Sunday, November 13, 2016

UNIX news roundup, with apologies to Tic Tacs

Here is a brief selection of UNIX and Unix-like headlines that have caught my eye, along with some commentary (or fanboy smarm passing itself off as 'commentary'):

  • Now that the U.S. election season has reached its painful conclusion (and like the proverbial gift that keeps giving, there is sure to be residual pain to come), Computerworld's Sandra Henry-Stocker provides what could be a novel alternative the next time around in her latest opinion piece, Why scripts are better than politicians. As you work your way down her 20-point list, you'll notice the central proposition becoming less and less absurd. If I had to add my two cents to the list, and because I'm simply not wired to resist the temptation, I'd say scripts are better than politicians because you have nothing to fear if and when they reach for your Tic Tacs. (Audience groans, comedian apologizes.)

  • The PC-BSD project has rebranded itself TrueOS (TrueOS Succeeds PC-BSD Desktop-Friendly Unix OS). While I've read additional material from other sources (including the project's home page), I have yet to come across an explanation for the reasoning behind the name change; my own inkling is that while hardly concealing the system's FreeBSD base, there may nevertheless be a desire for the project to present itself as something much more than just another distro. If you've ever gone with a vanilla install of FreeBSD and tried to make it more desktop-friendly from there, and then taken PC-BSD for a spin, you'll have no problem agreeing that it is indeed more than just FreeBSD with some extra goodies thrown in. Personally, I think the name change is befitting a project that works so hard at making FreeBSD so user-friendly that even your grandmother would find it intuitive. It is a complete operating system in its own right in the same way as Mac OS X, which also just happens to be powered under the hood by BSD. Beyond the fresh moniker, it should also be noted that the project now follows a rolling release model. Kudos to Kris Moore and the rest of the team.

  • The OpenIndiana 2016.10 "Hipster" release has now been unleashed (OpenIndiana 2016.10 Unix OS Migrates to FreeBSD Loader, Adds MATE 1.14 Desktop), which I hope to try out as soon as absolutely possible. While I've been aware for some time of the switch from the Gnome 2 desktop to its successor fork, MATE 1.14, I was happily surprised to learn of GRUB being replaced by the FreeBSD Loader. Yes, my UNIX bias is showing - the use of GRUB by Solaris and most of the OpenSolaris descendant forks has always left me feeling like those systems were trying to come across as Linux-like, as if replacing CDE with Gnome 2 wasn't self-debasing enough. (Ah, let the flame war begin...)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Dear Ann Coulter: Bullying has never made America great

It has been speculated that Ann Coulter's 2015 book, ¡Adios, America! The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole, provided what would become the blueprint for Donald Trump's election platform. In that tome, she advocated certain views on immigration that should seem familiar to Trump-watchers by now.

Whether or not Trump cribbed his policies from Coulter, each are akin to the worst kind of person you knew in high school - except that while most of those faces from the past went on to outgrow the very qualities that made them hard to be around, malevolence for personal gain (be it wealth, political power, or readership numbers) is something that continues to define Trump and Coulter in their professional lives. And in certain ways, the two are spiritual twins.

Their shared knack for body-shaming is but one example.

Trump has by now well-established himself as a pig who views each woman as a sex object, and can't resist letting the world know it by publicly insulting female critics on the basis of their physical appearance or even their menstrual cycle.

Conversely, as Coulter recently tweeted on the topic of the post-election anti-Trump demonstrations, "Without fat girls, there would be no protests." (This from the same woman who feels the need to present herself as Republican Barbie® on the covers of her books, perhaps as some Pavlovian attempt to condition would-be readers to salivate at the ugly content within.)

For all the gushing Coulter has done over Trump, is it possible that she has failed to realize that many of the women who comprised Trump's base may have had less 'perfect' physiques than hers? Does it even matter to Coulter that many women, especially those in their teens, may have feelings of anxiety that are triggered by such public comments? (Empathy is a tall order for any sociopath, so I can't imagine Coulter meeting such a question with anything more than a vacant gaze. Someone of her ilk is only concerned with their own notoriety, and will get it wherever they can, no matter how low the road nor how easy the target.)

