So this is my third blog post today. Huh. Something of a record. Mainly trying to test out posting in Markdown instead of using that God-awful Gutenberg. I’m trying to learn to love it, or at least tolerate it, but it is a struggle.
Just wanted to recount my recent adventures in using this aging MacBook Air with Linux instead of OS X for a couple months earlier this year. TLDR: I tried it, it was okay. I am back to using OS X.
For those more interested, here is a longer version. This laptop is a ten year old MacBook Air that has worked admirably. However, it no longer get software updates from Apple and it is stuck on High Sierra, which I think came out over 4 years ago now. No Mac OS X security updates; no Safari updates (not that I used that browser very much) and more importantly to me, no more Homebrew updates soon. I decided to try installing Ubuntu 20.04 on this machine back in February. It worked, but it was kind of pokey slow and was not the upgrade I was looking for. So I decided to give mxLinux a spin on this computer and I was pleasantly surprised. It ran well, I was able to install everything I needed and get updates on a regular basis. I know Debian well, and this distro had all that plus a bit extra tooling that I liked. I installed mxLinux in late February and used it for two and a half months.
So what happened? A few things :) – First and foremost, I borked the boot process one day when I overwrote my GRUB settings during an apt-get session. While I could have struggled through this issue and figured out how to fix the GRUB boot process and gotten back into mxLinux, I started thinking about some other issues that gave me pause. A couple things really stood out to me.
First, one of my biggest problems was the trackpad sensitivity and settings. Using mxLinux was frustrating me for weeks. Everytime I tried to type something, the heel of my hand inevitably would brush the trackpad, sending the mouse pointer into frenzies across the screen. I would lose my focus, or click away to another application. It was frustrating. I figured out a setting to disable the trackpad while I was typing, but then trying to use both trackpad and keyboard (like web browsing and scrolling through a page, filling in a form) became a slow… motion… pain… in… the… butt. Waiting a second or two everytime I switch between the two input modes slowly grew excruciating. But I could live with it.
Second was the realization that my battery life on Linux was just terrible. I just took the time and effort last fall to replace the battery in this laptop, and using OS X I got 3 – 4+ hours on a charge, using the computer almost constantly with either video or music playing in the background. Under Linux, I was lucky to get 2 hours out of the battery. Worse, the battery percentage was completely off kilter. It would say 62% charge remaining, then just completely die 3 minutes later. Not cool bro.
Lastly, I have to honestly say I missed some of the benefits of the Apple ecosystem. Turns out I like being able to take a Facetime on my computer instead of my iPhone. Managing the Apple family plan was easier on a computer instead of my iPhone too. Huh.
So I am back in the Apple fold for now. It was pretty easy to restore everything back to where I was in February. Thank you Time Machine. Only took about two hours to put everything back in place and get back to where I was on February 8, 2021. I got a lot of apps furiously updating themselves right now. Looking at you Firefox, and you VS Code, and you Kindle, and you WhatsApp desktop, and you Dropbox, and you Teams. Just not you Safari :)
I think I posted a few months ago about imagined busts for all the emperors of Rome. In a similar vein, I got these links from the Bad Voltage podcast, a tech focused podcast on my subscription list. Seems like these AI generated faces look almost human. They certainly look better than CGI faces from a decade ago, staring back at me from across the uncanny valley. However, when put up against a photo of a real person, they still lack something, a certain je ne sais quoi. Or maybe it’s when the computer generated face is wearing two different earrings?
A fascinating video published by the New York Times about the January 6th violence at the U.S. Capitol is gripping and visceral journalism. Drawing from social media posts, police videos and audio, it recounts the events on January 6th like I have not seen before.
I highly suggest spending the time to watch this recounting before these events are put down the memory hole.
So this feature saved my bacon this morning. I was able to recover about 10 tabs from Firefox from a computer that accidentally got overwritten last night (thanks GRUB). Using this Firefox feature of Synced Tabs, I was able to open Firefox on another computer and retrieve the tabs I needed. Thanks Firefox. Once again I am happy with my decision to stick with this browser over other options (looking at you Chrome).
Found a fascinating article on the The Verge this week; a designer created photo realistic images for the first 54 Roman emperors. From Augustus to Numerian, he took historical busts, statues, paintings and coins, fed the images into an AI called ArtBreeder repeatedly, and created realistic images of what these emperors looked like. He tweaked the results with actual photos of celebrities and fed the image back into ArtBreeder; like using Daniel Craig as a reference point for Augustus. The results are amazing. None of that creepy, not-quite-human look that so many CGI renders have.
If your interested, let me throw in a plug for one of my favorite podcasts; The History of Rome. This podcast is no longer active, but it covers the history of Rome from its mythical and/or actual founding, through the Republic and Empire, to end of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD. The podcast ended eight long years ago, but I cannot recommend it enough to anyone with an interest in history or the ancient world.
NASA’s New Horizons probe, speeding through the Kuiper Belt, has taken a series of photos of nearby stars, including Proxima Centauri and Wolf 359. New Horizons is 46 AU away from the sun, and at that distance the parallax between New Horizons’ camera and Earth based telescopes is quite dramatic.
This image shows the difference in the position of Wolf 359 and Proxima Centauri between Earth and New Horizons’ position. That’s really cool.
Home with the kids for the next two weeks. They get an early spring break, then start online learning next week. Picked up their books from school yesterday.
