Insightful Or Obvious?

A friend just passed this interview along, and it got me thinking. Every so often, this sort of thing pops up on my radar: lone individual / tiny group doing things on their own rather than using the commonly available mass-produced thing, and they’re doing it for Reasons. I find something seductive in these stories. Self-sufficiency, exercising one’s own creativity, building just exactly the thing one wants or needs, these are really powerful juice. Heck, the QBCPS does this all the time, because we want what we want and we aren’t happy about settling for almost good, so we build things and make things so that we have the lives we want, not the lives we can buy. (Incidentally, this is why when our house and nearly all our belongings burned up in a fire, we’re fundamentally okay — we are not defined by our stuff.)

So, then, I read an article about Lojban, or about living self-sufficiently (or nearly so) in a tiny house or on a boat or in an RV or something, or about someone who writes all their own programs and builds their own solar panels or whatever, and I feel pulled to that. And then I come to my senses. Because the feeling of being creative like that is really seductive, but the reasons given in the story (or even in this essay) are never really the reasons. They’re rationalizations of the feeling. The reason we do this stuff is because it feels good; because we like it.

The mass-produced, widely available, almost-good products are not emotionally satisfying. But they have massive network externalities. They interoperate with one another. There’s a globe-enveloping ecosystem of human stuff that all works together. Building a thing that doesn’t plug into that ecosystem is a huge amount of work, and whatever benefits you reap from that work are either massively delayed or else they’re highly personal.

I have this feeling that this might be applicable to the development of the civilization package (writing, sedentism, hierarchy, agriculture,…) but that’s way more work than I’m prepared to do on the topic. Instead, I’m just going to appreciate that there are people doing their own things, rolling their own tech, and know that it’s okay for me not to participate in their stuff; that I’ve got stuff of my own.

Programmer’s Notebook – Ruby

I’ve been using MacOS as my desktop and development environment for the past 19 years. Whenever I got a new laptop, I’d use the migration assistant to copy my user settings over. So, I’ve got a lot of cruft in my home directory. Over that time I mostly did Java programming. But, there’s also been a bit of Perl, and I dabbled in Python for a hot second. More recently, it’s been Flutter, and most recently of all, Swift. And last OS update switched me from bash to zsh, so there’s just a huge .zshrc in my home directory. Oh yeah, and I came to OS X from FreeBSD by way of Linux, so before Homebrew won, I mostly used ports to install stuff.

So today: fastlane. It’s cool, it promises to automate some vital yet tedious tasks, most especially taking screenshots for the app store. That’s great, but it’s ruby. Ruby ships with Mac OS, but that’s kind of down-rev and the latest packages don’t like it. I have never done ruby programming, but I’ve installed tools (which ones? when? who can remember?) that required it and so there were weird traces of a ruby version manager, and maybe some kind of gem manager, so that fastlane couldn’t admit that it was completely installed or runnable or that maybe snapshots were even a thing, or that, hey, is ruby even installed on this computer?

After I kid you not, 14 solid hours of trying things that worked but broke other stuff, I’ve finally got fastlane to admit that it works.

  1. Some tool needed to be removed entirely. rvm? rbenv? Dunno, but I had to invoke it with implode which made me feel a little better.
  2. Everyone in the world thinks that ruby version 3.0.0 is the thing to use. Except fastlane, which wants to use rexml, which is no longer bundled with ruby 3.0.0. There was something else broken with version 3, but I can’t remember what it was — it was way harder to solve than just installing rexml. Anyway, stick to version 2.7.2. Oh yeah, bundle couldn’t resolve ruby version dependencies.
  3. Homebrew says that rbenv, which delegates to ruby-build, installs openssl 1.1 but doesn’t ever patch it and it does so per ruby environment. So, if you want a patched openssl and you only want one instead of however many ruby versions you’ve got, you should provide a compiler flag to tell ruby-build about the Homebrew version. Don’t do this, because ruby won’t compile.


Stumpy is ready for use, for anyone who wants to use it. If you’re working on an application that sends email and you’d like to test that feature, you may find this useful.

