August Cometh, And I'm Cool With It (for a change)

I finally have air conditioning in the office as of last Monday and it’s been a mixed bag, for many reasons I shall henceforth gripe about a bit before moving to slightly more fun things. But the general mood is of resigned, even exhausted, quiet, even as work trudges on.

Unusually Interrupted Supply

First and foremost, the workmen caused a few circuit breakers to pop, and my main UPS (an APC 950VA affair) died while protecting my Synology NAS and the rest of my server closet, nearly a year to the day since the warranty expired.

APC support told me it doesn’t make the right noises and wanted me to take it somewhere out in the wilderness to a “partner” to have it checked (which is not going to happen during a pandemic), so I ordered a new one. After disinfecting nearly half of the house, which took forever.

Since Amazon refuses to ship anything with batteries to Portugal, I had to resort to a well-regarded local retailer, but they only had the model with Shucko plugs instead of the usual IEC ones, and as it turns out the thing has an infuriatingly short cable (the IEC one has a removable power cord).

A couple of hours re-routing cables and swapping IEC ones for “civilian” variants later, everything seems OK, and I’ve set a reminder to periodically check the UPS battery status (as well as finding a way to monitor the office UPS, which lacks an USB cable).

Another thing that broke was my office touchscreen console (powered by a Raspberry Pi whose SD card clearly didn’t enjoy being shut down abruptly), so I spent a bit putting together an Ansible playbook to do 90% of the obscure config bits (it’s all backed up via restic and was restored in around 5 minutes, but I keep forgetting how to set up screen rotation, unclutter, kiosk mode and whatnot).

Incidentally, here’s my autostart file, which starts chromium-browser pointing to a local Node-RED instance:

@unclutter -idle 0 -root
@xsetroot -cursor_name dotbox
@sed -i 's/"exited_cleanly": false/"exited_cleanly": true/' ~/.config/chromium/Default/Preferences
@sed -i 's/"exit_type":"Crashed"/"exit_type":"Normal"/' ~/.config/chromium/Default/Preferences
@chromium-browser --noerrdialogs --kiosk http://127.0.0.1:1880 --incognito --disable-translate --disable-infobars

Just stick it inside ~/.config/lxsession/LXDE-pi, and you’re good to go.

Noise

Hammer Time seems set to continue throughout Summer, so I’m still effectively unable to work full-time in the office, but when I managed to have a couple of quiet hours to enjoy the newfound cool, I found that the AC was… noisy.

Not too noisy, but certainly above what I’m used to. I like to work in either absolute silence (which is why I am so fond of fanless devices and thin clients) or listening to music, and find even “quiet” laptop fan noises distracting, let alone the muted blower-style, clicking and whirring noises the AC feels the need to put out when starting.

But having 23°C indoors instead of 27°C-29°C made it possible to actually think, so… I guess it’s an improvement?

Home Automation

Of course I’m trying to automate the AC (and fiddling with Mitsubishi IR codes to do so), but in the meantime I found that a bunch of my ZigBee sensors seem to be running low on batteries, which is kind of expected (some of them are over two years old), and all the dashboards/UI stuff I built is in need of a revamp.

I’m still maintaining my own Node-RED images and everything’s been holding up amazingly well across years of incremental updates, but I haven’t actually improved things (and usability) for a good while.

So rather than adding yet another stack of low-priority things to my to-dos, I’m going to start pruning and getting rid of the stuff I just don’t use often enough so I have time to improve the bits I do use.

Less is more, right? Or maybe I’m just too swamped with stuff and need to prioritise. Either is good at this point…

Catalina

After considerable resistance, most of the Macs in the house (and all of mine) now run Catalina, which has proven to be every bit the mixed bag everyone else has been putting up with since last year.

Although I keep getting the odd security prompt to approve the use of notifications or filesystem access, that hasn’t been as bad as I expected (and only one of my long-term favourite apps broke, but not without an alternative).

And I can now fiddle with Swift UI if I can ever find the time (my eldest is way ahead of me in iOS development right now after my finally having convinced him that he needed to look beyond Objective-C , and I need to keep up).

Most of my dev setup appears to have survived unscathed, although to be fair neither vim nor Visual Studio Code are exactly high maintenance1. But I did remove all my Visual Studio for Mac installs, since they’re useless for container development anyway.

The most irritating thing so far is that I get prompted to approve administrative actions (like moving a new app to Applications) by double-clicking the button on my Apple Watch, and it never works.

I believe that is because the user I log in as is not an administrative user and I need to enter an actual admin password, and that kind of escalation doesn’t align with Apple‘s worldview on how people use their machines. As usual.

But, overall, now it seems to be OK. The world didn’t end (well, not yet at least).

Nothing critical broke. My zsh setup (which I started using last year) required one more tweak that I need to propagate to my Linux machines (for consistency’s sake).

The only thing of relevance that the upgrade complained about was ZeroTier, which I installed way back when I rolled my own game server, and the only thing that “broke” and required a reinstall was MsgFiler (which, sadly, still does not support dark mode at all).

Surprisingly, MenuMeters still works after all these years (thank goodness). All I had to do was manually relaunch it once, and everything was golden.

I did have a complete “whiteout” on my MacBook as I was replying to an e-mail message (the entire WindowServer crashed and landed me back at the login screen), but no reproducible issues.

Yet.

Update: I’m having consistent trouble with Bluetooth peripherals on my iMac: My Magic Mouse “freezes” or stutters while moving, and sometimes keys get “stuck” and repeat during high CPU loads. Definitely not happy about this, it is extremely frustrating and already caused me a great deal of grief while using the Terminal.


  1. Actually, VS Code has too frequent updates for my liking, so I’m seriously considering going back to an old-timey, fully native code editor. The jury’s still out on which one, though. ↩︎

Another Slice of Time

Weeks are currently composed of sets of five Mondays and two Sundays during which we alternatively try to work amidst a hail of calls, hammering and heat or try to keep the house moderately clean, so despite there having been quite a lot going on I haven’t managed to do much of interest of late.

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Standing Desk Hackery

Sitting at my desk for hours on end is starting to take a toll in terms of posture and neck aches, so I decided to embark on the Grand Standing Desk Experiment over the past few weeks.

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Remote Productivity Challenges

Remember when I wrote about recommendations for remote work? Well, I think it’s time for an update for that, on at least three counts.

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Outside

A quick snapshot before sunset, just as we were heading back.

This is the first photo I posted here for the entirety of 2020, which speaks volumes where it regards how the pandemic has changed things.

We left the house for the first time in four months, drove to a secluded location in Alentejo so that the kids could see their grandparents and spent a few hours in the sweltering heat. Were it not for the 38oC temperature and lack of sustained bandwidth, it would be the perfect place to spend the next three months.

Pretty much as expected, we spotted very few people wearing masks in Lisbon, and more than a few merry groups (cyclists stopping at cafes, etc.) along the way.

120-ish Days Later

It’s been a long while since I last wrote about my state of mind during the pandemic and almost as long since I posted some data, so I think this is somewhat overdue. And since today is also the last day of our fiscal year and I’m done with work for a few hours, I might as well use them for something that matters.

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