How I switched to Plan 9

Seriously, what do you do with your computer?

Over time 9front sanded off its rough edges. I can do just about everything I need to do from a bare metal install. Today, we even have vmx(1) for hosting OpenBSD or Linux virtual machines (just in case you need to interface with the U.S. government via the now-required modern web browser). A previous release of the 9front DASH1 manual was created entirely on a ThinkPad running 9front (and Gimp running inside OpenBSD running inside vmx(1)). 9front now even ships with a primitive Microsoft Paint clone, several native Sega and Nintendo emulators, and a full port of DOOM. I never would have dreamed anything like this was possible back in 2009. As time goes by, there is less and less reason to boot anything else.

For what I do, I’m perfectly happy with it.

Clearly not the most typical user, but that doesn’t make their experiences any less interesting.

Haiku almost-monthly activity report: October and November 2019

Another month two months have passed, so time for another monthly Haiku update. The biggest improvement this time around:

PulkoMandy revisited once again the intel_extreme driver to identify the remaining regressions introduced when adding sandy Bridge support. We believe all problems have been identified and solved, so, if you have an intel graphics card, please test a recent nightly and report on what happens.

There’s also a ton of non-x86 commits this time around.

Doug’s Demo Sequel: 1969

Not long after Doug Engelbart’s ground-breaking Mother of All Demos in December 1968, he and his team demonstrated their research at another conference in San Francisco – the 32nd Annual Meeting of the American Society for Information Science (ASIS), in October 1969. This live demo presentation, titled “Augmentation Systems and Information Science,” showcased the novel work coming out of Doug’s Augmented Human Intellect Research Center (AHIRC) at Stanford Research Institute (SRI), now SRI International.

Lucky for us, they filmed their 90-minute dress rehearsal in front a live audience. This footage is now available online, along with recently unearthed details and memorabilia.

An important piece of history, saved.

Larry Page, Sergey Brin step down, Sundar Pichai will be CEO of both Google and Alphabet

With Alphabet now well-established, and Google and the Other Bets operating effectively as independent companies, it’s the natural time to simplify our management structure. We’ve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there’s a better way to run the company. And Alphabet and Google no longer need two CEOs and a President. Going forward, Sundar will be the CEO of both Google and Alphabet. He will be the executive responsible and accountable for leading Google, and managing Alphabet’s investment in our portfolio of Other Bets. We are deeply committed to Google and Alphabet for the long term, and will remain actively involved as Board members, shareholders and co-founders. In addition, we plan to continue talking with Sundar regularly, especially on topics we’re passionate about!

This seems more like an administrative confirmation of a changeover that happened years ago.

The rise and fall of the PlayStation supercomputers

Dozens of PlayStation 3s sit in a refrigerated shipping container on the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s campus, sucking up energy and investigating astrophysics. It’s a popular stop for tours trying to sell the school to prospective first-year students and their parents, and it’s one of the few living legacies of a weird science chapter in PlayStation’s history.

Those squat boxes, hulking on entertainment systems or dust-covered in the back of a closet, were once coveted by researchers who used the consoles to build supercomputers. With the racks of machines, the scientists were suddenly capable of contemplating the physics of black holes, processing drone footage, or winning cryptography contests. It only lasted a few years before tech moved on, becoming smaller and more efficient. But for that short moment, some of the most powerful computers in the world could be hacked together with code, wire, and gaming consoles.

The PlayStation 3 and its Linux compatibility were going to change everything. Back in those days, it was pretty much guaranteed that on every thread about some small, alternative operating system, someone would demand PS3 support, since the PS3 was going to be the saviour of every small operating system project.

Good memories.

Apple’s Activation Lock will make it very difficult to refurbish Macs

Every month, thousands of perfectly good iPhones are shredded instead of being put into the hands of people who could really use them. Why? Two words: Activation Lock. And Macs are its next victim.

