How frog gets cooked in the cloud

How much computer power do we actually need for normal tasks? Does the difference in computational power influence the end-result? Can you tell a difference between an article written on a desktop or a laptop? The last question sounds incredibly silly, I know, and yet when I watch the tech YouTube videos there’s an impression that if you’re a “real pro” or a “power user”, you’ll need “MO PAWAH”. The poor-people tech made for the plebs just won’t cut it, you’ll need the shiny new thingy to keep up with the times. Only the 7nm node size will cut it.

Several things happened recently. First, a new Intel bug was discovered, possibly rendering modern Intel CPU machines vulnerable to attack unless you cripple the CPU by disabling almost everything on it. Second, America embargoed China by limiting access to all kinds of software and hardware technologies, from Android and Windows to x86 and ARM. If we add that to things that are already known, such as the Intel kill switch, and all kinds of technologies that make it theoretically possible for the manufacturer to brick the motherboard of your device remotely, on a low-level of access through the onboard networking hardware, BIOS and the chipset, because America put you on a list of “sanctioned” individuals, for whatever reason.

Microsoft is introducing a “politically correct” spelling-checker into Word. Online censorship is rampant. Witch hunts are out of control. I can easily imagine some AI identifying “politically incorrect” people online, through their cloud service logins, and I can easily imagine hardware and software manufacturers full of “social justice warriors” performing acts of “social activism”, for instance triggering a “stolen device kill switch” on your motherboard remotely if you write too much “right wing” or “racist” content online. If you think this is paranoid, imagine being Snowden or Assange, and imagine what can be done to their computers if they are identified remotely, and if it’s done by someone really powerful, like NSA, or Google, or Microsoft. Now imagine this being automated, delegated to an AI system that will check your login against a list, and then simply “deplatform” you by bricking your PC, because after all, Nazis can’t be allowed to speak.

All of this made me think: what would I do if I was targeted by something like that? Using a web browser made by a huge corporation is a vulnerability. Using cloud services is a vulnerability. Using an operating system made by a company that’s BFF with NSA is a vulnerability. Using Intel, and possibly even AMD CPU is a vulnerability. Using a motherboard with a chipset and a BIOS that isn’t made transparently is a vulnerability. So, if someone decided to brick my computers that run Windows and Mac OS on Intel, and my iPhone and iPad stop working, or at least stop connecting to the Internet and accepting my login into Apple services, what would I use to get online?

It turned out that I have one machine that is most likely to remain working: a Raspberry Pi 3B+ that I have under my desk running Linux, a machine I manually hardened and which runs 24/7 hosting mysql, ssh and apache. However, that’s not all. It also runs a LXDE GUI, with a complement of Office tools. But this is an extremely weak machine. Its CPU is a rounding error between two geekbench measurements of my main desktop PC, and I’m not even exaggerating much. Its “disk drive” is a micro SD card, and the entire computer can fit on my palm. However, there’s a catch. It is basically Android smartphone hardware converted to serve a different purpose and run a different OS. People use Android smartphones to do things online every day and don’t give it a second thought. But can you plug a smartphone board into a monitor, keyboard and mouse, run Linux and do normal tasks, like researching things online, taking screenshots, writing and article in OpenOffice, logging into a CMS and posting the article on your blog? Yes, you can.

In fact, it turns out that this small tiny computer is more powerful than the machines I used to write most of my books on. And I edited them in OpenOffice, printed them as PDF, and then used Linux command line tools to split the PDF into PNG images of individual pages, and then publish those on my website in the online reader form. I did all that on an IBM T43 laptop, which was less powerful than this Raspberry Pi thingy. Of course you can do it, and in fact that’s how I wrote this article; I connected the Raspberry Pi instead of my desktop computer, and used it to drive my usual peripherals. It doesn’t feel slower when you write the document; you can do most things just fine. I used computers with less power and memory for most of my career, because that’s what we had then. It’s actually quite smooth; I installed Gimp from the terminal while writing this article and not even a hiccough. Then I used Gimp to crop a screenshot and save it. It did it just fine. I just got used to computers that do the same things faster, that’s all. Using this thing didn’t degrade me into stone age. I could even plug my external HDD into it and process raw photos from my camera if I had to. I would use dcraw, rawtherapee and gimp instead of lightroom, the way I did for years, and guess what, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, because I did it exactly that way for five years and nobody could tell the difference between that and lightroom anyway. I just got suckered into using tools for lazy people, tools that make it very easy, but that don’t actually do anything I couldn’t do manually with some more effort. I could also do just fine without the online cloud services, and guess how I know? Because I was here before they were. I was on the Internet and finding my way around quite well before Google was a twinkle in its authors’ eyes. Some of those tools made things easier, but the price might be too great. Ease and comfort, apparently, can be weaponized as a vector of attack. You make it easy for people to access the same file from several devices and they don’t stop to think that their files are stored on someone else’s computer in unencrypted form. You make it easy for people to connect to other people online and they don’t stop to think and realize that their entire social life is now owned by a company whose primary motive is to sell you to the advertisers, and to control the entire experience as to be more presentable to the advertisers. Also, that they hire fuckwits who studied feminism and social justice and who want to change the world to be more like an American college: meaning, that it requires less thinking, more feeling good about yourself, and excluding everything that gets in the way of feeling good and not having to do any thinking.

