The last few months have me thinking a lot about technology, disruption, and the metaphor Chesterton’s Fence, or why you need to think about systems before reforming them.
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’
In the context of his writings, G. K. Chesterton was using this as an argument in favour of certain socially conservative views (hence the title of the essay “The Drift from Domesticity”). But the core principle–that it’s important to understand systems before you change them–is far more broadly applicable (and apolitical!), and is something that I think the technology industry would be wise to adopt.Continue reading...
My favourite Slack anti-pattern:
Person: Hey, do you have a minute for a quick call?
[15 minutes goes by]
Me: Okay, well, I need to go do something else now, but I’ll be available in 20 minutes.
Person: [attempts to call immediately]
[20 minutes goes by]
Me: Alright, I’m free again.
[10 minutes goes by]
Person: Too late, I’m busy.
Technically day three of holidays, but day one of not actively working… log4shell, truly the Christmas gift that keeps on giving!
The second post in my Blogging for the Holidays series: Grappling with Viruses. Starting with the heavy stuff…
There is no shortage of diseases in the world that regularly sicken or kill people. Diseases like Malaria, for example, continue to threaten people throughout the world and particularly in the global south. However, it wasn’t that long ago that the threat of communicable disease was simply part of everyday life. So prominent was disease in our lives that it has a special place in our myths, often presented as the wrath of angry gods. It even gets its a mention in the biblical prophesies of Revelations.
But today, communicable diseases, particularly in the privileged west, are largely seen as distant and manageable risks. Few go through their daily lives worried that they might be exposed to some deadly pathogen that might kill them or their friends or family.
Contrast this with the case of Smallpox. Just 400 years ago, to manage the disease, people in Asia and the Middle East developed the technique of variolation. Those practicing variolation would take the scabs or fluid from the pustules of the infected and would rub it into scratches on the skin of the well, in the hopes of triggering a minor infection that would impart immunity.
Imagine that! Imagine being so afraid of a disease that you’d scratch yourself and rub someone else’s pus into the wound.
It’s truly hard to fathom.
But such was the world before antibiotics and vaccinations, when communicable disease felled entire communities. Smallpox itself is thought to have killed between 300 and 500 million people before its eradication in the late 1970s.
The dual miracles of antibiotics and vaccination have made for a far far safer world. Yet it’s this very fact that has left so many of us so unprepared for the realities of a pandemic.Continue reading...
I finally put together a post on getting Debian Bullseye running on my Framework laptop! Here I focus on building a newer kernel plus custom Debian packages for libfprint and fprintd.
I recently received the fantastic first laptop from a new company called Framework, which is specializing in building extremely user-serviceable, repairable, upgradeable laptops (in fact, they recently received a rare 10 out of 10 from iFixit). I opted for the DIY unit, which among other things allowed me to bring my own operating system, and for me the OS of choice is unquestionably Debian Linux.
Prior to receiving my Framework I’d been running Debian testing on a fifth generation Lenovo X1 Carbon. As is typically the case with Lenovo, the X1 worked extremely well with Linux. In fact, it worked far better than I’d ever expected of Linux on a laptop, which I’d come to assume was always an unreliable, janky affair.
Framework has similarly embraced the Linux community but, given the cutting edge hardware they’ve included, I was expecting some rough spots while drivers and so forth matured. And while this has turned out to be somewhat true, the good news is it’s been quite easy to get past those issues, and I’m happy to report that Debian testing is now working extremely well on my Framework.
In the rest of this write-up I cover the steps I took to get a fully functional Debian Bullseye installation running on my machine using the Gnome desktop environment (after which I did an in-place upgrade to Bookworm).
Of course, if you’re looking for a slightly more turnkey solution, I strongly recommend trying out Ubuntu 21.04, which ships with a kernel that fully supports the Framework hardware. You’ll still need to take steps to get the fingerprint reader working, but at least you can avoid compiling a kernel.Continue reading...
I received my Framework laptop and after a few of days with it I’ve written down my impressions comparing it to my X1 Carbon (tl;dr okay battery, otherwise wow!)
Modern consumer electronics, including phones, tablets, and laptops, rely on copious amounts of glue, security screws, plastic tabs, soldered components, and other design elements that make repair and service darn near impossible. Thanks to the likes of Apple, we’ve been sold the idea that this lack of serviceability was necessary in order to deliver devices that are thin, light, sturdy, and performant. The result is an electronics market dominated by devices costing upwards of a thousand dollars while being treated as essentially disposable.
It wasn’t always like this!
There was a time when PCs were a thing people built and maintained, replacing and upgrading components as needed to keep a device functioning. After all, who could possibly justify throwing away a whole machine just because a component went bad?
Well, for folks who are not aware, Framework is a new entrant in the consumer laptop space that has a unique and, to me, very compelling mission: to build a thin, light, high quality laptop that’s also highly modular, repairable, and critically, user serviceable.
For context, I’ve long been a big fan of Lenovo, and my daily driver up to this point was a Lenovo X1 Carbon I bought in 2017. The X1 is, at least in my opinion, the absolute pinnacle of PC ultrabooks. They’re small, light, fast, incredibly sturdy, and compared to the rest of the market, pretty user serviceable.
But when I heard about Framework and the mission of the company, I knew I had to give them a chance, so I decided to pre-order the DIY version of their first generation device. The following is a write-up of my impressions after a couple of days of use.
In short: while battery life leaves something to be desired, the Framework laptop compares extremely favourably with the X1 at a fraction of the price.Continue reading...