Category Archives: Snippets

My Hobby: Moving Files Around

I have found that my home server hobby is more a “moving files around” hobby. I have reached this conclusion based on the countless times I have found myself moving files from one place to another.

My FreeNAS media server

I have run FreeNAS on a HP N54L Microserver for over five years. It has been a fantastic server. I bought it, a slightly used review unit, loaded with four 500 GB drives that it would not have normally come with, for a song—less than a new one with no storage drives included. Over the years, I updated the storage (now I have 16 TB total, with 8 TB usable space, set up in a single RAIDZ2 volume), and the RAM (from 8 GB to 16 GB). Over that same time period, 8 TB went from an impressive amount of storage to something a relatively inexpensive single drive could handle.

What those single drives don’t have, however, is redundancy and data integrity features. My little FreeNAS server has that, thanks to the ZFS file system. At several times in my home media streaming career, the external hard drive I used to store my media files died, and I lost all my data. Thankfully, no important personal data, like my photos, was ever lost, but the experience was upsetting enough not to want to repeat any more.

Hard drive failures can happen to anyone, at any time, even if you have a nice server rather than a Raspberry Pi with an external hard drive attached via USB. Less than a year after I upgraded my FreeNAS server’s drives, one of them failed. The FreeNAS server emailed me about the error, and its UI showed that my drive array was operating in a degraded state. I quickly ordered a new drive, swapped it out the next day, and never lost a bit of data. (I returned the failed drive for a free replacement, so now I have a replacement available, in case I ever need it.)

File servers fill up, if you let them

FreeNAS has been stable, reliable, and a joy to use. One thing I have learned from running it, however, is that its file system, ZFS, degrades in performance when a volume (a pool of drives) is more than 80% full. FreeNAS will warn you about this threshold, but I never took it too seriously, because poor performance is mostly an academic concern when all you are doing with a server is transferring a few gigabytes a day. I do like to silence warnings, however, so I normally have to prune my media collection, or move some videos I want to keep, but am unlikely to watch again soon, to external, mostly cold, storage.

Of course, where is that old, external drive with my files on it? I have no idea. So, this week, when my FreeNAS server filled up way over the 80% warning threshold, I decided, rather than continuing to free space by deleting movies and TV series that I didn’t want to delete, to add some more redundant storage to my network, and move the old files there. This decision was mostly based on having some extra hardware lying around, unused. I have a 2 TB, two-bay Seagate NAS, which is a little, Linux-based server with a consumer friendly web UI for administration. Unlike FreeNAS, it is very locked down, and unlike my HP microserver, it has only two drive bays rather than four.

At any rate, I set that up again and started moving some files to it, which sounds simpler than it really is. I am cherry picking files that are less likely to be accessed to the new server, so I have to go through everything I have, to some extent. Because the files either number in the thousands (like music files) or are multiple gigabytes in size (like video files), moving them has been very slow. Because the Seagate NAS’s filesystem (EXT4) is different than the FreeNAS filesystem (ZFS), there are other interesting problems, like file naming rules, that trip up file transfers. Because these are two different UNIX-like systems with different users configured on them, sometimes there are permissions issues that prevent files from being moved, renamed, or deleted.

As cool as it is to stream movies and music throughout my house, making it all work requires, from time to time, a lot of low-level file transfers. It has been taking a lot more time and attention than I would like.

Temporary, by Feathermerchants

I was poking around my iTunes library, found an old album I loved from senior year of high school, by a local Connecticut band called Mr. Right. After some Google searches, I found a copy of a song that was one of my all-time, lost, never-had-it-on-a-proper-CD, never-could-get-it-anywhere songs: “Temporary”. It wasn’t what I expected, however. It was a different arrangement, which was entirely unexpected.

When I first heard “Temporary”, it was a power pop song, recorded by Mr. Right (or maybe just Jim Chapdelaine). Apparently, he dusted the song off almost ten years later to record with his new band, Feathermerchants, and reimagined it as a folk-rock (dare I say, Americana?) ballad, sung by a feather-light soprano.

When I was seventeen, I recorded, with my high school band, an EP weeks before we all left for college. Due to dumb luck (one of our friends grew up next door to a bonafide music producer—and the knew each other), two of our four-song EP was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Jim Chapdelaine, who went on to become a 13-time Emmy winner, among other amazing things. We first met up with him because his band at the time (in 1995), Mr. Right, played a gig at my hometown’s annual fall festival on the green. My friends and I pretty much idolized him for a little while after high school graduation.