Boiled down to her true essence, Coulter is nothing more than a bully working on behalf of those too powerful to need defending in the first place. Put even more succinctly, she is simply a fascist.

For all the nastiness he exhibited during the primaries and the general election, Trump at least seems to have a human side, which gives me hope (however faint) that he may surprise his critics by accomplishing something in the course of this term that is truly an evolutionary step forward for his country.

As for Coulter, it is hard to imagine her even wanting to use her pulpit for bringing about positive change in anyone's life other than those who would have the middle and lower classes continue to be turned against their own interests.

If America is indeed great, it is because of people who do things that are innovative, courageous, or otherwise transforming - it is certainly not because of high-profile misanthropes buzzing like flies around the dung heap of America's worst instincts. And so in body-shaming her sisters of a different political bent, Ann Coulter has shown us all that she has earned her wings, fecal stink notwithstanding.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Effigies' Haunted Town

Lately I've been stumbling across some old gems for my Why haven't I heard of this before? file. One such example is The Effigies, a punk outfit from Chicago that has been active on-and-off since 1980. I've been repeatedly listening to Haunted Town, their 1981 debut, for a few days now. This 12"vinyl  EP has basic (but solid) production values that stay out of the way and allow this furious sonic assault and its constituent voices and instruments to burst forth with heft and clarity. What follows are just my initial impressions, and not a review, per se.

Beyond the above I don't know a whole lot about The Effigies - all I have to go on is the sounds on this awesome EP. The opening, Below The Drop, kinda/sorta reminded me at first of Warsaw by Joy Division, though in an increasingly tenuous way now that I've given the latter a fresh listen for the sake of comparison. (The two songs don't really sound alike, but something in the energy made me perceive some sort of sonic resonance between the two.)

Next is Strongbox, which may be the fastest cut of the five, and as such it comes the closest to being true 'hardcore'. (I'm not quite sure what exactly the "strongbox" in question is, but then with a firecracker like this, lyrical interpretation trails well behind jumping around, smashing things, or getting a speeding ticket.)

The title track slows things down ever-so-slightly with some sort of narrative about urban decay, and provides some bona fide lead guitar melodies that act as a welcome counterpoint to the relentless drive of the song.

On Mob Clash the lead vocals are vaguely reminiscent of Joe Strummer of the Clash (oddly enough.) A less metallic rendition of this strident tune may not have been out of place on London Calling, the album on which the Clash showed how punk energy and sensibilities could be 'tamed' and channeled into making the greatest rock n' roll album, ever. Needless to say, this is my favorite cut off Haunted Town.

And finally, We'll Be Here Tomorrow appropriately closes out this brief set, perhaps intended as a calling card of sorts at the time. Nothing much to say about this one other than the reverb-soaked vocals have a certain quality that places  the track well within the milieu of late 70's/early 80's punk and new wave. (I don't mean this to say that it makes the song dated, but rather that it imbues it with the distinct aroma of its time, a time for which Yours Truly is quite nostalgic, musically.)

Election 2016's true losers: a tale of two establishments

It's a little soon to say with any finality what exactly went wrong with the U.S. presidential election that someone like Donald Trump could so thoroughly break every conventionally-accepted rule of politics and still end up trouncing his eminently more-qualified opponent. Trump's strategy seems to have been one of donning helmet, elbow and knee pads and roller skates and simply plowing gracelessly through anything resembling opposition, while insulting and alienating anyone along the way who wasn't on side. In the roller derby rink that was this election, the track is littered with bruised competitors of both party stripes who never saw it coming.

Am I happy with the idea of Trump's boorishness being validated with what is arguably the most powerful job in the world? Hardly. But at least some of that disappointment is tempered by the prospect that Trump's victory represents something that eclipses either of the candidates, and that is the defeat (for now) of the establishment elites in both parties.

