GAS, FOMO, or an embarrassment of riches?

Beginning of next year, I’ll officially retire. Which means that from then on, I’ll have much less income compared to what I’ve had during the last years, or even now. And when a friend from Paris recently mentioned that he was thinking about building a new computer for himself “which will have to last a few years” as he said, I started thinking about my own one.

I have a self-built computer (all of ours are, except the notebooks) based upon a “Haswell” processor, which was Intel’s internal code name for their 4th generation Core series. To be more precise, it’s the Intel Core i5-4460. That CPU together with 16GB of RAM sits on an Asus Z97M-Plus Micro-ATX mainboard, is cooled by some top-blowing Scythe Shuriken, and inside a very nice (with a thick aluminium! front plate) Antec 2480 case.

I’m running mostly Debian Linux, and for looking at newer stuff, I also often dual-boot into Arch Linux. On Debian I have set the CPU ‘governor’ profile to ‘performance’, which means that it’s always running at 3.2GHz (on Arch it’s mostly at 800MHz) – that’s because Ardour, my main program or ‘application’ as they are called nowadays complains if you don’t use a real-time kernel, and the CPU at ‘performance’ mode.

And while running Ardour together with some Sonarworks headphone correction software does make use of that older processor a bit, I’m far from really demanding anything of it – the CPU Usage in these cases stays around 25-30% as long as I don’t use lots of plugins in each channel/track of the DAW (digital audio workstation). While reading internet pages in a browser, or while writing, the CPU is kind of bored as you could say, and I’m also far from using much of the RAM as you can see on my partly screenshot from conky:

(Part of) conky on my computer

So I’m kind of very happy with that machine, and I doubt if I need more than that. Okay, when making videos I sometimes wait for it a bit, but as you can see, in the vast majority of times, my computer waits for me rather than vice versa.

So why am I thinking about a new one? Is that because of GAS, or FOMO? Funny side note about that term of ‘GAS’: it doesn’t have an English Wikipedia page, only German, Spanish, French, and Portuguese ones – although the term is cited to come from the late Walter Becker of Steely Dan fame…

No, it’s the thought my Parisian friend had, about “having to last for a while”. As you can see from the link to my CPU, it was discontinued in 2017, and also the mainboard, RAM, and everything else including that wonderful case aren’t available any more (which is sad, because some things like nice *and* small computer cases are vanishing at frightening and accelerating paces, with a downward spiral of ‘cheaper’ ruining most of the quality we were used to in my opinion).

So what would I do if my computer fails, and I won’t have much of an income any more? Well, yes, using an older notebook with a dual core Celeron and only 2GB of RAM, or even my mobile phone. Both of these would be more than good enough to read internet news (who does still know that term?), or for ‘surfing on the internet’ (and who does still know that book?) – but to work a bit on Wikiloops, or to make music with Ardour? I could forget about this…

And that is why I’m thinking about building a new computer for myself, although I have a wonderful and perfectly fine working one right now. So it’s hopefully not an ‘embarrassment of riches‘ in this case, and also no gear acquisition syndrome.

So what *am I* thinking about?

Well during the beginning of this year, it was my wife who had the oldest machine in the house, and a close relative had no working computer at all. So we gave her old Core Duo away for free, and I built her what at that point in time I would also have built for myself – a machine based upon an AMD Ryzen 7 5700G processor on an Asus (full ATX-sized) mainboard, with 32GB or RAM (both double the size and speed of mine), and a 2TB M.2 SSD. So, this one:

AMD Ryzen 7 5700G processor

This one is already kind of ‘old’ as well now, since later this month, AMD will start selling the next generation which they call the Ryzen 7000 series. These will *all* have graphics cores, so the 8-core equivalent processor to the one above will be the Ryzen 7 7700X I guess. And my friend from Paris even talked about getting a Ryzen 9 one (so with 12 or 16 cores). Perfectly fine, except that they will cost quite a bit more then the outgoing 5000 series, and also demand newer and also more costly mainboards (with at least a B650 chipset, these will be introduced on October 4th), and also with DDR5 RAM instead of DDR4 (or my DDR3).

So which one to get, that is the said question? Keep it cheap and cheerful with “Zen3”, or wait and pay quite a bit more for the newer “Zen4” one? Both options would be better than to go with Intel and their ill-named “Intel 7” architecture which in fact is still based on a 10nm process (and I hate liars and marketing people who just “pretty up” (non-)facts). Zen3 is 7 *real* nanometers, Zen4 will be 5nm, an architecture as small as the one on iPhones. Take that, Intel – and of course this will again help in saving energy as well (while our machines are waiting for us).