Jim played a recording of the original song through his board as we were waiting for something to happen—probably while we were waiting for our gold master CD to be written, at 1/2X speed, in Jim’s basement music studio. The chorus is an ear worm, and I really enjoy the lyric. I remembered it to this day, and hearing it made me feel nostalgic.

My (Former) Hobby: Home Media Streaming

For someone who is, now, only marginally interested in television and movies, I have spent a lot of time and money over the years to make my television watching experience awesome. I used to be really into it, and—unless you had a lot of money to burn—it used to be hard to get it working correctly, which fed into my engineering mindset and led me to tinker with hardware and software frequently, for almost a decade.

I started in 2008 by connecting my 13” white MacBook to my (non-HD) TV via a $30 video adapter. Even though my TV was primitive, picture quality was way better when playing video this way, and I could watch streaming videos directly from the networks’ web sites, like “Lost”, on my real TV for the first time. I loved it. After about a year of this, I got a mini-PC as a Christmas gift, which I started using, with an external hard drive, as a home media server.

For the front end, I bought a set-top box that Western Digital used to sell. The system worked…mostly. Streaming over WiFi was reliable for non-HD (480p) and 720p HD encoded TV shows, but anything with higher resolutions, higher bit rates, or DTS audio would usually be impossible to play.

I was never serious enough to buy an expensive computer to connect to my TV, because I figured, correctly it turns out, that video streaming devices would become cheaper and more capable over time. Of course, during that time, I cycled through a ton of set-top boxes (most of which I got for free as review units): Roku boxes, a couple Roku knock-offs, the Boxee Box, the first Amazon Fire TV, an Amazon Fire TV Stick (which was quickly returned), a couple Raspberry Pis running XMBC (which worked great for TV but stumbled on DTS audio), and eventually a number of Apple TVs (fourth generation).

The reason I went through so many front-ends is that they all had two limitations. First, each one left out at least one of the top video sources: either iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, or Plex. (Nothing left out Netflix.) Second, all of them choked on certain sorts of videos, depending on their audio or video encodings.

Eventually, I began to watch video on my iPad while I work. This led me to discover Plex in the App Store. Plex is a server that you can install on a computer, coupled with client apps that run on many different devices. Plex looks great, has server side transcoding to make video formats less of an issue, and allows you to manage a centralized library of TV, movies, music, and more. I used Plex on an Amazon Fire TV for a year or two. I started out very happy with it, but the software stability of the Amazon Fire TV decreased over time, and Plex and Amazon did not release software updates timely enough to fix it. Eventually, I was very unhappy with the Fire TV + Plex combo, but still pretty happy running Plex on my iPad.

When the Apple TV, 4th generation, was released, with support for iTunes, Apple Music, Netflix, YouTube, and Plex, I bought one right away. I figured, at the time, that Apple was so big that only it had any chance to get all the major video providers on a single box, and get them to stay long term. (Amazon, of course, was conspicuously absent for several years, but that was not as important to me back then as it is now.) I didn’t expect to love it for to watch baseball on MLB At Bat, but it plays games at 1080p/60fps, which looks amazing, so I do.

Over time, home media streaming went from being a niche hobby, in which nerds like me tried to hook up computers to their TVs, to a very mainstream way to consume video and audio. Thanks to cheap and nearly ubiquitous modern hardware, my home media streaming “hobby”, has basically come to an end. I still maintain a Plex library, but I no longer have to upgrade or to fiddle with hardware connected to my TV, or worry about audio and video encodings and bit rates before I watch a movie with my wife. I also stream a lot more video from outside the home (not via Plex) than I ever did before—just like everybody else these days. It’s not special any more; it’s just another entertainment product, and it deserves very little thought, because it just works. Things are much better now, but sometimes I do miss tinkering with hardware.

Apple Card

Apple announced Apple Card at its event on Monday. Details are incomplete, but its announcement excited me more than the media-related services Apple announced at the same event. Perhaps that is because I pay for things every day, but don’t watch much TV, and my wife and I are happy with our New Yorker subscription (she reads the physical magazine; I read it online) and our New York Times subscription (which we both read via its iOS app).

Apple Card interests me because I use Apple Pay all the time, and Apple Card’s Apple Pay-specific cash back rewards are a 33% better than what I get from either of my two current credit cards on the things I purchase most. From a pure spending and getting rewards perspective, Apple Card seems like a winner to me.

I am a somewhat baffled, however, at the Apple commentators’ many takes on how Apple Card’s rewards are mediocre. I suppose that may be the case for people who want travel rewards, but if you want cash back and can use Apple Pay at your local supermarkets and restaurants, Apple Card is a winner.

