Threads for pokes

  1. 8

    Interesting project, I like the idea and the philosophy behind it.

    I could not get past the sense of cognitive jarring I had in the article due to the use of the term ‘solarpunk’ though. Every time I see this I get so annoyed by the buzzword I can’t focus on the actual content. When did everyone decide that the word ‘punk’ means ‘artistic style’? Did we vote on it? I feel like I never got a chance to point out that that is not what it means. Every time someone explains the term to me (including the one linked in the article) they compare it to cyberpunk and say ‘hey dystopias are bad, lets do solarpunk’. But the word punk means dystopian. Punk is a movement against authoritarianism and hypercapitalism and was always about members of the downtrodden rejecting the system and refusing to participate. Cyberpunk captured this perfectly and applied it to a mechanised and computerised future. Given that the world has become more authoritarian and more hypercapitalist since the height of cyberpunk literature I feel like the idea was spot on and very perceptive. Solarpunk can either be utopian or punk, but not both. Although I am strongly in favour of the general ideals behind the movement, I can’t help feeling that there is something naive and out of touch about the people pushing it, due to this choice of terminology. This is only strengthened by the amount of doublethink currently floating around in the entire green energy movement and a general inability to face the economic and political realities of our time.

    Sorry for the rant but I can’t get over this.

    1. 23

      As someone nearly old enough to have been a punk, and who was certainly in at the tail-end of the New Romantics, sorry, but your understanding of “punk” is completely off-base.

      Punk means a rejection of authority, as you correctly say, but there’s no requirement that it be dystopian. It means accessibility, it means do it yourself-ability. Not waiting for the man to do it for you. Solarpunk, hopepunk and cyberpunk are all on a spectrum of things which are punk.

      1. 3

        Also compare Cypherpunk

      2. 8

        “Cyberpunk” was called that because it was an SF trend that broke with the late 70s/early 80s “polished SF”, which was tired retreads of space opera, galactic empires, FTL fantasies etc, just like punk broke with the increasingly baroque “concept” music a few years earlier. Neuromancer was a literal shock, it depicted a future that felt just around the corner, and it focused on the hardscrabble losers who were trying to make it in that future. And it was written by an unknown newcomer[1] As someone who read it around the time it was published, it’s hard to overstate the impact it had on me and others.

        {Solar,cypher,steam,diesel}punk is, in my mind, just a marketing shorthand for a specific kind of work or attitude. I don’t really mind it, words evolve.

        [1] yes I know Gibson had been published before. But he was no Heinlein or Asimov.

        1. 11

          The word punk means dystopian

          Does it? Wikipedia says that punk subculture is “characterized by anti-establishment views, the promotion of individual freedom, DIY ethics”. All of these things are compatible with a kind of offline-first, low-tech, less-connected vision of computing. In a world where large corporations are pushing us toward hyperconnectivity that some people find to be psychologically dystopian, can’t pushback against that be all of anti-establishment, DIY, and utopian?

          1. 4

            Punk is a movement against authoritarianism and hypercapitalism and was always about members of the downtrodden rejecting the system and refusing to participate.

            That’s one interpretation, the one that brought us Crass and Minor Threat and such. But “punk” started out as a purely musical/artistic style that celebrated scuzziness and rough edges, viz. the MC5, the Stooges, and of course the Ramones. And the whole UK wing started out in Malcolm McLaren’s head as an extension of Situationism and Dada that very much engaged with the system while simultaneously trolling the fuck out of it. There have also always been fringes of punk that were authoritarian in themselves (parts of Oi! and all the Nazi punks the DKs were telling to fuck off.)

            On the whole, “punk” refers to a street-level DIY approach that doesn’t so much refuse to participate in the System as forms parallel, smaller and more amenable systems of its own — just look at the number of record labels, zines and clubs that have always been a part of it.

          1. 1

            You could also zoom out a level and ask the same question about computing as a whole. Is the computer an end itself that brings you utility, or fun, or something else? Or should it help streamline your life, but invisibly, so that you can find joy elsewhere?

