is a clear security win. It forces extensions to run in-process (with DOM access) only the code that they shipped at build time, with only a simple data structure channel available to communicate with their out-of-process component. I’m not sure what attacks on Safari using the old extension model led Apple to sandbox and secure this, but given the “App Store” hint, it seems likely that in-browser malware extensions exist and are being installed into Safari without user consent to spy on surfing and exfiltrate data for tracking. This would be a gold mine for a government-backed attacker, as the extensions are silent once installed and effectively invisible to most users. By introducing mandatory App Store review of all extensions, Apple could then analyze the in-page JavaScript code to ensure that it does not perform malicious actions. This explicitly protects against advertising and tracking attacks: any that escape initial analysis will be reported by users and security researchers. As we’ve seen on iOS, when someone finds an attack vector in one app, Apple can find and destroy all apps that exercise that vector. They would now be able to do the same with any malicious extensions that somehow survive the App Store review process.

June 04, 2018

WWDC ‘18 Hot Takes

Some small thoughts, made rashly, immediately after watching the keynote:

  • The focus on performance on older devices was excellent. I’m not just thinking about my friends and family, no, I’m more excited to know that all that power and silicon they’ve mentioned on stage year after year will be restored to their former height.

Apple Books is redesigned using serifs!

  • How hot is Apple Books? Serifs? Anyone know what that typeface is in the headings? Also, skeuomorphic books? Subtle but playful touches in iOS again, yes please.
  • Finding out what the Workflow team has been up to made me yelp audibly. Much to the confusion of my neighbours, I’m sure. I love Workflow and I’m very excited to hear how this all strings together.
  • Notifications updates are fine. I have most of mine turned off anyhow. Perhaps, I’ll need to revisit my strategy.

The horrors revealed in Screen Time.

  • I think the data from Screen Time will be painful to look at; therefore, I will not look and continue to live deluded.
  • While I expected it, I was a bummed out that the iPad wasn’t mentioned in the keynote. Hopefully, there are more details that didn’t make the cut, or were saved for the State of the Union.

macOS Mojave is a real looker.

  • The focus on the Mac was pretty awesome all in all. I’ve been thinking about the desktop a lot recently and the Mac is, without question, the most thoughtful and well considered desktop platform. Many of these touches may appear frivolous or merely cosmetic, but the depth of consideration in this platform is unrivalled and unmatched anywhere in the computing world.

Overall, great keynote. I can’t wait to hear more details in greater depth over the next few months.

Lobotomizing GNOME

Noted for the next time I want to flush an entire weekend down the toilet configuring desktop environments before burning the whole thing down and starting over.

June 03, 2018

Alternative Browsers

Monkeying around with web browsers requires, you guessed it, monkeys. A visual metaphor for my free time. (Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov)

I happen to spend a lot of time online—who doesn’t—but lately, I’ve been spending time in browsers other than Safari or Chrome, which has led to some interesting discoveries. First, I don't always want to use javascript, heresy for a web person, but especially when resources are constrained I just don’t want to pay the performance penalty. The same applies to layout, some times, I just need the content on the other side. No frills, no background videos, no fancy layout. Just text and images. Finally, I learned that I don't want to mess about with fiddly UI components, if it can be done on the keyboard or a gesture, then that’s what I prefer.

So what browsers have I been playing around with?

Earlier, I mentioned a browser called Cargo which uses the Blink rendering engine sans almost all UI to create a simple, keyboard-driven alternative to Chrome. When I have a machine that can support it and I’m in a mood, this is a browser I’ll play with. No hamburger menu to hide a million options behind. I'm looking at your Chrome, Opera, Firefox, et al.

Mozilla’s Firefox efforts with the recent Quantum engine seem to be yielding real gains in usability. It also benefits from a wealth of extensions, including my personal life line: 1Password X. Memory usage has come down, so it plays alright with less capable hardware and rendering is pretty spot on.

The Qutebrowser is a wildcard. It is reasonably lightweight and the Qutebrowser is keyboard driven, following a lot of VIM conventions for navigating the browser itself and web pages. I have decent VIM movement muscle memory (ALLITERATION ALL DAY), but if the preceding sentences have been gibberish to you, I would advise you to skip this one. I’ve had some difficulty installing and running reliably. It depends on the Qt library, which my current Linux desktop environment is not well integrated with.1

Dillo has been useful for dealing with memory concerns. It doesn’t run javascript by default, it optionally downloads images and causes every website you visit to become a time machine back to the late 90’s. You quickly realise how speedy the web was before we ruined it. Dillo is awesome for zipping around and getting exactly what you need. No bloat.2

Of the browsers I listed above, I spend the most time in Firefox and Dillo. Reasonable rendering accuracy and performance in one or two tabs and white-knuckle speed, respectively, has been the best balance for my current needs. That said, I still use Safari primarily. I'm trying best to use my linux environment as a tool for cases that require what a desktop best provides, which for me is web development. All my other tasks are handled amiably by other devices.

If you haven’t already, consider taking some time to test outside your comfort zone. Today I focused on browsers, but you never know exactly what’s best for your needs until you test against them. Let me know if you find any interesting projects that I haven’t mentioned—I’m always looking to flush an afternoon away playing with software.

  1. Update: I've played around with it a little more, all it took was forcing it to use an older Webkit engine... thats “all” it took, but it is really mind bending. Linux in general has been warping how I use a computer, but applying VIM bindings to navigating a user interface is, at best, weird and at worst, excruciating. 

  2. I haven’t (yet) broken down to pay with text-only browsers, but at this rate, who knows what I’ll be up to come tomorrow. 

June 01, 2018

Introducing McFlurry: My Newest Pet

I threatened my desktop computers with a replacement some time back and the other day I finally pushed through my cart and ordered a Raspberry Pi 3 B+ from Vilros (that’s an Amazon UK link, so it may or may not be useful to you).

This is my new hobby project: meet McFlurry. So excited!

I’m not going to bore you with the setup details right now. But I do have it running as a tiny development machine. I named it McFlurry as a nod to the beloved McDonald’s corporation and the strange device naming habit I picked up after getting my first iPhone: everything is named McSomething. For example, I have an iPhone X (McPhone), an iPad Pro (McTablet Pro), a Mac Mini (McMini), a pair of AirPods (McNuggets, my personal favourite) and finally this little Linux computer (McFlurry).

McFlurry is currently running the most recent build of Manjaro-Arm, which is an Arch Linux based distribution, running i3 as a desktop environment. (Here’s an example to help you understand how it works: fill the screen and split all available space between open windows.) There is a lot of software I am still ironing out and perhaps, I'll share some of that with you in the future, but for now I’m mostly focused on tightening up my Neovim configuration and my development workflow.

As a new computer parent, I just couldn’t resist a family update. If you’re on the fence about picking up one of these little beasts, I’d say don’t, unless you’re willing to lose all your spare time goofing around with computers. 12 year-old inner me is having a blast.

Is Surfing the Internet Dead?

I don’t think this point is original (at least I’m pretty sure I’ve across it before) but the act of browsing is pretty rough these days. However, if you give up some autonomy and arguably some of the reward from discover, then you can cover a lot more of the Internet’s ever growing map.

That said, I do not feel that time on the internet has become an inferior experience. It’s just that these days you find most things by Twitter. You don’t have to surf, because this aggregator performs a surfing-like function for you.

My favourite quip out of context:

Try hating yourself instead!