I base my opinion on lots of research into the best cash back cards. For the past twenty years, I have been a cash-back-rewards seeker who researches credit cards on NerdWallet and BankRate at least once a year, and occasionally jumps from one card to another. Based on my research, I already have the best credit cards for me, from a rewards perspective. Apple’s credit card’s cash back rewards system is better than all of them, again, for me. Two percent cash back on all Apple Pay purchases would increase the cash back I get from my largest non-mortgage monthly expense category, supermarket spending, from 1.5% to 2%.

I heard on TWIT this week that Apple Card does not have certain protections most credit cards come from, like purchase price protection and extended warranties. That doesn’t matter to me, though, as I have not used those benefits in the 20+ years I have had a credit card.

Apple Card’s announced interest rates fall within what I think is a normal range. Each customer’s interest rate will depend on their credit rating, so it is technically unknown until each person applies for it. Apple has not made it clear whether there is a monthly billing cycle with an interest-free grace period, which is common. This leads to more uncertainty about it, as better cash back rewards are not helpful if you have to pay interest on every purchase. I almost never carry a credit card balance, though, so whatever Apple’s interest rate is for me, and provided there is a normal grace period for purchases, it does not matter.

All in all, Apple Card sounds like a good deal for a lot of Apple’s customers.

On Internet Trolls

DON’T FEED THE TROLLS, AND OTHER HIDEOUS LIES” is a great article by “Film Crit Hulk” on our collective failure to respond properly to internet trolling culture.

A Twitter follower reminded me of a line in the famous parable from Bion of Borysthenes: “Boys throw stones at frogs in fun, but the frogs do not die in fun, but in earnest.” Defenders of trolling insist it’s all just a joke, but if trolling is inherently designed to get a rise out of someone, then that’s what it really is. In many cases, it is designed to look and feel indistinguishable from a genuine attack. Whether you believe what you are saying or not is often immaterial because the impact is the same — and you are responsible for it, regardless of how funny you think it is.

I think that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of trolling. It isn’t a joke. It isn’t done for the lulz. “It’s just a joke” is an obvious cover for bad behavior.

It reminds me of an episode from my youth. In high school I had a friend who had a stash of Playboy magazines that he got (I think) from an older brother. Somehow we found out about them, demanded to see them, and teased him about them as we thumbed through them together. “Why do you have these” we would ask, teasingly, knowing full well why he had them. My friend’s face would grow bright red and we would stammer: “because they’re so funny”. When pressed, he would double down on it: he would swear, up and down, that he had them because they were hilarious. Sure they were.

It puzzles me, why we act as if it’s even possible that verbal abuse on the internet is “just a joke”. A decent response to “it was just a joke” is “it doesn’t matter”.

The biggest mistake we ever made with trolls was making the question of abuse about how to placate and fix them instead of how to empower the people they hurt or manage your own well-being in the face of them. Like so many abused people, we thought the solutions involved walking on eggshells and not provoking them back. But instead, we must acknowledge “that we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about who we pretend to be.” And that means acknowledging the awful, terrifying power of jokes and the immunity we seek in “not being serious.” This is exactly why people troll in the first place. Because deep down, they know it’s serious, and that’s exactly why it makes them feel powerful.

In the online world, people who violate community standards should be banned from those communities. Gathering spaces online are not public spaces: almost all of them are owned by private companies or individuals. Freedom of speech is up to the owner of the space; the level of discourse there directly reflect’s the owner as well. By law, they might not be legally responsible for the content of their site, but they are ethically and morally responsible for it, regardless. Owning and running a site where terrible things happen should be a black mark on a company’s or a person’s reputation—and that should matter.

It would be nice if people started to care about reputation again, and if bad reputations led to lower profits and lower stature in the global community. Sadly, we are in a time, right now, where that does not seem to be the case.

Re-committing to Pinboard, after many months away

I’m re-committing to Pinboard, after a year or more away from it. I’m happy with what I am doing now, and thought I would document it in case anyone else wanted help understanding how to use the Pinboard effectively, especially if their usage lapsed, as mine did.

What is Pinboard?

Pinboard is an “antisocial” cloud bookmarking service. You can keep all your bookmarks there and use its barebones website or third party apps and browser extensions, all using an open API, to access them. It’s a paid service, run by a single person, with a clear and straightforward business model. When I signed up, I pre-paid for ten years of service. Part of my impetus for using it again now, after having abandoned it for, well, nothing, is the sunk-cost fallacy. The other, more important part of that impetus is that I really like the simplicity and speed of Pinboard, and I like the Pinboard iOS client I use, Pinner.