Keep that last bracket in mind – most of the time, the *vast* majority of time, computers are waiting for us, and not vice versa. Which means that a *faster* computer will be waiting *faster* for you and me, idling at higher clock speeds, consuming more power – for nothing. So yes, energy efficiency is a big point for me (us) – we never bought or built machines with dedicated graphics cards for instance, since first we’re no gamers (and for any 3D games Zuleikha also has a Nintendo Switch), secondly because these graphics cards would also be idling most of the time, and *when* being used, these consume up to 300 Watts – for comparison, my machine while waiting for me in the picture above takes slightly over 30 Watts (the processor has a TDP of 88W), and Mitchie’s machine is around 20 Watts doing the same (her processor has a TDP of 65W). That’s still more than a good notebook would take, but well…

So while Intel’s processors caught up a bit, mostly due to improvements in the Linux kernel as a recent article on Phoronix shows, they are still drawing up to 240 Watts out of your wall socket even without any graphics cards – so they’re out of the question. The Zen4 processors start at 105W TDP, mostly – I guess – because they want to catch up with Intel’s brute power single core results, don’t know if I’d really need that. But of course, 5nm against 7nm for Zen3, so in theory while doing the same, the newer ones should take less power. Guess I’ll have to wait for the first benchmarks and comparison tests, so until October. Earlier ones will be made on X670 mainboards which are simply overkill for most of us (except maybe some gamers, or whom are they going to impress with that kind of overbuilding things?).

Time to steer back a bit in my humble opinion, and to think about what we really need. Normal ‘web surfing’ is best done on mobile phones since quite a while, notebooks are way more efficient than desktop computers, and the latter ones could be made to other standards than pure and max power performance I think…

Plus, the maximum efficiency is of course only achieved when using your computer(s) as long as you can. Which means that for me – inflation also considered – I should perhaps lay some money on the side for later; not for now. And if ‘later’ means that I wouldn’t be able to buy a Zen3 (or Ryzen 5000) machine anymore – well that’s the way things are going; can’t change much of that. Plus, who knows, maybe there still *are* improvements which are good for us all?

Like always, thanks for reading.

P.S.: I just read on ZDNet (one of the better online magazines) about Linus Torvalds and his M2 MacBook Air and self-built home computers… very interesting, very much my thoughts – except that I definitely wouldn’t need an AMD Threadripper 😉

P.P.S.: above thought about laying some money aside and to wait and see how long mine will keep working is exactly what Mitchie proposed – sounds clever to me 😉

Sustainability & privacy

The problems that we all have with our “smart” mobile phones are two-fold – first, their vendors decide on how long you can use them with their support, second, they spy on you, me, and us all.

I wrote about the first problem lately, with Zuleikha’s Google Pixel 3a being supported until recently. It still runs Android 12 which is newer than what the vast majority of people have on their phones (according to Google’s stats), but it won’t get the next version 13 or any further security updates, thus it will be increasingly insecure.

There are mostly two alternative operating systems to remedy that, namely LineageOS and /e/ which is also based on LineageOS (and both are based upon the Android Open Source Project, or short AOSP). The differences between these are mostly that LineageOS by itself doesn’t use Google services (if you don’t install them), and is a bit harder to install especially for beginners, while /e/ comes with microG services which mostly replace Google’s services (which spy on you). There’s also a fork of LineageOS with microG, keep that in mind as well.

About that ‘spying’ and privacy part: here are two videos in German which concentrate a bit more on that part, and less on the sustainability aspect, so the first one also mentions GrapheneOS and CalyxOS, two alternatives in regard of security rather than longevity:

Entgoogletes Android dank Calyx, /e/, Lineage, Graphene & Volla | Custom-ROMs im Test
Android ohne Spionage (CC2tv Folge 315)

So yes, both GrapheneOS and CalyxOS run fine – on Pixel devices as long as these are supported by Google. But if the sustainability *and* the security aspects are equally important to you (as they should be to us all), then have a look at /e/ and/or at LineageOS, with or without microG.

