Igor Bubelov
About Blog Notes Photos

May 2021

Notes ยท May 31, 2021

Table of Contents

Google Folds to Antitrust Pressure

Most tech companies hate open source software and Google is not an exception. Those same companies also want to look like they love open source in order to boost their public image. When it comes to mobile operating systems, the naive view would be “bad, bad Apple with their shady iOS and good guys Google with open source Android”. Yes, Android is open source and open source is better than closed source, but it doesn’t mean Google really welcomes open source software. It tolerates it, but it intentionally makes it hard for users to get open source software.

Why would Google complicate your life if you chose to use open source software? Well, Google’s main business is tracking us and making money off any private data they can harvest. Open source software lets us escape Google’s surveillance empire. The thing is: Android isn’t really open source. Most of Android devices on the market have nothing to do with open source software. You simply can’t opt out of closed source malware such us Google Play Services and Google Play Store.

I don’t think we will see phones without Google Play Services any time soon, but it looks like Google started to fear that US courts will expose its anti-competitive practices within Google Play Store. Android doesn’t force you to use it, it just tries to make your life miserable if you choose another app store such as F-Droid. How can it do that? Well, for starters, it doesn’t allow any app store except the one made by Google to keep your apps up to date. It also floods you with dangerous-looking warnings, attempting to portrait more open and privacy-respecting app stores as a security threat. Those are dark patterns indeed, and Google got away with it for a long time.

Luckily for Android users, it’s not only Apple who started to feel a lot of antitrust pressure, and Google now tries to remove its nasty tricks before it’s forced to do it by law. Starting with Android 12, alternative app stores will be much easier to use. They will be able to update apps automatically, same way as Google Play Store updates its apps. It looks like we’re one tiny step closer to de-Googling Android, and now it’s time to pressure Google to make both Play Store and Play Services removable.

Backups and Restic

Backups are crucial, even if you rely on cloud storage solutions. Many people mistakenly believe that Dropbox or iCloud can never lose user data. It’s not true at all, those things happen all the time. If you have any valuable data, you should back it up from time to time. Cloud is not enough, you should have a real physical copy, just in case something goes wrong.

I’ve tried many backup solutions and none of them worked for me well enough. Finally, I’ve found a decent backup tool: Restic. It’s fast, secure, it’s written in a decent language (Go), and it also supports cheap S3 cold storage.

My backup routine looks like this:

  1. A dedicated backup host launches backup job once a day
  2. Backup job pulls new data form every server containing valuable data via rsync
  3. Then it adds those new changes to a Restic repository
  4. After that, it sends those changes offsite via S3

With such a setup, my data always exists in at least three places:

  1. On production servers
  2. On backup host
  3. Offsite

Restic also encrypts the data before sending it offsite so there are no privacy issues with sending my backups to a data center. Having offsite copy is important, because things like fires and natural disasters can easily destroy all your copies if you keep them in a single physical location.

Bitcoin Energy Consumption

To my surprise, people are still seriously pissed off about Bitcoin energy consumption. It may come as a surprise for those folks, but the world is made of trade-offs. We often sacrifice something in order to get something more desirable. Bitcoin energy consumption is only a problem if we lose more than we gain.

What are those gains, exactly? The popular opinion goes: a bunch of crypto bros try to get-rich-quick at the expense of everyone else. To add an insult to injury, it looks like they are succeeding in this endeavor. The reality is: Bitcoin is our only chance to stay free in a digital world. As a society, we’re on a road to dark dystopia where every financial transaction is monitored and any person risks being “disconnected” from their savings by corrupt or delusional politicians, or even a faulty algorithm.

Cash is getting out of fashion but cashless society without open and non-discriminating money is a dead end. Needless to say, half of the world population lives in non-democratic countries and cashless systems make those people vulnerable to political pressures. How much are we willing to spend to have a truly inclusive financial system? How important is it to have a sort of “digital gold” staying out of reach or central bankers and their printing presses?

Bitcoin is a safe heaven. It protects people from abuse, and it limits the power of a small group of elite bureaucrats over societies, and those properties worth a lot in my book.

Dual-Actuator Hard Drives

Not unlike Bitcoin, hard drives have been pronounced dead for many years, but they’re still alive and kicking. Don’t get me wrong, I love SSDs, and I use them everywhere, but the biggest SSD I have can only store 1 TB of data. There are SSDs which can store more, but they are prohibitively expensive.

Another interesting property of HDDs is the fact that they can store data for 10+ years, which is not the case for SSDs. That’s why I’m pleased to see that HDDs keep improving in terms of storage capacity and speed. The latest development in HDD land is dual-actuator design:

https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2021/05/seagates-new-mach-2-is-the-worlds-fastest-conventional-hard-drive/

This architecture can double the speed of an HDD, bringing it closer to SSD territory. Looks like conventional hard drives are going to stay with us for a while.

Book: curl

I’ve been doing some server side tasks recently, and it’s hard to overestimate the usefulness of a tool called curl. It’s an open source program which enables billions of devices to transfer data across the web in a safe and reliable way. By the way, the author of this tool has a nice blog, and he also authored a book called “Everything Curl”:

https://everything.curl.dev/

This book is still work in progress, but it already helped me to discover a few “hidden” tricks of curl. This book is a must-read for anyone who does HTTP for a living.

Movie: Money Explained

Most of the new movies on Netflix are garbage, but I really liked their new docu-series called Money Explained. It borrows a few tricks from their previous series called Dirty Money, and it’s also focused on financial education mixed with stories about con artists and their schemes.

Podcast: Darknet Diaries

https://darknetdiaries.com/

I know a guy who’s interested in information security, and he sent me the link to this podcast. I wish I knew about it earlier, it’s really high quality stuff. Information security is a huge and mostly legal market now, with a bunch of different roles and modes of action. This podcast has a lot of interviews with a diverse set of people involved in different information security tasks. Each episode also features custom cover images drawn in a nice techno-dystopian theme.

Podcast: Changelog

https://changelog.com/podcast

Interesting podcast focused on programming in general. I wouldn’t recommend every episode, but some episodes were pleasure to listen to.

Podcast: Wasabikas

https://podcastindex.org/podcast/2415622

I discovered this podcast while reading Blockstream’s Mastodon feed. It has a conversation with Rusty Russel, Linux Kernel contributor turned Blockstream employee. Listening to his views was my goal, but it turned out, this podcast has a few more interesting guests.