“We receive four to six thousand locked iPhones per month,” laments Peter Schindler, founder and owner of The Wireless Alliance, a Colorado-based electronics recycler and refurbisher. Those iPhones, which could easily be refurbished and put back into circulation, “have to get parted out or scrapped,” all because of this anti-theft feature.

With the release of macOS Catalina earlier this fall, any Mac that’s equipped with Apple’s new T2 security chip now comes with Activation Lock—meaning we’re about to see a lot of otherwise usable Macs heading to shredders, too.

While I understand the need for security features such as these – who doesn’t – it should definitely be possible to save these devices from the shredder. It’s such a waste of perfectly good hardware that could make a lot of less-privileged people around the world a whole lot happier.

The plain text project

Do you need big, feature-packed, and sometimes complex tool for your work, to stay organized, or keep track of your tasks?

Maybe not.

Maybe all you need is plain text. Yes, simple, old fashioned, unadorned, boring text. It sounds scary or alien, but it’s not.

I use plain text for my notes and keeping track of my work orders. Entering deadlines and related information in calendar applications is a fiddly, time-consuming nightmare, and I find it much easier to just jot down the date, time, and related information in plain text, ordered by date and time.

The Qt Marketplace has landed

Qt Marketplace is an innovation platform for our community. It brings together Qt developers and designers looking for new ways to enhance their Qt design and development workflow, and developers and companies who have already implemented extensions to Qt and want to make them available for everyone in the whole Qt ecosystem. Either for free or for a price.

In the initial release our theme is discoverability. To put this simple: We want the marketplace to become the #1 place for our community to find and share content for Qt.

An app store for Qt developers, basically.

64 bits ought to be enough for anybody!

How quickly can we use brute force to guess a 64-bit number? The short answer is, it all depends on what resources are available. So we’re going to examine this problem starting with the most naive approach and then expand to other techniques involving parallelization.

We’ll discuss parallelization at the CPU level with SIMD instructions, then via multiple cores, GPUs, and cloud computing. Along the way we’ll touch on a variety of topics about microprocessors and some interesting discoveries, e.g., adding more cores isn’t always an improvement, and not all cloud vCPUs are equivalent.

Web apps to finally feel more native on Windows 10

Microsoft Edge (Chromium) has been updated with a new flag called ‘Web Apps Identity Proxy’ to enable deeper integration between PWAs and Windows shell.

When this flag is enabled on Windows 10 20H1 machines, web apps will be treated as native apps and there are many advantages. For example, web apps would appear independently in Windows 10’s Task Manager, it will allow web apps to display notification badges, and it will also let you uninstall the apps from the Start menu or settings.

PWAs are a major boon for smaller and alternative platforms too, since it gives comparatively easy access to popular applications like Twitter, WhatsApp, and others.

SMS replacement is exposing users to text, call interception thanks to sloppy telecos

A standard used by phone carriers around the world can leave users open to all sorts of attacks, like text message and call interception, spoofed phone numbers, and leaking their coarse location, new research reveals.

The Rich Communication Services (RCS) standard is essentially the replacement for SMS. The news shows how even as carriers move onto more modern protocols for communication, phone network security continues to be an exposed area with multiple avenues for attack in some implementations of RCS.

Off to a great start for a technology nobody is waiting for. WhatsApp and WeChat have replaced SMS, and unencrypted, vulnerable nonsense like RCS is not going to change a single thing about that.

A look at PureDarwin: an OS based on the open source core of macOS

Overall I am impressed with the PureDarwin project and have enjoyed conducting my research around it. They have achieved a lot, considering that the project is funded by community donations and run by volunteers. It definitely isn’t a production-ready system, but for developers it has the potential to come in very useful.

The PureDarwin team have been able to successfully install MacPorts in PureDarwin, allowing many software packages such as Apache HTTPd, Git and even XFCE to be installed. Unfortunately this is non-trivial to achieve without strong networking support, but it shows the potential use cases of PureDarwin.