However, someone bricking your PC might actually be a lesser concern. A greater concern might be someone blocking your Visa card because you’re on some political list. Also, the banks might not allow you to open an account. You might not be able to get a loan for a house or a car despite your stellar credit rating. Police might track your whereabouts using your phone, because you’re on a list of “extremists”. You might be stopped from boarding a plane. You might be taken off a plane in an islamic country that has you on some shitlist, because you criticised Islam online. Those threats are actually more real, and I’m actually not making those up; that shit actually happens now, as we speak. It’s just far less common than it could be, once the technology proliferates. So, sure, I used a PC made from a phone chip to write an article on the Web, big deal. I can maintain the same kind of online presence with rudimentary technology, and nobody would notice the difference. However, that proves one interesting point: that the advancement of technology in the last two decades was actually much less drammatic than one would think. We just got used to the fat and expensive tools that do basically the same job as the old lightweight free ones. Also, it means that America can cut the rest of the world from their technology, and the rest of the world could do just fine with Raspberry Pi boards made in China for $1, and they would actually be forced to get more creative with resources and possibly find better ways of doing things. Being reduced to simpler computers wouldn’t actually degrade life much, because faster and better computers didn’t upgrade it much. They just made it easier for stupid and incompetent people to think they are advanced, smart, trendy and techy, while in reality they are just stupid consumers.

So, what am I going to do now; continue using Raspberry Pi as my main PC? Hell no. It can only display a 1080p image on my 4K monitor, which makes everything blurry. Also, I have to pay attention to memory use because it only has one gig of ram, and so on. But I know one thing. If America does cut me off from American technology, I will find whatever piece of junk that runs Linux and connect to Russian-Chinese Internet, and I will do just fine. I used to write code on a potato when Web was an experiment on Tim Berners-Lee’s Next cube, I wrote books on computers that couldn’t walk and fart at the same time, and I can do it again if necessary. The only thing that’s actually scary for me is thinking how easy it was for me to get used to the idea of giving up privacy and security just to make things a tiny bit easier and more comfortable. Because of this, I might actually start intentionally giving up various online service that make things unnecessarily easy, but at a hidden cost. I will also give Linux a second chance.

However, if that is scary to me, there’s another thing that should be scary to the Americans, and that’s the idea of a smart person that’s comfortable using Linux tools on a Raspberry Pi instead of a Macbook. Because that person might understand that he can do just fine without all sorts of things that make him a slave. For instance, he might understand that the AGC computer that got people to the Moon was computationally much weaker than the toy I’m writing this article on, and that St. Augustine and Isaac Newton used ink and parchment.

UnGoogle

I just uninstalled the Chrome browser, after many years of use; I use Firefox now. Also, I have been using the DuckDuckGo search engine for months. This is my response to Google persecuting non-leftist political voices and acting as a hostile political force. Also, I consistently use addblock, and will do so for as long as they censor and demonetize my favorite youtubers. It is difficult to stop using them completely, for instance I still sync contacts, notes and calendars through google, but it’s a start.

The problem is, the entire Silicon Valley is a leftist cesspool and to really get away from that, one should slowly stop using American services. This would be quite unpleasant to attempt all at once, but honestly, the sooner the better, since everything American you use is just another thing that holds you hostage. Android and Windows were already used as a weapon against Huawei, x86 CPU architecture is a weapon, ARM is a weapon, Internet and GPS are weapons. I get it, everybody got hooked and it will take time to get out of the trap. However, one thing at a time.