In other news, searching for “pop3 client library” leads me to believe that every developer for macOS thinks that Apple Mail is the absolute bees knees and there’s just no reason anyone would want to receive email in any other way. Unless maybe they wanted to use python. Which is just mystifying to me, because come on!

Stumpy Progress

With a bit of persistence and lots of print statements, I’ve debugged my port of the core dumbster features over to Swift. Stumpy now works as a native replacement for dumbster. It turned out there was a capitalization mismatch (my code was looking for ‘Message-ID’ while Mail was writing ‘Message-Id’) and a counting error (headers and body are supposed to be separated by a blank line, and that means two successive \r\n tuples: the first to terminate the last line of the headers and the second to terminate the blank line).

So now that that’s complete, it’s time to turn my attention to the UI. Rather than independently starting and stopping the servers, I think I’d like to start and stop both servers for a given mail store together. Also, I want the UI to report how many messages are currently in the mail store. All of this information should go together into a mail store view, which gets displayed by the top level view.

Stumpy: History and Problem Statement

When we were first writing the software for LinkedIn, Jean-Luc put together a python script that would act like a dummy MTA and mail store. The point was that the application was going to be sending out emails of various kinds, notably invitations to connect, and we needed to be able to write tests that would verify that feature (the emails are well-formed, they actually get sent, etc.) without sending real messages to real email accounts. This was incredibly valuable.

Years later I was contracting at NASA, working on a system that, again, generated emails. I wanted to institute some kind of automated testing, and tried to come up with a similar tool for use there. I found out that I’m allergic to python but I found a Java program that did half of what I wanted – it would pretend to be sendmail and accept any emails and just stuff them into an in-memory store. I forked it and modified it to add a POP3 server so that the application could generate and send the emails and then a tester could open the email with Outlook or Apple Mail or whatever and then click included links or open attached files, etc.

Even later, I modified that program by putting a JavaFX graphical UI on top, and letting you spin up multiple corresponding SMTP/POP3 server pairs. The point, that time, was that I was working on a play-by-email server and I wanted to have the server and clients all talking to each other via email but still on my development machine. As a responsible software developer, I do not make a practice of turning untested robots loose on the world.

The problem that I have with the program as it stands is, well, there are a few problems. First, it’s in Java; Apple has stopped treating Java like a first-class citizen of the desktop, and it’s getting harder and harder to convince a JavaFX app to build, let alone to act like a Mac app. Second, it takes way too much in the way of computer resources. When it’s running, my laptop gets hot and the battery drops. It’s awesome to have the tool, but it gets like 1 kiloflop per hogshead of diesel. I feel like it should be possible to do better, and I feel like the problem lies in JavaFX. Third, I’m trying to learn Swift and SwiftUI so that I can write native applications. This feels like an opportunity.

In about 1991, someone I knew made a pun around “Ren & Stimpy” being like rn and SMTP and that has stuck with me. So, I’m porting dumbster from Java to Swift, and that involves changing the name. Thus, I dub the new project, “Stumpy.”

Concurrency, Closures, and SwiftUI on Mac OS X


I want to get some clarity about how to use GCD and closures to handle dispatching work between multiple contexts. This is something I’m very familiar with in Java, but not at all in Swift (let alone, using SwiftUI). Inspired by a cartoon that appeared in The New Yorker many years ago, Barkin’ Dogs represents the conversation that happens when two dogs get excited.

Continue reading “Concurrency, Closures, and SwiftUI on Mac OS X”

Stupid Computer Tricks

In the late 1990s I had a static IP address, DSL, and my own domain. I got my email delivered to a PC running FreeBSD that I had built out of components I bought at Fry’s Electronics and which lived in my living room, right next to the other PC I’d built out of components and which I used for playing video games. The DSL modem was a little flaky (or maybe it was the line) and so from time to time, I’d have to turn it off and turn it on again in order to have actual connectivity to the world.