What do I use it for?

I use it for three things:

  1. To host my bookmarks in a cross-platform, always accessible way. I can get to the same bookmarks in Safari on my Mac and iOS, and in Chrome on Windows.
  2. For research and archival purposes, especially for programming projects I am working on. I can search these bookmarks on keywords, title, or description to review the best of the web pages I previously read on a topic of interest.
  3. As part of a homegrown “read it later” service. I can send article URLs to Pinboard from various apps, and read them later using Pinboard’s website, an app or browser extension on my Mac, and an app on iOS or Andriod.

Number 3 used to be the primary purpose of Pinboard to me. I had signed up as part of an effort to get replace Pocket with something more privacy focused. After many years of using Pocket (formerly “Read It Later”) to collect articles I was interested in from the huge stream of RSS feeds I parsed every day, I wanted a change. Primarily, this was because I became uncomfortable with Pocket’s business model: Why was it free? How did they really make money? What were they doing will all the data they collected on me?

I also wasn’t crazy about some of the UI changes made to Pocket over the years. I wanted more control over the reading experience, too, which is something that using a web service with an open API would give me. It helps that, at the time, Safari’s Reader View debuted, and I thought it was fantastic.

I was pretty obsessive about channeling all the articles I read through Pinboard, so I had a one-way workflow from discovery to reading to marking read. I never deleted anything from Pinboard, either. I thought I wanted a history of all the articles I ever read, in case I wanted to search through that history later. (Of course, I never did that.)

Why did I stop using it?

I stopped using Pinboard for three main reasons:

  1. I started reading Twitter more than actual articles linked to from it. The constantly updating timeline was incredibly addictive, and less mentally taxing to follow than reading complex articles from actual publications. (I have since given up Twitter because it was too addictive for me to handle responsibly.)
  2. My wife and I had kids, meaning that I no longer had a bunch of downtime after dinner to catch up on all the articles I had bookmarked to read later. I would still send stuff to Pinboard to read later, but I would never actually read the articles.
  3. My wife and I subscribed to The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. I started reading from those publications, from their apps, a lot more than scouring RSS feeds for articles from a dozen sources. Reading from their apps did not fit very well with my Pinboard workflow.

Overall, Pinboard became a graveyard for links I didn’t actually want to read. Instead of a useful resource, it was a junk pile full of stale content.

Digging out of a mess

I took the following steps to return Pinboard to a useful utility for me:

  1. I deleted everything I had in Pinboard—over 3,000 bookmarks that were doing me no good. Most of these were articles I imported from my RSS reader (Reeder) or Twitter (via Tweetbot), read once, and then just left in Pinboard.
  • I installed Shiori on my MacBook Pro. Shiori is a Pinboard bookmark launcher and editor. It’s like QuickSilver for Pinboard—hidden until you need it, only a keypress away, and accessible from anywhere. I set it up so that Control+Option+Command+P brings up the bookmark search window (from anywhere), and Control+Option+Command+B brings up the bookmark editor.
  • I set up Pinner on iOS. Pinner is a full-featured Pinboard client. It will open Pinboard bookmarks in Safari or within Pinner, via Safari View Controller. It has two app extensions for creating bookmarks. The first extension, “Quick Pin”, has no UI, and is for quickly adding bookmarks to read later. The second extension lets you edit, interactively, all the metadata associated with the bookmark prior to saving it.

My workflow

I developed a new workflow to work with Pinboard, so I don’t end up with a mess of useless bookmarks again. Honestly, though, calling it a workflow is an exaggeration. I basically decided to manage Pinboard with a simple set of rules.

I will continue to use Pinboard both for permanent bookmarks, which mostly involve specific technical documentation about Swift and iOS development, and for a read-it-later service, which are bookmarks I want to keep around temporarily, some of which I plan to keep long term.