Alternatives to Mac OS

Since Apple seems to be working very hard on alienating their Mac user base by introducing poorly designed “innovative” products with incredibly bad and unreliable keyboards, very breakable display cables, keyboards that rub on the display and abrade coating, and ports that would be excellent if everybody already used them for everything, which is not the case, I think I’m not alone in trying to figure out a plan B in case they just refuse to listen and keep releasing increasingly overpriced unreliable garbage.

Linux would be great on desktop if someone actually worked for real money on making it usable. So far, everybody just spawns distros that aren’t actually fixing the real issues, and I really tried making several of them work for me, but the list of issues is too profound for me to even get into. It’s a steaming pile of garbage designed to look good on screenshots and presentations, but which breaks apart when you try to actually use it. Also, Linux managed to alienate commercial software developers to the point where things don’t seem to have much hope of getting better.

Windows, on the other hand, has another set of flaws: updates are intrusive, frequent and tend to break the system ih a high percentage of cases. Also, it installs stupid games and other software without asking anyone, wasting space and bandwidth and annoying me in the process. Privacy concerns are significant. However, unlike Linux it actually runs all the software I need, and the hardware actually runs much faster under Windows than it does under Linux, no matter what the penguin geeks tell you. Windows 10 actually has the quickest boot out of all 3 desktop OSes, it has greatest hardware compatibility and the only thing it actually misses is the ability to run Unix console and software natively.

Or at least it used to be the case. Enter the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). It’s basically something you turn on in Windows by running the following command in PowerShell (as admin):

Enable-WindowsOptionalFeature -Online -FeatureName Microsoft-Windows-Subsystem-Linux 

Then you reboot the system when prompted, and then go to the Windows store and install one of the WSL “distros”, such as Ubuntu, Debian, OpenSUSE, Kali, Arch, Fedora, or whatever. I’m using Ubuntu because I’m familiar with where stuff is. You install this “package”, open it and follow instructions. When it’s done creating your user account, you can install the service packages, for instance mysql-server, apache2, php, python and the like. Every shell application I tried works, except for nmap.

WSL, despite the name, doesn’t have much to do with Linux, since it doesn’t contain the Linux kernel; instead, it uses a translation matrix which translates Linux system calls to something Windows kernel can understand. It actually reports Windows kernel:

Linux DANIJEL-KANTA 4.4.0-17763-Microsoft #379-Microsoft Wed Mar 06 19:16:00 PST 2019 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux

Considering how it does its thing, it’s a lesser miracle that it works as well as it does, and it does work well.

All host partitions are mounted in /mnt and are presented as letters, in the usual DOS/Windows fashion.

danijel@DANIJEL-KANTA:~$ ls /mnt 
c d e

You can symlink the host directories into your WSL home folder; for instance, Documents, Pictures, Downloads, Dropbox etc., and when you modify them from WSL, the modifications are of course visible from Windows.

danijel@DANIJEL-KANTA:~$ ln -s /mnt/c/Users/danij/Dropbox/ .

Just don’t try to access the WSL directories from Windows because that won’t end well. There are other issues: the terminal in which the WSL runs doesn’t support tabs and has the PowerShell clipboard behavior, which is “standard” only in Windows, and incredibly confusing. Also, the Linux GUI applications don’t run by default. Both those issues can be resolved.

In order to run Linux GUI apps, you need an X11 server. This needs to be installed in Windows. People usually recommend XMing, but I advise against it because of the unreliable clipboard behavior. There is a version of XMing compiled in Visual C++ called VcXsrv, which solves this problem, however LibreOffice hangs when attempting to run in it, so I ended up purchasing X410 app from Microsoft store; it’s commercial and seems to work the best (edit: I had stability issues with it, it just seems to hang for no reason). Also, once you are able to run Linux GUI apps, you can install and run your Linux terminal emulator of choice, such as gnome-terminal, mate-terminal, or whatever. This solves the lack of a multi-tab terminal and gives you the expected Linux keyboard shortcuts.

sudo apt-get install gnome-terminal gedit galculator geeqie

Another problem is that the processes you start don’t detach from the terminal, which would be the preferred behavior. This can be fixed by writing the following /usr/local/bin/run script:

#!/bin/bash 
$1 $2 $3 </dev/null &>/dev/null &

Make it executable with

sudo chmod +x /usr/local/bin/run

and you’re set. Of course, in order for Linux to know where to send the GUI apps, you will need to append the ~/.bashrc file with the following lines:

DISPLAY=:0.0 
export DISPLAY

Also, you will need to apply the dbus fix in order for things to work properly:

sudo apt-get install dbus-x11

You should also cat /etc/machine-id to verify that it’s a valid UUID with no dashes, and if it is, you can now run your Linux GUI apps:

You start them by invoking the “run” script we wrote before:

run gnome-terminal

This works great for almost everything, but I did write a few scripts that make things quicker, such as “edit”:

danijel@DANIJEL-KANTA:~$ cat /usr/local/bin/edit 
#!/bin/bash
run gedit $1

Essentially, such scripts invoke the “run” command with pre-defined parameters: gnome editor and filename in this case. You can make similar scripts for terminal, or LibreOffice writer:

danijel@DANIJEL-KANTA:~$ cat /usr/local/bin/writer  
#!/bin/bash
run libreoffice --writer $1

The way to open documents is with xdg-open, but of course it doesn’t detach from terminal so you would need to write a /usr/local/bin/open script invoking run:

#!/bin/bash 
run xdg-open $1 $2

As an example, this will open a PDF:

open price_list.pdf

It’s actually awesome that the application you run from WSL doesn’t have to be a Linux app, it can also be a native Windows one, and you can design your run-scripts accordingly. For instance, this version of /usr/local/bin/edit runs the Notepad++ which is Windows-native:

#!/bin/bash 
/mnt/c/Program\ Files\ \(x86\)/Notepad++/notepad++.exe $1

Unfortunately, you would actually need to write such run-scripts unless you want to manually add every Windows application to PATH, because manually typing this shit every time you want to edit something is not an option.

Good news which might eliminate the need for most of these hacks is that Microsoft seems to be working on a new and improved terminal for both WSL and PowerShell, and also on WSL2 which will actually include a Linux kernel.

So, with all those hacks included, is Windows 10 a good replacement for Mac OS? I guess it depends. First of all, Mac is not really a hack-free solution if you want a usable terminal environment. It’s missing almost all useful GNU shell tools out of the box, and those need to be installed via Homebrew or Macports. Also, its terminal needs a bit of tweaking in order to look good and work well. And I still have a Linux virtual machine on my Macbook pro, just in case. And there’s occasionally that odd piece of software that happens to run only on Windows. So, whichever way you decide to go you are unlikely to avoid workarounds and tweaks. Also, Time Machine on a Mac is a lifesaver: if your Mac happens to die without a warning, you can buy a new one and simply restore it from backup, and in a few hours you’ll have a carbon copy of your old machine, fully working. With Windows, 3rd party solutions exist and work well, but the built-in backup system was trash the last time I was unfortunate enough to attempt it, and it failed to do anything useful, forcing me to do a full system rebuild from ground up, taking days to get everything right. This sounds like a little thing, but I assure you it isn’t, especially when you have work to do and your main machine is FUBARed. It’s such a big deal I’d gladly pay a bit more money for a Mac, but if a Mac is built like shit and also overpriced, I might just get annoyed enough to look for alternatives, even if they require 3rd party solutions and hacks. I do use Windows on my desktop machine, and WSL with the aforementioned tweaks works really well, but the real question is what I would do if my Macbook pro suddenly died. I guess I would still wait for Apple to fix their present SNAFU, but I’m preparing just in case they don’t.

Linux: what it intended, and what it did

There’s been lots of talk about the recent development where the SJW cult apparently took over the Linux kernel development team, forcing Linus Torvalds to sign some LBGTASDFGHJKL manifesto, where meritocracy is decried as a great evil, equality of outcome is praised and white heterosexual men need to be removed in order for the world to be awesome.

To this, my answer is that communism, as usual, is eating its children, and this is nothing new. Linux was originally a communist project and a leftist cesspool, and since the SJW fraction already took over the modern communist movement elsewhere, it would not have been realistic to expect Linux to remain separate from this trend.

To this, I got a reply that Linux did some good things, and it’s not a failure: it powers the server-side, most of the mobile platform, and there are great companies making money with Linux and supporting its development. To this, I wrote an answer I’m quoting below:

