Below are the five most recent posts in my weblog. You can also see a chronological list of all posts, dating back to 1999.

I've been using a Mac day-to-day since around 2014, initially as a refreshing break from the disappointment I felt with GNOME3, but since then a few coincidences have kept me on the platform. Something happened earlier in the year that made me start to think about a move back to Linux on the desktop. My next work hardware refresh is due in March next year, which gives me about nine months to "un-plumb" myself from the Mac ecosystem. From the top of my head, here's the things I'm going to have to address:

  • the command modifier key (⌘). It's a small thing but its use on the Mac platform is very consistent, and since it's not used at all within terminals, there's never a clash between window management and terminal applications. Compared to the morass of modifier keys on Linux, I will miss it. It's possible if I settle on a desktop environment and spend some time configuring it I can get to a similarly comfortable place. Similarly, I'd like to stick to one clipboard, and if possible, ignore the select-to-copy, middle-click-to-paste one entirely. This may be an issue for older software.

  • The Mac hardware trackpad and gestures are honestly fantastic. I still have some residual muscle memory of using the Thinkpad trackpoint, and so I'm weaning myself off the trackpad by using an external thinkpad keyboard with the work Mac, and increasingly using a x61s where possible.

  • SizeUp. I wrote about this in useful mac programs. It's a window management helper that lets you use keyboard shortcuts to move move and resize windows. I may need something similar, depending on what desktop environment I settle on. (I'm currently evaluating Awesome WM).

  • 1Password. These days I think a password manager is an essential piece of software, and 1Password is a very, very good example of one. There are several other options now, but sadly none that seem remotely as nice as 1Password. Ryan C Gordon wrote 1pass, a Linux-compatible tool to read a 1Password keychain, but it's quite raw and needs some love. By coincidence that's currently his focus, and one can support him in this work via his Patreon.

  • Font rendering. Both monospace and regular fonts look fantastic out of the box on a Mac, and it can be quite hard to switch back and forth between a Mac and Linux due to the difference in quality. I think this is a mixture of ensuring the font rendering software on Linux is configured properly, but also that I install a reasonable selection of fonts.

I think that's probably it: not a big list! Notably, I'm not locked into iTunes, which I avoid where possible; Apple's Photo app (formerly iPhoto) which is a bit of a disaster; nor Time Machine, which is excellent, but I have a backup system for other things in place that I can use.

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An update for my post on Western Digital Hard Drive head parking: disabling the head-parking completely stopped the Load_Cycle_Count S.M.A.R.T. attribute from incrementing. This is probably at the cost of power usage, but I am not able to assess the impact of that as I'm not currently monitoring the power draw of the NAS (Although that's on my TODO list).

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I stumbled across some information about pathological behaviour of Western Digital Green (and some Red) hard drives relating to drive-head parking when the device is idle.

In some circumstances, a particular pattern of drive activity can result in the drive head being repeatedly parked and un-parked in short intervals, possibly* resulting in excess wear on the drive. Apparently* the drive head parking is recorded in the S.M.A.R.T. "Load Cycle Count" attribute.

I have two WD Red drives in my NAS, one for live data and one for backup. The latter drive is basically unused most of the day until scheduled backup jobs kick in and those jobs are all clustered together. I already unmount the backup filesystems when the jobs are not active (I wrote about this in mount-on-demand backups).

Inspecting the S.M.A.R.T. attributes was surprising:

drive power on hours load cycle count
regular 12143 348
backup 12191 13043

It certainly looks like my backup drive has a much higher load cycle count than you might expect for a mostly-idle drive. I checked the attributes again 24 hours later and the regular drive had incremented by a single cycle, whilst the backup drive went up by 56.

There are some official tools from Western Digital that makes an adjustment to the idle timeouts for head parking on the drives. There's also an unofficial tool idle3tcl to do the same, which is packaged in Debian. The unofficial tool let you set and fetch a particular value from the drive firmware. I don't know for sure* that the official tool does exactly the same thing, and nothing else. One advantage of the unofficial tool is it lets you read the value as well as write it.

I tried the unofficial tool to get the drive's default value, which was 0x8a, and bump it to the maximum of 0xff. I then tried the official tool then fetched the value again: interestingly the official tool had reset the value back to 0x8a. I haven't managed to assess the impact of these changes on the attrition rate yet because I need to perform a cold boot for the change to take effect and that isn't convenient just now.

My plan is to try and disable the feature completely via the unofficial tool. If that rectifies the issue I will then investigate changing the power management settings by hand at backup start/end time, perhaps via hdparm.

( The problem with these kind of issues is there is precious little in the way of reliable documentation as to the real issue, real drive behaviour, etc. I've marked a few sections of this blog post with * asterisks to indicate where we are having to make informed guesses. )

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My wife and I have read about minimalism. I plan to write about it.

For a while now, I've wanted to increase my frequency of blogging. I've got roughly 24 draft posts which I haven't finished writing, stretching back to at least 2009, and several other topics that I haven't even begun to write about but have something in the back of my mind which I'd like to express. I have been self-censoring to an extent for two reasons:

  • I'd been publishing my blog posts (or links to them) elsewhere, in particular on Facebook, and I felt discouraged from writing on topics that I thought would not be interesting to many of those who I am connected to on Facebook (school friends, etc.)

  • I used twitter, and expressed shorter ideas there instead.

Neither of these are good enough reasons to do so: in the case of Facebook, I make very little use of it, and if people didn't find my posts interesting they can mute me, block me or ignore them. In the case of Twitter, my interest in it as a platform has waned since they have made it increasingly difficult to interact with them as a developer. I've given up trying to archive my own tweets, and so on longer think of it as a good place to express anything in isolation.

Going forward I'm going to make an effort to ignore their influence on me.

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