While it's a little late now to engage in the parlor game of pondering what could have been if Bernie Sanders had carried the populist torch for the Democrats, it remains a fact that the party's brass conspired against Sanders during the primaries, as revealed in leaked emails that saw Debbie Wasserman Shultz resign as chair of the DNC. From outward appearances, it appears the primaries were rigged, to use a Trumpian term. Sanders, like Trump, was able to look 'beyond the beltway', as it were, to the America that the elites would rather keep hidden, as it betrays any notion that globalist capitalism is working for anyone other than the investor class. Also, Sanders was getting by on donations from ordinary citizens, rather than engaging in the usual big ticket fundraising or depending on support from super pacs.

Perhaps this was the reason Sanders was shunted aside by whatever tactics the party's upper echelon could get away with. Meanwhile, the conventional wisdom being espoused was that the party needed Hillary Clinton, as she was much more 'electable' than Sanders.

On the other side of the aisle, Trump never seemed to have the full and unconditional support of his own party's establishment. While also being guilty of Sanders' sin - admitting that there really is an underclass being left behind by big business as usual - Trump was rude, crude and (supposedly) self-funded. In this way, he was Bernie Sanders' evil twin. Right down to the wire, Trump never did capture any sort of full-throated endorsement from House Speaker Paul Ryan.

So looking at the results through the above lens, Donald Trump captured the highest office in the land despite the tepid support of his own party's establishment, and Hillary Clinton failed in spite of what appears to have been an unethical leg-up from hers.

Furthermore, the positive lesson here is that if you acknowledge legitimate anger and give voice to those who are otherwise ignored, forgotten or taken for granted, very good things can happen. The downside of this Mobius Strip is that it took a campaign as malevolent as Trump's to finally make the point.

Monday, October 17, 2016

UPDATED! Solaris 11.3: Firefox, Flash, and the distant dream of gcc

After a prolonged spell of flitting about with various distros, I have taken up once again with Solaris 11.3 as my main desktop, this time with an eye to satisfying two modest goals:

  • upgrade Firefox from the out-of-the-box 31.0 to something with fewer flies buzzing around it, and

  • a working Flash player for said upgrade to allow for audio streaming and use of websites that do fun stuff.

As for the first goal, the answer was under my nose for longer than I'd care to admit. As written about in this space previously, the good folks at UNIX Packages provide Firefox and Thunderbird binaries free of charge. I had gushed quite profusely at their Firefox 38 package on my last install of Solaris 10, but more recently had revisited their offerings, and saw no Firefox/Thunderbird options for Solaris 11.x. The available systems were for OpenSolaris and Solaris 10 (and older). Hmmph!

And then it hit me: Solaris 11.3 may be binary-compatible with (what had been) OpenSolaris, and so I took a whack at installing that package to this system.

As for the installation, simply download the package for Firefox 45.4.0 (the latest as of this writing), and then within the Nautilus file manager, right click on the downloaded *-pkg file and select "Extract here". Once it's extracted, use Gnome Terminal to get yourself to your Downloads directory (or wherever it lands in your system), and enter:

# pkgadd -d fire*-pkg

It goes without saying that you should adjust the wildcard as necessary if you have other files starting with "fire". (This moment of patronizing didacticism has been brought to you by the Ford Motor Company. Find the right Ford for you at )

Problem solved.

To make it run by default (at least when clicking the little Firefox icon in the top taskbar in the Gnome 2 interface), I right-clicked on said icon, selected "Properties", and changed the "Command" field to read: /opt/sfw/bin/firefox %u.

Akin to the goal of upgrading Firefox, a solution to my Flash woes had likewise been lurking about just beyond the perimeter of my patience and reading comprehension. Over previous sojourns with this OS, I had come to understand that Adobe had dropped Solaris support for Flash altogether (which it has), and that mummified versions of Flash were available in their archives, which is also true, though with God as my witness I was sure that said archives were now unavailable. Silly rabbit.

Once you have downloaded and extracted the files (be sure to look for version 11,2,202,223), you'll need to move to /opt/sfw/lib/firefox/browser/plugins. (I had to create the plugins subdirectory myself, as it wasn't there by default after installing Firefox.) Check here to confirm that it is working.

