New Neuland

In 1994, snafu.de provided my first home connection to the interwebs via a 33.6K (kbits/s) modem. The upgrade to 56K came only a year later, but being a speed freak, I soon abandoned snafu for the German telecom who offered ISDN (128K by channel bonding) and again one year later the first ADSL with 768K. Just two years later again the German telecom managed to piss me off so thoroughly that I quit them right away. I selected QSC as my post-Telekom provider, which was such a lucky choice that I stayed with them almost 20 years, starting with the symmetric 2 Mbit/s SDLS line in 2002 and upgrading to the mainstream ADSL2+ option in 2008. Compared to where we had been just a decade before, the speed offered by this technology was hardly believable. In 2021, however, the speed is lamentable. The upload of 1 Mbit/s is a liability in the time of daily video conferences, and the download of 16 Mbit/s is sorely testing my wife's patience during the many hours it takes to download an eagerly awaited and freshly purchased video game.

It's high time to upgrade, I told myself, and consequently looked at the options available to someone living more or less in the center of the western part of Berlin. I had entertained the hope that when upgrading my connection, FTTH would be available, but as the matter stands the only affordable option is still VDSL. After my experiences with the Telekom, I was reluctant to again enter a relation with them, but I'm not too fond of the other big players (Vodafone, 1&1, O2) either. Fortunately, I've talked to my colleague Jonas about my plans, and he recommended easybell, a small regional provider with a clear focus on customer service. I very much liked what I saw and ordered their super-vectoring VDSL offering 250 Mbit/s down and 40 Mbit/s up. The whole procedure was transparent and very well documented, and the handover went as smoothly as possible: we got disconnected at 15:00, and when I finished setting up the new router at 15:30, it connected right away.

../images/supervectoring.png

Woohoo! Now we're talking. 😎

The new router is a Fritz!Box 7590, and since its producer AVM is also located in Berlin, my internet connection is now a purely regional one. 😉 The 7590 does not support IEEE 802.11ax or Wi-Fi 6, which doesn't really matter for me since I don't have a single device that would support this standard. However, compared to the Fritz!Box 7170 I had before, the increase in wireless speed is impressive, much larger than I had expected. On my ten years old Fujitsu Lifebook, I never saw anything better than 10 Mbit/s with the 7170, but I'm getting a very stable 40 Mbit/s with the 7590. Makes a huge difference when using Mathematica via ssh -Y -C to my desktop: while the interface reacted sluggishly before, it's now downright snappy.

Alas, not all of my devices can actually benefit from the new and shiny wifi: my Nexie won't connect to it, and constitutes the collateral damage of this modernization. Debugging the attempts to connect returned the error message NETWORK_SELECTION_DISABLED_ASSOCIATION_REJECTION, which is caused by the activated “Protected Management Frames” for the login process (on the Fritz!Box: "Unterstützung für geschützte Anmeldungen von WLAN-Geräten (PMF) aktivieren"). Since this feature is required for WPA3 and thus the protection of my entire wireless network, I'm not willing to sacrifice it for one nine years old tablet, even when this tablet happens to be my beloved Nexie. Still, I will miss it, particularly since tablets with this diminutive size have been replaced entirely by phablets, and are not produced any more. And before you're going to argue like 'so-why-not-buying-such-a-phablet': I did exactly that, although for an entirely different reason, which I will disclose in a subsequent post.

Hidden settings

Since I've quit KDE, and desktop environments in general, I'm primarily using applications developed for LXDE, XFCE, and Gnome. I have no problems with the former two, but I keep having conceptual difficulties with the ideologically driven minimalism of the latter. Take file managers and their associated terminal, for example. In PCManFM (LXDE), for example, one can change the associated terminal as expected in the program's preferences. Same in Thunar (XFCE). But of course not in Nautilus (Gnome) or any of its forks such as, for example, Nemo (Cinnamon). All of these “nonessential” settings have been dispelled to dconf, the ‘registry’ of Gnome, which can be accessed either with the dconf-editor or the command-line tool gsettings. For example, the following command changes the terminal associated with nemo to sakura:

gsettings set org.cinnamon.desktop.default-applications.terminal exec 'sakura'

I hope to remember that the next time instead of spending an eternity in the preferences again.

Better annotations

A significant part of my daily work consists of critically reading drafts of publications or project proposals. I usually place hand-written comments on a printout of the respective document and discuss them with the author in my office, but that isn't such a good idea in the time of SARS-CoV-2. We hold these discussions now in video meetings, with the document in question being looked at together by sharing someones screen showing an annotated pdf. Now, I'm using evince to annotate pdfs, and didn't like the fact that all annotations seem to come from ‘Unknown’. In principle, that can be changed by editing the author in the annotation's properties, but I certainly would not have enjoyed doing that for each of the 80+ comments I had made for the present manuscript.

