Emacs as an email client

Emailing in Emacs is a super power that I have been grateful for over the past several years. Below I will describe a simple setup that works for me and more importantly for me, it’s something I like. This setup makes me almost want to write descriptive emails simply because it moves the pain of writing emails into the same ecosystem that I feel comfortable writing long form articles, programs, design documents and other artifacts that involve “putting my thoughts down”. I cringe everytime I see an email written in rich text with broad lines going well over 150 characters.

It may not be for me – in fact, it’s really not for me – but I always greatly enjoy reading about people’s unique way of doing things with hardware and software.

Those Win9x Crashes on Fast Machines…

It is well known that Win9x variants prior to Windows 98 have a tendency to crash on fast CPUs. The definition of “fast” is of course fuzzy but the problems were known to occur on AMD K6-2 processors running at 350 MHz or faster as early as 1998. This led to some acrimony when Microsoft attempted to charge $35 for the fix. The crashes were intermittent on the 350 MHz parts but harder to avoid with faster clock speeds.

The problem soon started affecting other CPUs with higher frequencies, but it didn’t affect Intel processors for a while. Were Intel CPUs somehow better? Not exactly, but there was a reason for that; more about it later.

I have been long aware of this problem but never looked into the details. And when I did, at first I didn’t realize it. An acquaintance mentioned that Windows 3.11 for Workgroups no longer works in a VM.

A good and interesting read.

Microsoft Defender SmartScreen is hurting independent developers

Let us say you are an independent developer and it is time to publish your app to the world. To make it easier, you build an installer and start distributing it. A courageous early adopter downloads and runs it, only to be greeted by this strongly worded warning:

[…]

Indeed, in today’s Windows environment, Microsoft actively blocks binaries from running; thanks to “SmartScreen”.

This article details some of the problems with SmartSCreen, which in theory could be an important and useful technology.

5G coronavirus conspiracy theorists are endangering the workers who keep networks running

Since the UK entered lockdown in March, engineers like Qureshi had unwillingly found themselves on the front line of a strange global crusade. Conspiracy theorists had linked the spread of the novel coronavirus to the installation of new 5G mobile networks, with some claiming the cellular network weakened the immune system and allowed the virus to thrive, while others said 5G masts were broadcasting the virus through the ether (all “crackpot” claims, to quote the UK government). The thing these theories have in common is that they give people someone to blame. And though some of that paranoia comes from a reasonable mistrust of large corporations and institutions, the end target was always workers like Qureshi, out on the street in high-visibility vests, just trying to do their job.

These people are what the facepalm was invented for.

Buyer beware – that 2TB-6TB “NAS” drive you’ve been eyeing might be SMR

Storage vendors, including but reportedly not limited to Western Digital, have quietly begun shipping SMR (Shingled Magnetic Recording) disks in place of earlier CMR (Conventional Magnetic Recording) disks.

SMR is a technology that allows vendors to eke out higher storage densities, netting more TB capacity on the same number of platters—or fewer platters, for the same amount of TB.

Until recently, the technology has only been seen in very large disks, which were typically clearly marked as “archival”. In addition to higher capacities, SMR is associated with much lower random I/O performance than CMR disks offer.

This is going to be another one of those stupid things us technology buyers have to look out for when buying storage, isn’t it? Like

Linux Mint won’t install snaps behind your back

A few weeks ago, we talked about how Ubuntu is forcing snap packages on users, even when using apt. Since various distributions are based on Ubuntu, a lot of users of those distributions are wondering if snaps will infect their systems, too. One of the most popular Ubuntu-based distributions, Linux Mint, has a clear answer.

First, I’m happy to confirm that Linux Mint 20, like previous Mint releases will not ship with any snaps or snapd installed. Second, to address this situation we’ll do exactly what we said we would:

• In Linux Mint 20, Chromium won’t be an empty package which installs snapd behind your back. It will be an empty package which tells you why it’s empty and tells you where to look to get Chromium yourself.
• In Linux Mint 20, APT will forbid snapd from getting installed.

You’ll still be able to install it yourself and we’ll document this in the release notes, but by default APT won’t allow repository packages from doing this on your behalf.

This is good news, and the right route to take.

Twitter, Reddit file in support of lawsuit challenging US government’s social media registration requirement for visa applicants

Twitter, Reddit, and Internet Association filed an amicus brief late yesterday in support of a lawsuit filed last year by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the Brennan Center for Justice, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP on behalf of plaintiffs Doc Society and International Documentary Association, challenging rules that require nearly all visa applicants to register their social media handles with the U.S. government and connected policies permitting the retention and dissemination of that information.

The brief argues that the social media registration requirement and connected policies “unquestionably chill a vast quantity of speech” and harm the First Amendment rights of their users, particularly those who use pseudonymous handles to discuss political, controversial, or otherwise sensitive issues on the platforms.