The problem with Darwin is that you’re always confined to Apple’s whim; the company has a history of delaying Darwin code dumps after new macOS releases for a long time, not including any ARM/iOS code for almost a decade, and the releases themselves don’t really have a commit history and comments – they’re just big code dumps.

I guess Darwin is interesting from an enthusiasts’ perspective, but as far as Apple goes, they don’t really seem to care all that much about it, other than scoring the occasional good press.

Ubuntu 19.10: it’s fast, like “make old hardware feel new” fast

Ubuntu 19.10 is unusual for an October Ubuntu release in that I would call it a must-have upgrade. While it retains some of the experimental elements Ubuntu’s fall releases have always been known for, the speed boosts to GNOME alone make this release well worth your time. If you prefer to stick with more stable releases, most of what’s new in 19.10 will eventually be backported to 19.04 and possibly even the last LTS release, 18.04.

Still, unless you’re unflinchingly committed to the stability of LTS releases, I see no reason not to upgrade. As I said at the start, Ubuntu 19.10 is quite possibly the best release of Ubuntu Canonical has ever delivered. It’s well worth upgrading if you’re already an Ubuntu user, and it’s well worth trying even if you’re not.

The speed improvements to GNOME are incredibly enticing. I’m a Mint/Cinnamon user, but this is definitely intriguing me.

RISC-V Foundation moving to Switzerland over trade curb fears

A U.S.-based foundation overseeing promising semiconductor technology developed with Pentagon support will soon move to Switzerland after several of the group’s foreign members raised concerns about potential U.S. trade curbs.

The nonprofit RISC-V Foundation wants to ensure that universities, governments and companies outside the United States can help develop its open-source technology, its Chief Executive Calista Redmond said in an interview with Reuters.

Can’t blame them.

Google’s next moonshot: union busting

Four of our colleagues took a stand and organized for a better workplace. This is explicitly condoned in Google’s Code of Conduct, which ends: “​​​​​​​And remember… don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right — speak up.”

When they did, Google retaliated against them. Today, after putting two of them on sudden and unexplained leave, the company fired all four in an attempt to crush worker organizing.

Google hired a union-busting firm, so the olden days of The Pinkerton Detective Agency which never sleeps, the Homestead Strike, the Colorado Labor Wars, and other late 19th century and early 20th century battles between workers on one side, and factory owners, the government, and independent “security” agencies on the other, seem back in swing.

Not that it matters. Extremists will praise Google, centrists will excuse it away, and the rest will condemn Google, but keep using Google Search and Android anyway – and Google knows it.

In a corporatocracy, companies and their leaders are untouchable.

The AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X and 3970X review

AnandTech reviews AMD’s latest and greatest.

AMD has scored wins across almost all of our benchmark suite. In anything embarrassingly parallel it rules the roost by a large margin (except for our one AVX-512 benchmark). Single threaded performance trails the high-frequency mainstream parts, but it is still very close. Even in memory sensitive workloads, an issue for the previous generation Threadripper parts, the new chiplet design has pushed performance to the next level. These new Threadripper processors win on core count, on high IPC, on high frequency, and on fast memory.

[…]

If you had told me three years ago that AMD were going to be ruling the roost in the HEDT market with high-performance 32-core processors on a leading-edge manufacturing node, I would have told you to lay off the heavy stuff. But here we are, and AMD isn’t done yet, teasing a 64-core version for next year. This is a crazy time we live in, and I’m glad to be a part of it.

I need one of these for translating, posting to OSNews, and playing a few non-demanding games, right?

Are we Wayland yet?

Yes, I know Wayland has made some controversial design choices. The fact is, Wayland is the only viable X11 successor, which will hopefully bring more security and stability to the Linux desktop. Regardless of how it pans out, there’s nothing like a bit of competition to drive innovation. I won’t discuss any more politics in this post.

Also a disclaimer: I’m no systems programming expert (though I aspire to be), neither am I an expert in X11, Wayland, or their associated protocols or codebases. This post merely draws on my experiences as an end user that enjoys a highly customised workflow.