            1. 27

              I’d recommend a NUC here. I’ve tried using an RPi 1, and then an RPi 3 as desktops, but both were painful compared to a NUC, which was drama-free. I’ve never had any problems with mainstream Linux on mine. IIRC, it comes with either SATA or M.2.

              1. 4

                I’ve also used an Intel compute stick when traveling. It has the added benefit of not needing an hdmi cable.

                1. 2

                  It has its benefits, but it was slow when it came out five years ago… I used one for a conference room and it really is disappointing. A NUC would have been better. Harder to lose if you do take it traveling, too.

                2. 3

                  I agree with this: If you don’t want a laptop, a very small form factor PC is a better choice than a more barebones SBC for use as a general-purpose PC. The NUC is great, though there’s some similar alternatives on the market too.

                  I have a Zotac ZBOX from a little while ago. It has a SATA SSD, Intel CPU and GPU, and works great in Linux. In particular it has two gigabit NICs and wifi, which has made it useful to me for things like inline network traffic diagnosis, but it’s generally useful as a Linux (or, presumably, Windows) PC.

                  The one I own has hdmi, displayport, and vga, making it compatible with a wide selection of monitors. That’s important if you’re expecting to use random displays you find wherever you’re going to. It also comes with a VESA bracket so it can be attached to the back of some computer monitors, which is nice for reducing clutter and cabling.

                  1. 2

                    Never heard of a NUC before now but I can agree that trying to use an RPi as a desktop is unpleasant.

                    1. 1

                      Yeah the Pi CPUs are very underpowered, it’s not even a fair comparison. They’re different machines for different purposes. I would strongly recommend against using a Pi as your primary Linux development machine.

                      I think this is the raspberry Pi 4 CPU, at 739 / 500:


                      And here’s the one in the NUC I bought for less than $500, at 7869 / 2350 :


                      So it’s it’s 4-5x faster single-threaded, and 10x faster overall !!! Huge difference.

                      One of them is 1500 Mhz and the other one is 1600 Mhz, but there’s a >10x difference in computer. So never use clock speed to compare CPUs, especially when the architecture is different!

                    2. 2

                      Yeah I just bought 2 NUCs to replace a tower and a mini PC. They’re very small, powerful, and the latest ones seem low power and quiet.

                      The less powerful NUC was $450, and I got portable 1920x1080 monitor for $200, so it’s much cheaper than a laptop, and honestly pretty close in size! And the CPU is good, about as powerful as the best desktop CPUs you could get circa 2014:


                      old CPU which was best in class in a tower in 2014:

                      (the more powerful one was $800 total and even faster: although surprisingly not that much faster)

                      This setup, along with a keyboard and trackball, is very productive for coding. I’m like the OP and don’t like using a laptop. IMO the keyboard and monitor shouldn’t be close together for good posture.

                      In contrast the tower PC in 2014 was $700 + ~$300 in upgrades, and the monitor from ~2006 was $1000 or more. Everything is USB-C too on the NUC/monitor setup which is nice.

                      I guess my tip is to not upgrade your PC for 7-10 years and you’ll be pleasantly surprised :) USB-C seems like a big improvement.

                      1. 4

                        Yeah I just bought 2 NUCs to replace a tower and a mini PC. They’re very small, powerful, and the latest ones seem low power and quiet.

                        NUCs are great machines, but they are definitely not quiet. Because of their blower-style fan, they become quite loud as soon as the CPU is just a bit under load. Audio proof:

                        1. 2

                          So far I haven’t had a problem, but it’s only been about 3 weeks.

                          The noise was the #1 thing I was worried about, since I’m sensitive to it, but it seems fine. For reference I replaced the GPU fan in my 2014 Dell tower because it was ridiculously noisy, and I have a 2012 era Mac Mini clone that is also ridiculously noisy when idle. The latter honestly 10x louder than the NUC when idle, and I have them sitting side by side now.

                          The idle noise bothers me the most. I don’t have any usage patterns where you are running with high CPU for hours on end. Playing HD video doesn’t do much to the CPU; that appears to be mostly GPU.

                          I’m comparing against a low bar of older desktop PCs, but I also think Macbook Airs have a similar issue – the fan spins really loud when you put them under load. For me that has been OK. (AdBlock goes a long way on the Macbooks, since ads code in JS is terrible and often pegs the CPU.)