All meetings more than 10 people are strongly discouraged. Many restaurants are only doing take out orders, hotels are nearly empty. Yet flights from South Korea, Japan continue. Go figure.
Manila is on lockdown. My employees there are all at home – some in the provinces outside Manila.
Trying my best to work from home. Lots of Zoom and GoToMeetings right now. Our VPN is terribly slow – probably because so many people are on it right now. It is painfully slow just trying to connect and get some files. I was trying to use RDP yesterday, and there was about a 10 second delay in the response time.
Yesterday, the first cases of COVID-19 were reported on Guam late in the afternoon. Three cases at GMH. About ten minutes later, my son’s soccer league was suspended. This morning school is suspended until further notice, UOG is closed, the hospitals are not letting visitors in, and GovGuam has shut down all non-essential services for two weeks.
On Saturday, the governor declared a health emergency and cancelled all events with 100+ people. Today that number is down to 50.
And we are making up our plan forward at work right now. I am designating critical employees and probably sending the rest home for two weeks.
I got some sad news today; the SETI@Home project is coming to an end on March 31. This is the message I found in my BOINC Manager software this week:
SETI@home: SETI@home hibernation On March 31, the volunteer computing part of SETI@home will stop distributing work and will go into hibernation.
We’re doing this for two reasons:
1) Scientifically, we’re at the point of diminishing returns; basically, we’ve analyzed all the data we need for now.
2) It’s a lot of work for us to manage the distributed processing of data. We need to focus on completing the back-end analysis of the results we already have, and writing this up in a scientific journal paper.
However, SETI@home is not disappearing. The web site and the message boards will continue to operate. We hope that other UC Berkeley astronomers will find uses for the huge computing capabilities of SETI@home for SETI or related areas like cosmology and pulsar research. If this happens, SETI@home will start distributing work again. We’ll keep you posted about this.
If you’re currently running SETI@home on your computer, we encourage you to attach to other BOINC-based projects as well. Or use Science United and sign up to do astronomy. You can stay attached to SETI@home, of course, but you won’t get any jobs until we find new applications.
We’re extremely grateful to all of our volunteers for supporting us in many ways during the past 20 years. Without you there would be no SETI@home. We’re excited to finish up our original science project, and we look forward to what comes next.
Well that’s a bummer.
I started participating in SETI@Home back in 1999, and I have been running the software on every computer I’ve had since. Well almost: In 2005 SETI@Home moved to a new architecture called BOINC, and I was hesitant to sign up for a few years. Instead I doubled down on another distributed computing project I joined called Folding@Home; I felt bad that I could be using my computer’s spare cycles to work on the cure for cancer instead of looking for little green men. The idea of doing all this distributed work around the world on a common goal really interested me, both intellectually and technically. I actually got a bit obsessed with my ranking amongst all the users. Seems like a lot of other people did too...
Around 2008, I started reading about another distributed computing project, something called BitCoin. The idea was to distribute the ledger amongst all the participants, and reward their efforts in computing the transaction with digital BitCoins. I was really intrigued by the idea, but I didn’t want to sacrifice my standings in SETI@Home and Folding@Home rankings, especially for something that had absolutely no value at the time. Man, I am still beating myself up for that decision.
I actually started up with another BOINC based project a couple months ago, Einstein@Home, but I am not as enthused about that project. Primarily because Einstein@Home really bogs down my computer. I signed up for ClimatePrediction.net as well, but they seem to be a mothballed project like SETI@Home will soon be. So I guess I will just be folding proteins now full time instead of splitting between two projects. Till then I can admire my stats page for SETI@Home and Folding@Home.
That’s a pretty cool video there. The interesting bits are at the end, with the infrared imaging of the dust clouds surrounding Betelgeuse, and then the final direct image of the red supergian star at the end.
That bit at the end is actually the most recent imaging of the star, and a side by side comparison taken by the same telescope a year ago show the dramatic change in Betelgeuse’s shape:
Last night my daughter was sitting at the computer doing homework. She asked me, “Dad, what’s an interjection?” and before I knew it, I blurted out “INTERJECTION!!! SHOWS EXCITEMENT! OR EMOTION! They’re generally set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point, or a comma if the feelings not too strong.” I could go on… “So if you’re happy (HURRAY!), or sad (AWWW!), or frightened (EEEEK!), or mad (DRAT!), or excited (WOW!), or glad (Hey!), an interjection starts a sentence right.”
Man, that shit is just burned into some neurons in my brain.
Keeping on that vein, this morning I looked up Schoolhouse Rock Rocks!, a tribute/cover album from the mid-90’s if I remember correctly. It’s got Blind Melon singing ‘Three is a Magic Number,’ which is about as mid-90’s as it gets. I wanted to treat the kids to more Schoolhouse Rock. Unfortunately, the album does not have ‘Interjection!’
Sunday afternoon the volcano Taal just south of Manila erupted and threw ash a mile into the sky. Prevailing winds pushed the ash north onto metro Manila and led to all sorts of disturbances. Only a few people showed up in our Manila offices yesterday, and several of my employees live within 15 km of the volcano. Lots of ash fell in Cavite and Batangas.
Even worse, the government is expected Taal to erupt violently at any time, spewing more ash, lava, mudslides, tsunami, etc. Mass evacuations are underway.
As it was Sunday afternoon, and Taal is a picturesque volcano near metro Manila, the area was full of tourists visiting the area. Taal is located on an island in the middle of Taal Lake. I have been there sightseeing many years ago, it iswas a beautiful spot.