  1. Bookmarks I would keep in Safari, for sites I would log into (banking websites, personal websites, blogs, GitHub, BitBucket, etc.), are stored as private bookmarks with tags. All of these bookmarks are also tagged “Safari” so I can pull them all, as a group, with a Pinboard search.
  2. Bookmarks for articles to read later, and everything else, are saved with the “read later” flag set to “true”, primarily by using Pinner’s “Quick Pin” extension or the “send to Pinboard” command within Reeder (my RSS reader app of choice).
  3. I regularly use Pinner or Shiori to browse my “read later” list. Basically, I had to kick the Twitter habit.
  4. After I read articles marked “read later”, I delete the bookmark, or choose to save it. I am pretty ruthless about deleting bookmarks now, which is the opposite of how I used to be. If I don’t read something after a few days, I will just delete it.
  5. Rarely, I will choose to save the bookmark. If I do so, I edit the bookmark’s metadata to remove the “read later” flag and to add keywords and a description. I open copy the first paragraph of the article to the bookmark’s description field, so it’s clear to me later on why I saved it.

So far this workflow has been working well for me. I collect “read later” bookmarks throughout the day, read through them in the evening, and delete almost all of them at the end of the day. My Pinboard bookmarks list is much smaller than before, but contains only good stuff that I want to act on, either now or later.

What would make me upgrade my Series 1 Apple Watch

I love the Apple Watch. I didn’t always, though. When I first tried on a Series 0, a couple weeks before it was released, I quickly made the decision not to buy one. I thought it was too expensive and that it was not immersive enough. I had been expecting an iPhone for the wrist; what it was instead was a wristwatch with some extras. Six months later, however, I relented and bought one, mostly because Target was offering the Space Gray Sport model at a deep discount, and I wanted to pick a holiday gift for myself that my family members could chip in for.

I quickly grew to love the Apple Watch, despite its slow speed and lack of viable third-party applications. The first-party Apple Watch applications alone—such as Messages, Workouts, and Weather—pleased me very much. Caller ID on my watch was great for avoiding telemarketing calls at dinner. Something as simple as having the temperature always available on my watch face far more useful than I had anticipated.

I have a Series 1 now because my Series 0’s screen popped off due to battery swelling after almost two years. Apple covered it under an extended warranty and sent me a Series 1 for free. The Series 1 is much faster than the Series 0, and is not going to be obsoleted by Watch OS 5 in the fall. Still, it isn’t as fast, and consequently as useful, as the Series 3. I fully expect a new Apple Watch model to be released later this year, which will be even faster.

If I still had the Series 0, I had planned to upgrade this year, for increased performance alone. Now that I have the Series 1, I am not so sure. My Series 1 has great battery life, but is starting to show performance problems. Workouts, for example, take a long time to start. Third party apps are still, largely, useless for me, for the same reason. Despite these problems, most of the features of the Apple Watch are still working just fine for me.

The main feature that would tempt me to upgrade, at this point, would be new or better health monitoring features. The idea that the watch could save my life, by monitoring for irregular heartbeats, is very compelling to me. I would welcome and pay for any additional features in that area. If they are confined to newer hardware, I would definitely upgrade to get them. I care more about that sort of thing than I do about increased speed, cellular or GPS connectivity, or (if the rumors are true) a larger display area.

“Recess” and “Good Bones”, or selling the world to my children

There’s more beauty in this world than you can guess

Recently, with the help of someone on Micro.blog and Apple Music, I have turned my family on to the music of Justin Roberts. His band plays children’s music in a power pop style. His music is really catchy, and his lyrics are wry, funny, very kid-friendly (my daughter sings them all the time), and sometimes also play to the parents on emotional level as well.

My favorite Justin Roberts song, by far, is “Recess”. Like the best power pop songs, this song has more hooks and ideas in it than most albums do. The lyrics are cleverly and consistently written from the point of view of a bored kid stuck in a classroom, waiting for the recess bell to ring:

Can’t you hear the blacktop callin’?
Classroom clock is stuck or stallin’
There is nothing that will pass the test
Unless it’s recess

In the second and third pre-chorus endings, the lyrics expand out beyond the tedium of the elementary school classroom to the wonder of the outside world:

One more dotted I
One more crossed T
Then we’ll be runnin’ free
There is more beauty in this world than you can guess

That last line resonates powerfully with me. Seeing the beauty in this world is something children do naturally. I think we forget how to, as we get older, and our knowledge of history and current events expands, and our experience of life evolves from dreaming of what our lives might be to actually living them day-to-day. Our dreams get smaller and more finite as time passes. As we get older still, we relearn to see the beauty, in a different way—with a wonder that is tinged with sadness. As an adult, I see that the splendor and joy of the world is counterbalanced by its disappointments and horrors.