This has bad idea written all over it, but that has never stopped any government from implementing tech-related policy. This won’t be an issue for average joes around the world – many western countries have visa-free travel to the US anyway through things like the ESTA program – but it will be for people from repressive regimes.

Linux 5.7 kernel released

As far as Linux 5.7 goes there are many new features and improvements like an Apple USB “Fast Charge” driver, Intel Tiger Lake “Gen12” graphics are now deemed stable and promoted out of the experimental flag, AMD Renoir graphics are in good shape, F2FS Zstd support, Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 support on this mainline kernel, and a lot more.

You can of course build the new kernel yourself, but it’ll make its way to your distribution of choice soon enough.

Caught on camera, police explode in rage and violence across the US

Over the past 72 hours, people across the US have captured what may be the most comprehensive live picture of police brutality ever. Any one of the videos we’ve seen could have sparked a national discussion, with people picking apart their elements, searching for context to argue about, and digging through the pasts of everyone involved. But it’s not just one act of violence. It’s everywhere.

Here is just a short list of scenes from the past few days.

This is what fascism looks like.

Google details Fuchsia, states it is not experimental

It seems Google has opened up a little bit about its Fuchsia operating system. A (I think) new ‘Overview’ page details what Fuchsia is, what it’s not, and what it’s intended to be used for. Security is obviously a primary goal of the operating system:

Security and privacy are woven deeply into the architecture of Fuchsia. The basic building blocks of Fuchsia, the kernel primitives, are exposed to applications as object-capabilities, which means that applications running on Fuchsia have no ambient authority: applications can interact only with the objects to which they have been granted access explicitly.

Software is delivered in hermetic packages and everything is sandboxed, which means all software that runs on the system, including applications and system components, receives the least privilege it needs to perform its job and gains access only to the information it needs to know.

Google seems to want to make really clear that Fuchsia is diametrically the opposite of Android when it comes to updates. They don’t mince words here, and it might as well read “everything Android is not”:

Fuchsia works by combining components delivered in packages. Fuchsia packages are designed to be updated independently or even delivered ephemerally, which means packages are designed to come and go from the device as needed and the software is always up-to-date, like a Web page.

Fuchsia aims to provide drivers with a binary-stable interface. In the future, drivers compiled for one version of Fuchsia will continue to work in future versions of Fuchsia without needing to be modified or even recompiled. This approach means that Fuchsia devices will be able to update to newer versions of Fuchsia seamlessly while keeping their existing drivers.

There’s more information about Fuchsia on the page, but the final paragraph should finally shed some light on that Google is definitely serious about the new operating system, and is intending to actually, you know, use it for stuff.

Fuchsia’s goal is to power production devices and products used for business-critical applications. As such, Fuchsia is not a playground for experimental operating system concepts. Instead, the platform roadmap is driven by practical use cases arising from partner and product needs.

Genode 20.05 released

Genode 20.05 takes our road map’s focus on the consolidation and optimization of the framework and its API to heart. It contains countless of under-the-hood improvements, mostly on the account of vastly intensified automated testing, the confrontation of Genode with increasingly complex software stacks, and stressful real-world work loads. You will find this theme throughout the release notes below. The result of this overhaul is captured in the updated version of the Genode Foundations book (Section New revision of the Genode Foundations book).

I wish every project had release notes as detailed as Genode’s always are. Excellent work.

PowerPC Solaris on the RS/6000

One of the weirdest times in computing was during the mid-90s, when the major RISC vendors all had their own plans to dominate the consumer market and eventually wipe out Intel. This was a time that led to overpriced non-x86 systems that intended to wipe out the PC, Windows NT being ported to non-x86 platforms, PC style hardware paired with RISC CPUs, Apple putting the processor line from IBM servers into Macs, and Silicon Graphics designing a game console for Nintendo. While their attempts worked wonders in the embedded field for MIPS and the AIM alliance, quite a few of these attempts at breaking into the mainstream were total flops.

Despite this, there were some weird products released during this period that most only assumed existed in tech magazine ads and reviews. One such product was Solaris for PowerPC. Now Solaris has existed on Intel platforms for ages and the Illumos fork has some interesting ports including a DEC Alpha port, but a forgotten official port exists for the PowerPC CPU architecture. Unlike OS/2, it’s complete and has a networking stack. It’s also perhaps one of the weirdest OSes on the PowerPC platform.

I love machines from this era. There’s some seriously weird hardware from that time floating around eBay for serious prices.

Android Studio 4.0 released

Some highlights of Android Studio 4.0 include a new Motion Editor to help bring your apps to life, a Build Analyzer to investigate causes for slower build times, and Java 8 language APIs you can use regardless of your app’s minimum API level. Based on your feedback, we’ve also overhauled the CPU Profiler user interface to provide a more intuitive workflow and easier side-by-side analysis of thread activity. And the improved Layout Inspector now provides live data of your app’s UI, so you can easily debug exactly what’s being shown on the device.

It’s available on the stable channel.

