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Carlos Fenollosa

Carlos Fenollosa

Engineer, developer, entrepreneur

Carlos Fenollosa — Blog

Thoughts on science and tips for researchers who use computers

I miss Facebook, and I'm not ashamed to admit it

April 13, 2019 — Carlos Fenollosa

I'm 35. Before Facebook, I had to use different tools depending on whom I wanted to chat with.

I'm not talking about the early era of the Internet, but rather the period after everybody started getting online. Chat was just getting popular, but it was quite limited.

We used ICQ/MSN Messenger to chat with real life friends. IRC was used mostly for "internet friends", as we called them back then. Finally, we had the Usenet and forums for open discussion with everybody else.

If you wanted to post pictures, Flickr was the go-to website. We didn't share many videos, and there was no really good tool to do so, so we didn't care much.

There was Myspace, and Fotolog, very preliminar social networks which had their chance but simply didn't "get it."

Then Facebook appeared. And it was a big deal.

Add me on Facebook

Whenever you met somebody IRL you would add them to Facebook almost immediately, and keep connected through it.

Suddenly, everybody you knew and everybody you wanted to know was on Facebook, and you could reach all of them, or any of them, quickly and easily.

At that time, privacy was not such a big concern. We kinda trusted the network, and furthermore, our parents and potential employers weren't there.

On Facebook, we were raw.

At some point it all went south. The generational change, privacy breaches, mobile-first apps and the mass adoption of image and video moved everybody to alternative platforms. Whatsapp, mainly for private communications, and Instagram as our facade.

I wrote about Facebook's demise so I will not go through the reasons here. Suffice to say, we all know what happened.

The Wall was replaced by an algorithm which sunk original content below a flood of ads, fake news, and externally shared content "you might like". We stopped seeing original content. Then, people stopped sharing personal stuff, as nobody interacted with it.

In the end, we just got fed up with the changes, and maybe some people just wanted something shiny and new, or something easier to use.

Facebook was a product of its era, technologically and socially. But, as a service, it was peak human connection. Damn you Zuck, you connected mankind with a superb tool, then let it slip through your fingers. What a tragic outcome.

Current social networks, not the same thing

I, too, moved to Instagram when friends stopped being active on Facebook and encouraged me to create an account there.

Then I realized how fake it is. Sorry for the cliché, but we all know it's true.

I gave it an honest try. I really wanted to like it. But I just couldn't. At least, not as an alternative to Facebook. Stories were a step forward, but I felt —maybe rightfully— that I was being gamed to increase my engagement, not to have access to my friends content.

Instagram is a very different beast. There is no spontaneity; all posts are carefully selected images, masterfully filtered and edited, showcasing only the most successful of your daily highlights.

I admit it's very useful to connect with strangers, but the downside is that you can't connect with friends the same way you did on Facebook.

Of course, I'm not shooting the messenger, but let me apportion a bit of blame. A service that is a picture-first sharing site and demotes text and comments to an afterthought makes itself really difficult to consider as an honest two-way communication tool.

Instagram is designed to be used as it is actually used: as a posturing tool.

On Facebook you could share a moment with friends. With Instagram, however, moments are projected at you.

I miss Facebook

I miss knowing how my online friends are really doing these days. Being able to go through their life, their personal updates, the ups and the downs.

I miss spontaneous updates at 3 am, last-minute party invites, making good friends with people who I just met once in person and now live thousands of kilometers away.

I miss going through profiles of people to learn what kind of music and movies they liked, and feeling this serendipitous connection based on shared interests with someone I did not know that well in real life.

I miss the opportunity of sharing a lighthearted comment with hundreds of people that understand me and will interpret it in the most candid way, instead of the nitpicking and criticism of Twitter.

I miss the ability to tell something to my friends without the need of sharing a picture, the first-class citizen treatment of text.

I miss the degree of casual social interaction that Facebook encouraged, where it was fine to engage with people sporadically. On the contrary, getting a comment or a Like from a random acquaintance could make your day.

I miss when things online were more real, more open.

I miss peak Facebook; not just the tool, but the community it created.

Facebook was the right tool at the right time

Somebody might argue that, for those people I am not in touch anymore, they were clearly not such big friends. After all, I still talk to my real-life friends and share funny pics via Whatsapp.

Well, those critics are right; they were not so important in my life as to keep regular contact. But they still held a place in there, and I would have loved to still talk to them. And the only socially acceptable way to keep in touch with those acquaintances was through occasional contact via Facebook. I've heard the condescending "pick up the phone and call them"; we all know that's not how it works.