Wayland has been the talk of the town in the Linux world for quite a while now, but it seems a lot of important pieces of a modern desktop Linux distribution simply aren’t ready for it.

The team that powers VLC

When Jean-Baptiste Kempf joined École Centrale Paris as a student in 2003, he was tasked with helping run the university’s computer network. It included an unusual project: student-run open-source software that had been running on a couple of university servers for seven years. To students, the project was known as “Network 2000.” To the rest of the world, it was VLC media player.

Kempf—now the president of VLC’s parent organization, the nonprofit VideoLAN—is the person who helped guide VLC’s journey from student project to ubiquitous software. (VideoLAN Client, the original name for the project, is where VLC gets its name.) On the surface, he’s laid-back, casual, and frank, though that belies a steely determination. As the person overseeing the project and its team, he sets the tone for VLC as a whole.

VLC is one of those quintessential pieces of software. An outstanding application.

The trials and tribulations of video decoding on Linux

I like using Linux. I use it on my desktop – especially now that League of Legends runs incredibly well on Linux thanks to the Lutris and League of Linux reddit community. I’d also like to use Linux on my laptop (an XPS 13 9370), but here I run into a major hurdle that despite a lot of trials and tribulations, I have been unable to overcome: playing video.

Of course, Linux – in my case, Linux Mint – can play any format under the sun just fine, either locally, on-demand, or streaming, and in my case, it’s YouTube video that matters (720p-1080p). The problem lies not in what desktop Linux can play, but in how it does so. Decoding video on my laptop running Linux is apparently remarkably inefficient, to the point where the processor reaches temperatures of 60-70°C, and since the fan kicks in at around 60°C, watching video on Linux means constant fan noise. When playing the same videos on Windows on the exact same laptop, temperatures stay comfortably below 40°C, without ever even coming close to spinning up a fan.

I have tried everything. Here’s an itemised list of things I’ve tried, including multiple different combinations:

  • I’ve installed tlp. This has had no effect.
  • I’ve manually configured my processor – through tlp – to make sure it doesn’t turbo beyond 50%. This has had no effect.
  • I’ve disabled Intel Turbo Boost in UEFI altogether. This has had no effect.
  • I’ve undervolted my CPU. This gives me maybe 1-2 degrees every now and then, so effectively it hasn’t helped.
  • I’ve tried the latest mainline kernel just to see if there’s been improvements in power management or any Intel drivers. This has had no effect.
  • I’ve tried the Chromium builds with VAAPI support to enable hardware acceleration on YouTube video. This has had no effect.
  • I’ve tried downloading YouTube videos with youtube-dl and playing them back locally. This has had no effect.
  • I’ve tried forcing H264 on YouTube. This has had no effect.

There’s probably things I’ve tried that I’ve forgotten about and thus aren’t on this list. As you can imagine, my past few days and weeks have been frustrating, to say the least. I even decided to install Linux Mint on my Surface Pro 4 to see if similar problems pop-up there, and lo and behold, that device, too, sees massive temperature spikes when using Linux instead of Windows.

I understand and can accept if Linux isn’t as efficient as Windows when it comes to power management and decoding video, and am okay with a few degrees here and there. However, I just cannot understand nor accept a 20-30°C difference with something as elemental as decoding video.

After all of this, I can only conclude that desktop Linux has an incredibly bad video decoding pipeline compared to Windows, and considering I’ve been struggling with this several times over the past few years without any noticeable improvement, it seems like it’s not something high on anybody’s list of things to improve. Linux’ inefficient video decoding pipeline won’t be much of an issue on desktop machines – playing video has virtually no material temperature impact on my desktop since my custom watercooled GTX 1070 and i7-7700K are way overkill – but on thermally constrained laptops, the problem becomes massively apparent.

It is frustrating. I prefer Linux over Windows, I want to use it on my laptop, but as it stands now, I simply can’t. I’m at my wits’ end.