Yes, there are companies that made a huge fortune using Linux – mostly those that just sell their services implemented on top of Linux, like Google with Android, but also some involved with Linux itself. If you look at it this way, Linux created both jobs and money. However, there’s an alternative perspective: Linux, by being good enough and free, destroyed the competition. SCO, Solaris, AIX, HP-UX went the way of the Dodo. All the people working on those were presumably fired, and because the competition is Linux, there were no alternative paying jobs waiting for them. Android destroyed the possibility of anyone developing a commercially sold OS for a mobile platform, other than Apple, whose position seems to be safe for now. If Android competed fairly and the cost of development was actually charged to the customer instead of being absorbed by Google and the open source community, with the goal of turning the devices into data-gathering and ad-delivery platform, competition could actually enter the marketplace and interesting things could happen, but this way, the only market pressure is on Apple, the only player who actually plays fairly, by charging money for things that cost money.
When Linux geekboys spout their hate fountains towards Microsoft and Bill Gates, and I’ve been watching that for actual decades, their complaint is that it costs money, and the users of Windows are stupid because Windows are easy to use. The argument against Apple today is the same recycled thing: the devices are expensive so the buyers are idiots and the company is greedy, and the devices are simple to use so the users must be idiots. This looks like all the bad shades of jealousy, hatred, spite and malice blended into a very nasty combination of mortal sins; essentially, they want to destroy companies that are financially successful by sacrificing their time and effort in order to provide a decent but completely free product in order to put the commercial products out of the market, because they hate that someone is rich, and something needs to be done about it.
Basically, Linux is a cancer that destroys the potentially profitable things by competing unfairly on the market, because it pays its developers in ego trip, hatred and envy instead of money, and its goal is essentially to make everything it touches inherently unprofitable. True, some managed to profit off of that, like Google who used the modified Linux to power its ad-delivery platform, as well as its server farms, but that was done by means of taking power away from the customer, because you’re not really the customer if you’re getting a heavily subsidised product, by turning the former customers into a product that is sold to the real customers: those that buy ads.
So, essentially, what Linux did was provide leverage that manages to pump wealth away from the software developers and into the pockets of ad sellers, making the customers less influential and less empowered in the process.
Also, what needs to be looked into is how much of the cloud computing boom is due to Linux, because it’s easy to have a supercluster if your OS is free; try paying Oracle per CPU for a Google or Facebook farm and you’ll get a head-spinning number that would probably make the entire thing financially unfeasible. This way, it’s another lever for centralising power over the Internet and over the end-users, essentially replacing the distributed nature of Internet itself with large corporations that, essentially, are the Internet for most people, and which, of course, are now starting to assert political and societal influence and controlling what people are allowed to think and say.
And in the meantime, the Linux crowd still hates Microsoft and dreams of a world where they’ll finally show it to Bill Gates who dared to charge money for Windows.

My desktop computer

Since I already started talking about computers, I’ll tell you what I’m using.

This is my desktop PC:

I built it myself, as I always do; I optimized it for silence first and power second. Silence wise, it’s built in Fractal Define C case, with Seasonic FX 850 Gold PSU in hybrid mode (which means the fan is off until it is really needed), there’s a huge CoolerMaster 612 v2 CPU cooler which is massive enough that the fan doesn’t really need to spin fast unless I’m pushing it. The GPU is Asus ROG Strix 1080ti, which is silence-optimized so the fans don’t spin at all in normal use, and even under full load all you hear is a whisper.

The CPU is a i7-6700K with 32GB RAM, SSD drives and a HDD. In normal use, the HDD’s whisper is everything I hear; the fans are tuned to work below audible threshold. Under full load, the fans are set up to get rid of heat as quickly as possible, silence be damned, and the top of the case is a dust filter, so hot air can rise up via convection, and since this is an effective method, the fans are never really that loud.

This is my desk. The monitor is LG 43UD79-B, the 108cm 4K IPS unit, which is the reason why I had to upgrade the GPU; Lightroom was rendering previews very slowly in this resolution, and since this operation is GPU-driven, I got the overkill GPU, and once I did that, I said what the hell and got the Logitech steering wheel so I can use it as a racing sim. The keyboard is Roccat Suora FX mechanical RGB, the mouse is Logitech G602. The microphone is Rode NT USB unit, which I use for skype. You can see the 15″ Macbook pro on the left, and misc gadgets and remotes on the right.

The machine runs Windows 10 as host, and several virtual machines with different configurations; the main one is Ubuntu Trusty Mate which I use for writing scripts and all the Unix work. The main reason why I got such a big monitor is so that I can always have one eye on the work-related chat on the right, while I do other things on the left. Also, I like the way my photos look on a really big screen, which approximates print size of a meter in diagonal. The entire rig is hooked to a UPS, so I don’t have to worry about losing work due to power outages or spikes, which, fortunately, happen only once or twice a year on average.

Essentially, this is a rig that “just works”, and it’s where I spend most of the day.