In the end, nobody is in a position to judge how people enjoy their online tools. If users prefer expressing themselves with pictures rather than text, so be it. There is nothing wrong with fishing for Likes.

So please don't misinterpret me, nobody is really at fault. There was no evil plan to move people from one network to another. No one forced friends to stop posting thoughts and post only pics. Instagram just facilitated a new communication channel that people happened to like more than the previous one.

When Facebook Inc. started sensing its own downfall, they were happy to let its homonymous service be cannibalized by Instagram. It's how business works. The time of Facebook had passed.

I'm sorry I can't provide any interesting conclusion to this article. There was no real intent besides feeling nostalgic for a tool and community that probably won't come back, and hopefully connecting with random strangers that might share the same sentiment.

Maybe, as we all get older, we just want to enjoy what's nice of life, make everybody else a little bit jealous, and avoid pointless online discussions. We'd rather shut up, be more careful, and restrict our online interactions to non-rebuttable pictures of our life.

We all, however, lost precious connections on the way.

Tags: life, internet, facebook, web

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Disable asmjs on Firefox on OpenBSD to render some pages like Protonmail

October 11, 2018 — Carlos Fenollosa

I've been using OpenBSD for a few weeks and Firefox is of course my browser of choice. However, I found that some pages didn't load properly, like Protonmail.

I tried increasing the memory per-process in login.conf but it didn't solve the issue.

After some googling I found an obscure reference on a Linux forum about asm.js was causing trouble. And indeed, that is the case for OpenBSD.

The solution is easy: type about:config on the URL bar, accept the disclaimer, and set the preference javascript.options.asmjs to false.

I still don't know why this happens, and if it will affect performance on other websites, so I have it enabled by default and only disable it temporarily for specific websites.

In summary, if you have problems loading websites with Firefox on OpenBSD, try disabling asm.js.

Tags: openbsd

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The Windows 7 Experience

September 01, 2018 — Carlos Fenollosa

I bought a nicely refurbrished Thinkpad X230 and it came with Windows 7.

Lenovo x230

My idea is to install Ubuntu and OpenBSD, but I wanted to keep Windows in a small partition. I want to benchmark performance and battery life on the three systems.

Having not used any Windows version for 17 years, I faced this task with an open mind. Surely Windows is not going to suck after all these years, right?

This is what happened:

  1. Unbox the laptop and boot it up
  2. Windows First Launch Assistant asks me a few questions. Windows 7 boots to desktop. There is some Lenovo crapware installed but I'll deal with that later.
  3. "You have updates, do you want to apply them?". Yes, I do. I don't want to use a Windows box on the Internet without the latest patches
  4. It takes about 3 hours to download updates, installing them and rebooting. I think the laptop rebooted at least four times. Unaware of what would come next, I think "wow this is a terrible first-run experience for a novice user"
  5. Suddenly, in the middle of an update, I get a BSOD. Some things never change I guess. I regret not having taken a picture.
  6. After restarting, it seems some config or dll is broken and most apps don't run. The system is basically unusable
  7. I download the official System Update Readiness Tool For Windows 7 which is a 500MB download that supposedly fixes this specific problem.
  8. SURTFW7 hangs while it is installing the fix. I realize I am screwed.
  9. I try to get back to a "restoration point" but none was created
  10. At this point I am resigned to reinstall from scratch
  11. I launch the Lenovo Factory Recover utility and produces a non-bootable USB disk
  12. I boot from the recovery partition. The option to reset to factory disk/settings does not work
  13. Twitter friends tell me that the smartest thing to do is to download a Windows 10 ISO and nuke the old installation