The world is at least fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative estimate, though I keep this from my children

The line “There is more beauty in this world than you can guess” always makes me think of the contrasting sentiment expressed in the poem “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith:

Good Bones
BY MAGGIE SMITH

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

This is a profoundly powerful poem that I read in college and have never forgotten. As an adult and a parent, I return to it often. It has always made me feel, in some way, like a teenager who concludes, upon first entering the adult world, that I have been sold a bill of goods: nothing is as nice or easy or fair as my parents and mentors (and, let’s face it, TV and movies) told me it would be. This poem distills all the disappointment and disillusionment that experience and maturity bring into seventeen simple and somewhat humorous lines. I love how it ends on a note that is somehow both cynical and hopeful: “You could make this place beautiful.”

Selling the world to my children

It’s my job, as a parent, to sell the world to my children. I want to tell them the good—now, while they are young—and the bad—later, when they are older. In both times, now and later, I have to remember that Justin Roberts and Maggie Smith are both right about the world. It contains all the beauty that has any meaning. It also contains all the horrors that have ever befell anyone. The most important thing I have to teach my children is that they can make it better—they just have to try, even after the veil of childhood innocence has fallen, and they see the world for what it really is.

The calm before the WWDC storm

WWDC is in a little more than two weeks. As a hobbyist developer, I don’t go to big, expensive conferences 3,000 miles from my home. But I do eagerly await it each year. Last year I was so excited about it that I went as far as calling it “nerd Christmas”. This year, though, I’m not looking forward to the keynote, the new APIs, the betas, and so on.

There have been no substantive leaks about what will be announced, and no one’s predictions so far have been that compelling. That’s in stark contrast to last year, when I practically knew what iOS 11 would bring to the iPad, based on rumors and speculation. This year, the most exciting leak we got is that a cross-platform macOS/iOS development framework will not be announced this year.

As a user and a fan, I basically want Apple to announce a rebuilding year. iOS 12 should be a maintenance release. They can make their software faster and more stable. They can make Siri a lot better. They can fix bugs. Other than that, I don’t want a radical UI overhauls of any of their operating systems (as if the latter would ever happen). On the hardware side, I’d love to see them refresh the MacBook Pro and iPhone SE sometime this year, but my expectations for an announcement at WWDC are very low.

As a developer, I don’t really want to worry about having to support new frameworks or features. Just upgrading from one iOS framework to the next one can sometimes take days of work before all the kinks are worked out. Even upgrading Xcode to a new major version is, as a Swift developer at least, a little scary. New versions of Xcode have not been stable or bug-free for me since Xcode 8 was released. The recently released Xcode 9.3.1 has been working really well for me, though, and I’m loath to give it up anytime soon. I’d love WWDC to be about Apple fixing the numerous, relatively minor, UIKit bugs that I’ve had to work around, but past history leads me to believe that iOS 12 will just have another set of odd bugs to work around.

Premature Optimization

In programming, there has long been a warning in computer science to avoid premature optimization. Donald Knuth called it “the root of all evil”. I find myself thinking about this all the time—not so much while programming, but when I’m thinking of spending money on myself, or telling people how to spend their money on me, as for birthday or Father’s Day gifts.

I’m at an age now where I have everything I would ever want. But…everything I have could still be a little bit better. To wit:

  • I have awesome headphones that I love. I want better ones. And different ones.
  • I have a home server that is underpowered, but quiet and extremely reliable. I would love one with enough power to could run virtual machines, but I don’t really need it.
  • I have a clicky mechanical keyboard that I love. I want a better one—that lights up, unnecessarily, or has colorful keycaps.
  • I have an Apple wireless keyboard for my Mac. I want to replace it with the Apple Magic keyboard, even though I already have an Apple Magic keyboard for my iPad.
  • I have a Series 1 Apple Watch that I love. I would love, even more, a Faster Series 3.
  • Let’s not even talk about iPads and Macs.

These few things are some of my material obsessions. What they have in common, for me, is that they have all been satisfied by things I already own, upgrading to newer or better versions would cost a lot of money (way more than anyone would spend in a gift for me), and the upgrade would be only marginally better than what I have, so I’m not sure if it would even make me happy.

Despite knowing all this, I can’t stop thinking about upgrading what I have to something better. I always want to optimize my experience with the things I enjoy. But, until the things I have break down and are no longer useful, it is too early to upgrade them. Doing so would be indulging in premature optimization, which be wasteful, which is “the root of all evil” to me.

Someday, my headphones will break, my keyboards won’t be compatible with my computers, my server won’t support the OS I want to run, and Apple won’t support my hardware anymore. That’s when I will upgrade these things—after I have extracted every bit of their value. Until then, I will just daydream about, and feel a little guilty about obsessing about, premature optimization.