                          I think the newer CPUs in the NUCs are lower power too. Looking at the CPU benchmarks above, the 2014 Dell i7 is rated a 84 W TDP. The 2020 i5 is MORE powerful, and rated 10 W TDP down and 25 W TDP up.

                          I’m not following all the details, but my impression is that while CPUs didn’t get that much faster in the last 7 years, the power usage went down dramatically. And thus the need to spin up fans, and that’s what I’ve experienced so far.

                          I should start compiling a bunch of C++ and running my open source release process to be sure. But honestly I don’t know of any great alternative to the NUCs, so I went ahead and bought a second one after using the first one for 3 weeks. They’re head and shoulders above my old PCs in all dimensions, including noise, which were pretty decent at the time.

                          I think the earlier NUCs had a lot of problems, but it seems (hopefully) they’ve been smoothed out by now. I did have to Google for a few Ubuntu driver issues on one of them and edit some config files. The audio wasn’t reliable on one of them until I manually changed a config with Vim.

                      2. 1

                        I have also been using a NUC for a year now, and it works well. A lot of monitors also allow you to screw the NUC to its back, decluttering your desk.

                        Just watch out, it has no speakers of it’s own!

                      1. 1

                        I don’t think that this is intentional on the part of the author, but I find this article somewhat misleading.

                        The anecdote about de Moivre and livers describes a common misuse of the CLT, casually assuming that a distribution because we don’t understand the underlying process but think it could be the sum of many factors. And this is indeed bad in measuring livers or IQ. But I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater! There are a lot of situations where the parts that you need to rigorously invoke the CLT are there, and you can use it to make strong conclusions about the real world. This applies to other distributions too; for example, the Poisson distribution has a simple set of assumptions that you also won’t meet in sociology or physiology but come up a lot in the real world.

                        I also disagree with this other somewhat central point:

                        The problem with Named Distributions is that one can’t really point out the difference between mathematical truths and the priors within them.

                        You can, and someone who teaches these distributions without describing what the differences are is doing their students a disservice.

                        We shouldn’t call a venerable tool an artifact because people aren’t clued in to how to use them right.


                        if anyone knows of a good article/paper/book arguing for why simple models are inherently better, please tell me and I’ll link to it here.

                        The AIC and BIC are quantitative justifications for simpler models.

                        1. 1

                          You can, and someone who teaches these distributions without describing what the differences are is doing their students a disservice.

                          Could you expand a bit more on this?

                          I mean, I’m not a statistician, but I’m fairly decent at ML and math and I think I’m past the stats 101 level, but to me it always seemed that there’s no “mathematical truth” in e.g. the Poisson distribution more so than in any other arbitrary equation.

                          As mentioned below, there are certain formulas that work because of the equation defining the distribution, but once you remove the prior from the distribution you’re left with an inherently different equation and those formulas no longer work.

                          As opposed to e.g. a neural network, where you can think of the set of equations as a prior, but if one of our assumptions is something like “Batch norm and l1 regulariztion will help in case x,y,z” you can change everything else about the network, or at least some thing about it and that assumption still holds (e.g. you can change the activation, the shape, the operations used upon the weight & activation & bias to yield the next activation… etc)

                          It doesn’t seem to me like an equivalent can be done with distributions, .e.g if you switch from standard to bimodal the whole edifice now has a different set of properties and knowing loads of stuff about the standard distribution won’t help you work with a bimodal distribution.

                          1. 2

                            I don’t know enough about ML to speak about that comparison.

                            From my perspective, I think of the Poisson distribution not as the thing that’s defined by its pmf or cdf, or something chosen to be easy to work with, or something drawn because it fits neatly through observed points, but instead as the distribution of counts in an interval of a Poisson process. The Poisson process I think of as being the unique process that has independent increments with expected value that linearly increase with size, and a vanishing probability of observing two counts simultaneously. It’s a mathematical object that follows from its axioms. We might be divided on whether these axioms could be considered priors, but I don’t think so, it’s useful to make a distinction.