robert xu

good programmers are masochists

We're almost 3 months into lockdown. Wow.

Time flies. On 15 January I was on a plane to Shanghai as a normal routine work trip, and by 23 January I was wearing a mask and heading back to New York worried about the sudden lockdown of Wuhan.

Working from home during this has been a challenge. The first time I did it, I remember coming back to the office with a mess of a document and remarking to my colleague, “how do you focus? I couldn't get anything done.” I remember it was so concerning to so many of my colleagues that I had essentially had a cliff dive in productivity, and all I could do was shrug my shoulders and remark how it all seemed like a blur. And it still does – I'm not sure what happened, just that I had a document, words were not falling into place, and I couldn't understand why.

Fast forward to this situation today, and the initial work from home issue took hold again, but at a shorter interval – possibly because I planned for it. But as someone who tried to keep a strict separation of work and home, physically more than anything, my home workstation was nowhere near prepared for this. Buying KVMs, laptop stands, new adapters... it made for some tough times at the start of this one, especially since it was sold out everywhere. I didn't plan well enough – probably should have bought all of these things before everyone went into lockdown, but I probably thought I can survive through this again, and try my best for it to not be a blur – then when it passed 2 weeks I realised that was more than definitely not happening.

And being so used to physical separation of work and home sucks, too. There are days where I sit down at my computer at 9am and don't get up until 9pm, and I'm still staring at the same screens, except now they're my computer instead of the laptop I have plugged in. So I'm still sat here, and that's not a good thing.

I got a pull up bar, though, so occasionally when I'm stressed or need to stretch my legs I'll go over there, attempt a pull up, hear my back crack from the stretching, and then go back and sit down – but it'll feel much better.

Anyway, other than the obvious productivity hit, I think things have been relatively okay on my end. Kind of wish I had a patio. But not sure there's enough money in the world to afford a place with a patio in New York City right now.

By now I'm sure you've heard of the recent macOS supplemental update that rolled out to basically everyone and bricked a ton of devices – that includes Catalina, Mojave, and High Sierra. I know tons of people who have Macbooks and have been impacted badly.

The thing I keep wondering is, at a time where most of us are stuck at home, why push out a buggy update like this? I think this is where processes need to be called into question, because typically companies would want to avoid any updates during peak season (I know at work this is sage advice; this is definitely peak season for Apple when so many people rely on their devices and there's no convenient mechanism to get them repaired due to COVID-19).

Does Apple consider the owners of its devices its customers? Because for the businesses that are just hanging on and need their devices, any blow like this could be devastating to them – and with this update, it seems that Apple isn't following the same line of thinking there.

(And aside, if it doesn't, then let me do whatever the hell I want on my device, and stop trying to be gatekeepers if you don't want us to be customers either.)

2020 is here! happy new year, but also, things have definitely changed since the last time I wrote a post on here.

last year, i went to hawaii for the first time, went back to the philippines to see family i haven't seen in over 10 years, took a road trip from los angeles to san diego to see friends i haven't seen in a while, reunited with some friends back in maryland that i haven't seen since high school...

this year is already shaping up to be an interesting one. lots of travels planned, but also trying to push forward my involvement in open source again. it's stalled heavily but i want to make it work.

and i finally started casually streaming games on the side! only every so often otherwise how else am i going to find time to do anything else? but it's happening.

here's to a good 2020.

purchasing a new laptop is difficult.

there are so many factors that come into it – chief amongst them usually the question of “do I need this?” – but afterwards, it’s easy to get lost in a world of specs and displays and whatnot…

but one thing i seem to have a hard stop on is keyboard layout.

not qwerty or azerty or anything like that, but more like: can I use fn-arrow keys to go home/end/page up/page down?

it seems like such a minor issue but it actually really affects the way I type on a keyboard. especially in code and when I’m typing documents, I actually find it really handy to be able to arrow key around the document both in small increments, but also around the whole page.

i’ve found, however, that a lot of laptops don’t follow the fn-arrow keys philosophy. some of them change the arrow keys to volume or prev/next; some of them change it to volume/brightness; and some of them just leave the keys bare.

to make matters worse, the home/end keys, if they’re not on the arrow keys, are either on the top of the keyboard in some randomly inaccessible place, or off to the side, where they still require me to break my line of thought to find where those keys are.

at least macbooks are pretty consistent – cmd-arrow keys for mac applications, fn-arrow keys for console applications. i don’t mind trying either because at least it’s second nature and doesn’t break my line of thought so much – my hand isn’t moving from the arrow keys and typically my pinky is on fn and my thumb on cmd at that point.

but seriously, shopping for laptops is just a pain.


this is very random, but i've been thinking of starting a podcast.

i wonder if this is so that i can get out of writing blog posts in favor of just vocalising thoughts.

what would the podcast be about, i guess? probably about stuff on my blog. still debating.