What’s the solution to a problem with shitty technology? More shitty technology! I got a switchable power supply with a serial port that I could plug into the server. I plugged the modem’s power cord into the power supply. I wrote a script (can’t remember now if it was a shell script or if there was a CPAN module to communicate with the power supply that meant it was easier to use Perl) that would attempt to ping Google and, if that failed, it would turn off the modem’s outlet and then turn it back on. I added a cron job that ran the script every five minutes. Problem solved, eh?

Today I saw a tweet where the poster confessed that they had a problem necessitating rebooting the wifi router. So they created an Alexa skill for “turn off the router” and another for “turn on the router” and how, whoops, Alexa can’t recognize and then do a thing if there’s no Internet.

Once again, I’m thinking that for all the horrors of the Bush/Clinton/Bush years, things were better last century.

It’s A Mess

Last night, apparently, there was an entertainment broadcast to the world – the first Trump – Biden debate of 2020. Surprising precisely no-one, the president said awful things and behaved badly. But that’s not what I’m thinking about, right now.

On my Twitter feed this morning, I saw lots of gasping and horror tweets from last night. And the other things I saw were people who didn’t spend the evening in front of the television talking about how they were doing okay, having spent time with their dogs, or made some dinner, or done other things that made them feel good about themselves.

And here’s the thing: all the moaning people were ones who were not actively engaged in self-care. Instead, they were watching TV. And what were they watching? Not a story that got them imagining a different world, nor a morality play that told them who they were. No, they were watching a parody of a conversation, in which no surprises occurred. If, on Saturday, you’d asked anyone (not a pundit, because they’re paid not to think) what would happen during the event, you’d have gotten a perfect run-down. And the moaning tweeters were saying that they were watching this event because it was somehow important to the functioning of the apparatus of government, or maybe the culture of the nation.

I think that’s wrong. I think that what really happened is, TV just got people to volunteer to suffer for hours rather than do something life-affirming like make delicious curry or play with their dogs. Sure, sure, the politicians are horrible, and some are way more horrible than others, and voting the bastard out is really important. But you know what else is important? You. You are important. Your sanity, your happiness, and your life are important. And you are more precious than TV. A moment of reflection will show you that TV doesn’t care about you at all; there is no good reason for you to care about it. It will not save you.

Turn off the idiot box. Starve the attention seekers. Take care of yourself.

Rebuilding – Signaling

I spent the day in Santa Cruz, yesterday. I had several errands to run, most of which were uninteresting, but one which turned out to be fascinating. Since I had to be in the area for a medical appointment, I thought that I’d drop by the arena, where a bunch of county departments and some disaster relief organizations have set up tables to be available to help folks affected by the fires. I hadn’t been by before, since we evacuated to our moms’ place and we weren’t in desperate need of anything. We have resources, and we wanted to let other folks with smaller margins get the help they needed. That visit to the arena has given me a lot to think about.

For starters, how about this: we have a builder already lined up, and he’s raring to go. He wants to get debris removed, a site survey done, and permits applied for so that when the rains stop and it’s time to start construction, he can get right to work. This is awesome! But we can’t start debris removal until the site has been cleared of hazardous materials. This makes sense — we don’t want to be dumping hazmat into the regular landfill. So who’s doing the hazmat clearing? The federal (not state) EPA. When will they do this? Well, they’re showing up this week, and they reckon they should have the whole county done in six to eight weeks. (Just in time for the rainy season to start.) Okay, but do I apply for my debris removal permit now? No, one must wait until the site has been cleared by the hazmat team before one may apply for a permit. Okay, how will I know that my site has been cleared? After all, it could be the first site cleared, or the last — do you want me to just keep asking you guys every day? Um.

And this is where signaling comes in. We know that the USEPA is going to be doing the hazardous debris removal, so they are the ones who will send some sort of signal that a property has been done, but we don’t know what that signal is, nor how we should be checking for it. Other than that they’ll post some kind of notice at the property to say that they’re done with it. One hopes that there will be a less onerous status check than driving 3 hours round trip every day to go look for a piece of paper.