Alas, the official help told me that setting a different default author would not be possible. And that seemed final, since it came from the most authoritative source – the developers themselves. But I finally found a surprisingly simple solution in the place where, at this time, I had expected it least: the ArchWiki.. Shouldn't the developers know that evince looks into /etc/passwd? In any case, a simple

usermod -c “Deus ex machina” cobra

ensured that my comments would be now easily distinguishable from those of the other coauthors.

Fast, faster, M1?

I should have created a category called “Modern advertisement techniques” or “How-the-media-manipulate-us-to-help-Apple-selling-its-products”. The crude attempts of the tabloid press are so glaringly obvious to anybody that they are more amusing than anything else. What I find far more disconcerting is the subtle approach one encounters in media of higher standard. At first the occasional inaccuracy or omission seems innocuous enough, but after a while it becomes clear that all of these apparent oversights and mishaps are invariably in favor of Apple, establishing an act of framing, deliberate or not. Here is one and here is another example of what I'm talking about.

Now, in June Apple announced that they are going to switch from Intel to ARM, and in November they announced the Apple M1 system-on-chip with their usual vastly exaggerated grandiose claims (3×, 6×, 15× faster!!!). One doesn't have to be the oracle of Delphi to predict the resulting media circus and the ever higher flying expectations based on nothing but hype.

Finally, some meaningful benchmarks (Cinebench R23) in c't 26/2020. Before examining and evaluating the numbers, here are two quotes from this issue:

p. 36 (Bit-Rauschen) Beim 15-W-Typ Ryzen 5000U wird es jedenfalls spannend, ob er zumindest bei Multithreading Apples-ARM-Renner M1 einholt und somit die x86-Ehre rettet.

p. 44 (Alles M1!) In der Single-Core-Performance enteilt der aktiv gekühlte M1 [...] allen bisherigen Mobilprozessoren der 15- bis 45-Watt-Klasse [...]. In der Multi-Core-Wertung sortiert er sich zwischen den 45-Watt-Mobil-CPUs Core i7-10750H (6300 Punkte) und Ryzen5 4600H (8370 Punkte) ein [...].

Now, these statements very clearly imply that the performance of the M1 surpasses that of any currently available 15-W mobile processor, wouldn't you say so?

Let's compare the single/multithreaded Cinebench R23 scores [1] of Intel's TigerLake top model and three Ryzen 7 4000U with those of the M1:

i7-1185G7               1538/6264
4700U                   1184(1218)/6874(7269)
M1                      1514(1517)/7760(7786)
4750U                   1184/8088
4800U                   1235/10156

As you can see, Apple has come up with a highly competitive chip offering a single-core performance on par with the 1185G7, and a multi-core performance just between the 4700U and the 4750U. But neither do we need a 45-W-CPU, nor the upcoming Ryzen 5000U to leave the M1 far behind in terms of multi-core performance: the 4800U does that well enough. And that's what I would have liked to read in an objective summary of the M1 instead of the distorted statements above.

The M1 is the first ARM-based processor that offers competitive performance for desktop applications. Is that the end of Intel and AMD? The loss of Apple as a major client may seem like an enormous loss for Intel, but actually it's a rather insignificant one, and some even believe it to be beneficial for them. Moreover, the M1 currently only runs on Apple hard- and software, resulting in a correspondingly small market share. More alarming, particularly for AMD with their hopes to break the dominance of Intel processors in data center and high-performance computing applications, is the current development of ARM-based server processors offering high performance for an affordable price. Remember when Linux-based x86 boxes replaced SPARC, MIPS, PA-RISC, and Power PC workstations running Solaris, IRIX, HP-UX, and AIX? That's just 11 years ago. Perhaps we are witnessing an analogous transition right now.

[1] A very similar comparison can be found, by the way, in the current issue of c't (Apfel-Alternativen, c't 1/2021, p.109). The values here are taken from cpu-monkey.com, and the ones in parentheses are from c't. If you have an older processor and would like to compare, chances are good that you find it in the comprehensive, community-compiled list at computerbase.de.

Bad mojo

There are many examples of companies that didn't last very long after having been acquired by IBM. In a process called blue washing, IBM replaces the processes, corporate culture and philosophy of the new acquisition with those of its own. This routine inevitably leads to the complete assimilation and absorption of the company's original identity until nothing is left of it.

It is thus no surprise that IBM's spectacular takeover of Redhat in 2018 was met with considerable scepticism and sometimes outright concern. And rightly so: a few days ago Redhat announced the end of CentOS as we know it. Ironically, those who recently upgraded from CentOS 7 to CentOS 8 to get support until 2029 instead of 2024 now have only one year left.

CentOS Stream is not a viable replacement for the most common use case of CentOS, namely, running software suites certified for Redhat as I've described previously on this blog (part I, part II). New distributions filling the gap that CentOS will leave have been announced (Rocky Linux, Project Lenix), and we will see if and when they materialize, and how long they last. In the meantime, I'm glad that I generally avoided Linux distributions with a commercial background.