All-in-all, I'm quite pleased with Solaris 11.3 this time around, and am now readying my mind to tackle the real challenge, which is getting gcc installed after previous botched attempts. As it turns out, the gcc versions I've found so far can't be installed in this system due to licensing conflicts or some such, which is a drag because I'd like to then proceed with building packages from NetBSD's pkgsrc project to allow for at least a bit more variety of applications.

But that can wait for another day.


October 23, 2016 update: Eureka! The dream of gcc has now been realized! Install it as follows:

# pkg install developer/gcc-45

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Racism: available in soft and ultra-soft

When someone (often an old foreigner) says something with a soft racial undertone about another race that is not meant to be derogatory but often comes out in a way that may make others slightly uncomfortable and slightly embarrassed yet sympathetic for said old person.

Often it is because of a difference in social and cultural norms that they say something softly racist.
 -Urban Dictionary, "Soft Racism"

I'm sure we've all known someone who has stepped on the above-noted conversational rake without realizing it, and while it can certainly cause awkward tension in a group setting, anyone with even a little bit of emotional intelligence can finish blushing and then give the speaker a pass for their own cultural and/or age-related naïveté. For the most part it's easy to tell if the person was being deliberately hurtful or simply didn't know any better in the moment.

But there's another form of racism that is easy to miss if you're not looking for it. In fact, if you gaze into the mirror (so to speak), you may need to strain your eyes to notice it, and even then your mind may not recognize nor accept what is being seen. As for me, someone had to point it out to Yours Truly. Up until then I had been completely oblivious. What allows this racism to slip under our radars (generally) unnoticed is that it has nothing to do with any conscious intent to be derogatory towards nor marginalize a person or group based on their race, which in its own way makes it all the more insidious.

The kind of racism I'm talking about is typically expressed when you're telling a friend about an encounter you had with someone earlier that day, and you include a certain detail that has no bearing on your story. For a white person, it could be something like "I was in the express line at the grocery store and the black guy ahead of me had nine items instead of eight".

In this case, the guy's skin color was of no relevance. We are all guilty of going over the maximum number of items in the express line at least most of the time. (Personally, I usually treat the "8 Items or Less" sign as a suggestion rather than a rule.)

To test the absurdity of this paradigm, tell a similar anecdote to someone of your own race, but make the person in your story the same skin color as you and your listener. I think most of my friends or family would at least be momentarily taken aback if I said "I asked a white guy for directions."

I truly don't think any of the above is evidence of antipathy towards any one race or other races in general, and thus my intention here is not to equate it with overt racism. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if there's a sincere and committed anti-racist or two who make this mistake with no harm or insult intended.

For myself, I used to chalk it up mental laziness. After all, skin color can be the most noticeable thing about a person. You may not recognize their identity from across the street, but you sure can tell their race. Perhaps referencing the person as "some black guy" (or "Asian guy", or "Indian guy", etc.) is a quick and dirty way to add descriptiveness to your story, and to some extent I believe this forms the basis of such a practice. However, if the person in the story is white (assuming you and your listener are also white for the sake of this example), then their skin color would lose all descriptive value.

I can't speak for races other than my own, but as a white person I can tell you that when we are describing someone to one of our own "kind", the default assumption is that the someone in question is white unless otherwise noted. By doing so, intentionally or not, we set ourselves apart from others along racial lines. While not "racism" as practiced by "hate groups" nor cause for self-flagellation, it nevertheless hints at tribalism (or what I would call "ultra-soft racism"), which to me would seem to be a precondition for hard racism in the same way that unchecked nationalism clears the way for fascism (soft or hard).

Nowadays, I make daily decision to not draw needless attention to a person's race when talking about them in the third person unless it's pertinent to the story. Sometimes it comes easy, other times it feels momentarily awkward and requires conscious effort, and then there are moments when I transgress and resolve to try harder next time.

While I wholeheartedly aspire to be an anti-racist, I also realize I have work to do. And although part of me thinks this is all a matter of making a big deal out of so very little, I wouldn't want a little thing leaving the door open for something bigger and uglier.