The story of how Microsoft embraced and then killed AppGet

Keivan Beigi, the developer behind AppGet, a package manager for Windows, claims Microsoft copied his software. He was contacted by Microsoft as a possible hire, and flew in to Microsoft’s headquarters to talk about AppGet, and after suddenly being ghosted, Microsoft announced WinGet – what he claims is pretty much a direct copy.

Realistically, no matter how hard I tried to promote AppGet, it would never grow at the rate a Microsoft solution would. I didn’t create AppGet to get rich or to become famous or get hired by Microsoft. I created AppGet because I thought us Windows users deserved a decent app management experience too.

What bothers me is how the whole thing was handled. The slow and dreadful communication speed. The total radio silence at the end. But the part that hurts the most was the announcement. AppGet, which is objectively where most ideas for WinGet came from, was only mentioned as another package manager that just happened to exist; While other package managers that WinGet shares very little with were mentioned and explained much more deliberately.

This is the kind of stuff big tech does, so it really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

OS/2 on Virtualbox guide

There is this interesting article about running different versions of OS/2 on VirtualBox. It offers tips for each different version, disk image conversion information and prebuilt images.

When I started looking into getting it working on a virtual machine, I had a hard time finding some crucial information and files, there were steps in the install process that were not explained in the few guides I could find, it wasn’t clear to me which versions could be installed, and some of the install files were in formats I couldn’t read.

Now that I’ve figured out all those problems I’ve created a guide with specific instructions on how to get all major versions working on VirtualBox, complete with sound, video and network in some cases, and you’ll find those guides below. I also created prebuilt virtual machines you can just download and press play on.

You owe it to yourself to play with OS/2. It’s an amazingly fascinating operating system with some great ideas and features.

Windows 10 May 2020 update released

As the world and people’s routines change, it is important that we focus on meeting the over a billion people around the world relying on Windows where they are now. That next step comes today with the release of the Windows 10 May 2020 Update. The May 2020 Update comes with feature improvements that will help save you time and maybe even be a source of fun. The new update is available today for those who want to seek it. You can get the update in a few different ways, visit this blog post to learn more about how to get the May 2020 Update today.

MSPowerUser has a detailed article of all the new features.

Texas Instruments removes support for popular side-loaded apps and games

Texas Instruments has long made graphing calculators beloved by school-goers and programmers alike. The calculators are simple, compact computing systems, and entire communities have formed over the years to celebrate the devices’ broad programming capabilities.

All that’s about to change. Texas Instruments is pulling support for C-based and assembly-based programs on both the TI-84 Plus CE — the most popular calculator for sideloading — and the TI-83 Premium CE, its French sibling. The latest firmware for each completely removes the capability and leaves users with no way to roll back to previous versions of the firmware.

Way back when I was in high school, I used to write my own TI-83 programs to… Well, to cheat on tests. These devices were a brand new addition to the education system at the time, and teachers had no clue what we as students were doing with them. One of my best friends and I also bought a communication cable for them so we could share stuff and play multiplayer games together in the back of class.

Removing stuff like this is a terrible idea.

Qt 5.15 released

As the last release of the Qt 5 series, we wanted to make sure that Qt 5.15 is a great release that you can easily upgrade to with your ongoing projects. It is, as always, fully backward-compatible with previous Qt 5 releases. A large amount of work has gone into bug fixes, and Qt 5.15 is the best and most stable release we’ve done in the Qt 5 series.

Qt 6 is expected before the end of the year.

YouTube is deleting comments with two phrases that insult China’s Communist Party

YouTube is automatically deleting comments that contain certain Chinese-language phrases related to criticism of the country’s ruling Communist Party (CCP). The company confirmed to The Verge this was happening in error and that it was looking into the issue.

“This appears to be an error in our enforcement systems and we are investigating,” said a YouTube spokesperson. The company did not elaborate on how or why this error came to be, but said it was not the result of any change in its moderation policy.

But if the deletions are the result of a simple mistake, then it’s one that’s gone unnoticed for six months. The Verge found evidence that comments were being deleted as early as October 2019, when the issue was raised on YouTube’s official help pages and multiple users confirmed that they had experienced the same problem.

Sure, an “error in our enforcement systems” that was reported six months ago. I just don’t believe very specific things like this – and the trigger words are very specific and require contextual knowledge – are implemented by error.

Programmer who created Windows’ Task Manager shares some useful hidden tips

Some Task Manager lore: I’m the Microsoft (Redmond, ’93) developer that wrote TaskMgr at home in my den in about 1994 and then the NT silverback devs let me check it into the main tree even though I was a greenhorn at the time. So that meant I got to bring it into work and polish it up and make it an official part of Windows, where it remains to this day. So I got to define my own day job, actually, which was nice! I don’t know if it’s still like that, but great culture and people.

This is all based on XP, as I left long ago, but it’s still the same core app underneath.

What follows is an incredibly useful list of hidden features of the Windows Task Manager.