Thanks for a fantastic first time experience, Microsoft! 👌🏼

P.S. I have a Windows 10 key so I won't need to download a torrent but that's beside the point.

~~~~~~

Update: Indeed, I installed Windows 10. Then it took me about two hours to adjust all the settings and remove the telemetry "features". Since then, I've been sitting in front of the computer, waiting while it installs updates and reboots.

It has taken me two full days to get a new Windows laptop running, and I'm a fairly technical person. What on earth is Windows doing for hours and hours? It literally takes less time to fill in the whole disk with randomly generated bytes.

Ubuntu installed flawlessly and had all drivers working without any manual intervention. Updating to the latest patches took about three minutes and one reboot.

No wonder regular people hate Windows. It is, without a doubt, the worst, most frustrating computing experience I've had in the last ten years.

Tags: windows

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Run QBasic in your browser

August 17, 2018 — Carlos Fenollosa

Steve Hanov produced an impressive implementation of QBasic in Javascript, with detailed explanations, that also runs on the browser. The post is eight years old!

If you're nostalgic for DOS Basic, you can't miss this link.

qb.js: An implementation of QBASIC in Javascript (via)

Tags: programming, retro

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My Apple Watch killed my iPhone

August 16, 2018 — Carlos Fenollosa

This is the incredibly weird chain of bugs and hardware issues that bricked my iPhone after the battery of my Apple Watch started to swell.

A couple of months ago the battery of my 1st gen Apple Watch started to swell and the screen popped out. I googled about this issue and read that it's covered by a warranty program, so I brought the watch to the Apple Store in Barcelona. The watch got serviced in a few days, excellent customer support as usual by Apple.

I got home and tried to link this new watch to my iPhone 5s. For some reason the watch refused to link unless I upgraded iOS 10 to iOS 11 on my phone.

My old watch had been working perfectly with iOS 10, but apparently this refurbished one had a new software version that required iOS 11 to work.

I had kept my phone at iOS 10 because my 5s is a bit slow nowadays, I don't need the new features, and in general prefer stability on my main devices. I think, it can't be that bad, and furthermore I had missed my watch so much these last days, so I decide to upgrade.

Terrible decision.

I tap on "Upgrade". The phone downloads the upgrade, starts installing it, progress bar, reboot, progress bar, reboot... one too many times. It's stuck on a reboot look around 80% of progress. Ok, two options, I think. Hardware issue or software issue. How could it be hardware? The phone was working well up to ten minutes ago. So I decide to install clean, wiping out all my data

It's now late afternoon and next day I have to work, and need the phone. You know that feeling, right? This won't end well. I do a clean install, set up Whatsapp and Google Maps, hoping to restore from an icloud backup next day while at work.

The clean install lets me reach the iOS 11 setup screen. Set up wifi, tap next, and reboot. Damn. Set up wifi again, reboot. This doesn't look like a software issue. I try something... I wait five minutes on the wifi setup screen without touching anything. Surprisingly, the phone does not reboot.

I set up wifi after these five minutes and the phone reboots instantly. Any electrical engineer (or probably most of you here that's read about batteries and iOS 11) knows what's happening by now. The battery is failing to supply enough voltage, and this is made apparent at peak power demand, that is, when antennas are working and CPU is at max. I resign myself to having no phone for the next day.

Then, I realize I have a spare iPhone 5s battery laying around, One that I bought to replace my mother's battery (she has also an iPhone 5s) but never ended up fixing. I've changed batteries maybe a dozen times before, and work with electronics regularly. I know best practices. I ground myself, pick up the screwdrivers and suction cup, open up the iPhone carefully, remove the battery glue strips, and install the new battery.

The phone boots.

With the new battery I finally manage to get past the wifi screen but unfortunately the phone keeps rebooting randomly when accessing networks. Damn. My phone clearly has an electrical problem and for whatever reason iOS 11 triggered it. Later, when discussing this issue when a Genius, they confirmed that this is a motherboard problem which required an expensive repair.

Back to the 5S. Since I couldn't use a phone that dies on me randomly, and it's late at night, I picked up my old 4S, popped in my SIM, quickly downloaded Whatsapp and Maps, set up my work email and a few more apps, hoping all icloud data syncs over night. Fortunately, it did.

The next day I started using the 4S as my daily driver. I managed to stick with it for a month, but in the end, it was too slow for everyday usage. It was nice as an experiment, but a pain in the neck to work with.

That's the end more or less. I have a new Apple Watch that killed my 5S, which ironically I couldn't use because my replacement 4S wasn't compatible with that Watch.

I still don't know why iOS 11 draws more power than iOS 10, or if it was a firmware change that really killed my phone. But my bet is on battery management. Doesn't matter now. It was a disaster.

As I was saying, I ended up buying an SE, which is two years old, at full retail price. Well, I got a 40€ discount by trading in the broken 5S.

The cheapest iPhone is not a great deal nowadays, but it still is the perfect phone for my usage/size/budget.

It is not my intention to blame Apple. I fully understand what happened, and it was a chain of unfortunate events. However, I have the feeling that if I could have downgraded the 5S to iOS 10, it may have come back from the dead.

Tags: apple

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