/e/ by the way has its ‘Bliss’ launcher which looks much more like iOS rather than Android, but that could be changed with a few (non-mouse- but finger-) clicks. The look of it really reminds me of the iPhone SE (2020) I had for a while from my former employer, while LineageOS has the same ‘MaterialU’ (or whatever the name is) design language that the AOSP and also Google’s own Pixel devices are using. So choose your poison here, can’t discuss about aesthetics…

And /e/ also supports a number of devices still older than the ones supported by LineageOS, like for instance Google’s Nexus 5 (made by LG which was wonderful). It will still run a fork of Android ‘Nougat’, but hopefully by now a bit more secure than the original one…

There are many more videos, also in English, which explain all the differences between these operating systems, just wanted to push some of my own relatives into the general directions with the two from above.

And as always, thanks for reading, and for viewing.

Computer as a fridge?

Looking at my screen today, I noticed that the average temperatures inside of my computer were lower than the ones outside:

37°C outside, 34°C in the machine…

So is your computer actually a fridge? No, of course not – our room temps at the moment are under 26°C, and of course the computer, like any electrical device, adds to the heat, even an older and slower one like mine (without a graphics card or a 200+W CPU monster from Intel). Which means that the best thing you can do is to actually power everything off which isn’t needed, oh and “surfing” with a mobile phone also takes lots less power than running your typical PC. Just saying…

As always, thanks for reading.

Fremdschämen

Wiktionary says:

1. (reflexive, informal) to feel secondhand embarrassment; to feel ashamed about something someone else has done; to be embarrassed because someone else has embarrassed themselves (and doesn’t notice)

and rightfully so. I’m referring to this article, written by a German about (some of) us Germans. It’s about song lyrics which are sexist, or “loud in volume, unsophisticated in tune and often offensively bawdy in content” as the author has it. Or that they even play down on things like rape. And what’s totally embarrassing about it is the reaction from some of our media, like “Bild” (not a newspaper at all, but dangerous opinionated arsonists), complaining about “censoring” – that is Trump-like dumb, sorry guys.

I’ve seen the word “Fremdschämen” used in English media before, it’s explained in this article for instance.

And yes, not only are these lyrics and German Schlager music in general (or “us” Germans always clapping on the “1” and “3” only) a reason for my own embarrassment, but even more so that reaction of “Bild”.

Sorry about the rant…

P.S.: in Wikiloops, where I am one of the moderators, we have tendencies like these as well, regarding inappropriate content and lyrics. And trust me, decisions of banning and about the deletions of a song don’t ever come easy, but we do have a code of conduct which handles topics like the limits of free speech. Maybe some recording companies should have or at least consider the same before they publish any crap?

Oh, and one nice thing about the article which lead to this blog post is the photograph of the city of Würzburg which they’ve used – very pretty.

The race to reclaim the dark, on BBC Future Planet

Here’s a nice article which explains the importance and the benefits of having a dark sky. Britain seems to be ahead and leading, so bravo 🙂

7df_a112310_4000K-riding-piggyback
Riding piggyback on the observatory’s largest telescope to see the stars…

In the photo above you see lots of stars – but on the left you also see the heavy light pollution of the city where I took this (Darmstadt, Germany).

As always, thanks for reading.

This is impressive…

… and also a bit frightening. In the online Fedora Magazine, Marius Schwarz yesterday described how to build your own personal voice assistant on Linux, and that’s the impressive part.

The frightening one is how close professional voice generation has become. If you listen to Google’s text-to-speech examples, and switch to a British or a German voice (and give it some text of course), that’s the “Wow!” part. But for this, your text will be sent to Google’s servers to process it in realtime, so some privacy issues might occur. But it won’t be long now, so is my guess, before you can really trick us humans into believing that this would be a real person speaking… see Turing test and so on.

As always, thanks for reading.

A bit intrusive…

Now this is what I call a serious step backwards:

Thunderbird asking for money

Thunderbird had this all the time, in all black, blue, and grey, but this? Wow. This is like ‘shouting’ IN ALL CAPS, so thanks but no thanks guys… I’m supporting quite some number of free and open source projects, can’t support everything. But this definitely turns me off. Did you guys hire some marketing stuff for this? Bad idea. You have a fine email client there, thanks a lot for it, but I won’t support loud guys, sorry. This is a bit too much, seriously.

A “yes” to this, definitely

The Welsh BBC asks: “Wildflowers: Should grass cutting be stopped in summer?“, which would get a strong “Yes!” from me. It’s really a perception point only, but *not* unnecessarily cutting grass would save so many insects, which are good for pollination, birds, and so on, the list goes on… I wish we Germans were wise enough to even think about this, and ask such intelligent questions…

As always, thanks for reading.