maybe i'm just being lazy.


mental health is important.

when your mental health is damaged – whether it be worrying about too many things, anxieties skyrocketing (something i have particular trouble with), or just personal, family, or work issues, there needs to be a process to stop and step back.

i can already feel a personal day coming up, but some of the things i've learned to do when i've not had any sort of opportunity for utilising a personal or vacation day is to try to compartmentalise the situation and determine what's important or what isn't.

then, i try to tackle the things that will be the quickest so that the list doesn't seem so long. yes, there are still big and longstanding things, but making the list not seem so long is also a huge benefit.

the key thing there though is that there are a lot of people telling you what's important and what's not – and at the end of the day, those opinions don't matter. the most important thing is your mental health, and everything should take a backseat to that.

stress is a strange thing to measure.

when it comes to stress, i've gotten a myriad of opinions on what exactly the level of stress i should be experiencing is necessary for me to call it stress. some people have said small things are too much work for me; others have said that i'm clearly not doing nearly enough for me to be stressed out about anything.

i've come to realise though that stress isn't something that you can measure on a measuring stick – something static. it's ever changing. i think it's easier to weigh it against happiness.

when you're stressed but happy about something, suddenly that stress doesn't seem so bad and it feels more rewarding. likewise, when you're not so stressed but also very unhappy, that stress feels a lot more backbreaking.

i think in the end, i should just stop listening to people about what they think should or should not stress me out – and focus on whether something makes me happy or not.

because that's all that matters in the end.


given recent events, i'm going to try to encourage myself to write more.

it gives me a structure for me to frame my thoughts around, and helps me to better shape my viewpoint on the world, whether through my lens or others.

i have a list of topics linked from my front page that i'd like to write about sometime. if there's something that you'd like me to write about, let me know.

#writing #meta #life

sometimes we don't get to do things on our own terms.

for all the freedom that we have, sometimes the things i want to do get preempted by something else more important, or a discovery that someone else has made has forced me to react in another way. things like secrets coming to light, or sudden issues in the family, etc.

for all the planning that can go into things like these, it still never fails to surprise me when all of it goes out the window in a split second and you just have to react and hope it doesn't make things worse.

two weeks ago, i gave one of those secrets out after a pointed question that was very definitely probing for that secret. it was unplanned, sloppy, and two weeks on, is still having resonating effects on all affected parties.

it's not a harmful secret; it's just a personal one that i kept close to me because it was part of me. but it's been forced out and my anxiety has shot through the roof. some days it's just hard for me to think.

on the one hand, i had planned for this eventuality. people with these secrets usually don't get the luxury of revealing them on their own time. they're usually stuck debating what the best scenario is to reveal these secrets and what the ideal location, time, people to know would be. it usually never goes to plan, either. i had anticipated it, and so when it happened, i felt numb for the first 24 hours and then recovered afterwards.

but the resonating effects is spreading beyond who knows now – and a secret is a secret if you don't tell anyone. but it's been told. all i can do is brace myself for the eventuality and prepare for the worst.

i'll survive though. hopefully.


i got a new macbook pro two days ago. and wow does the keyboard feel weird.

in a way, the keyboard feels very fragile – like if I typed too hard, the keys would just fall apart. there's no travel distance on these new butterfly keys and that's just... really strange to me.

i'm used to typing very quickly and hard on any sort of keyboard, so using a keyboard like the ones the previous macbooks had is really really good for me because i know when i'm hitting keys and when i'm not. i emphasize again the travel distance the key has to go to hit the bottom because i use mechanical keyboards when i'm not using a laptop, and i really really need to feel the distance.

oh, and the touch bar. can we talk about the touch bar? it's weird for me to reach up and hit escape, only to feel a screen there. i've had to double take a couple of times already because i thought it didn't work, and it's so jarring.

there are some good touchbar presets for bettertouchtool, though, and thankfully I had a license for that before because bettertouchtool was the only thing that could snap windows for me correctly on a mac. i plan on trying out goldenchaos-btt and aquatouch-btt and seeing what works for me.

docks: why are all the docks so expensive? in a way, i kind of get it, but man this really hurts. also, i'd really like a dongle that could give me a 85w pd charge that could also pass through but also i realise how much that won't happen. i saw there was an anker one that could do that but required a 100w pd charger that seems to be no longer sold, so that sucks.

arq isn't backing up, because for some reason when it makes the ?lifecycle call to s3 it thinks the date is 1398. i remember when i initially started the laptop the date was far back in the past, but NTP should've fixed that. resetting pram/nvram didn't help. no idea what to do. emailed arq support; let's see what happens.

i've only had this mbp for about 48 hours, so i'll probably document more of my thoughts as i get them.

(i didn't write this post on that macbook though – i'm using my old one. i'll have to try it sometime.)

#computers #laptops #macbook #macbookpro #mbp

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