Our long national nightmare is not over

I have faith in Joe Biden. And Kamala Harris. They’re good people. They and the team they’ve selected know what they’re doing. It’s obvious just listening to them.

So I can barely wait for them to take over the White House tomorrow. Because real governance will be back in residence. And we need all of that to make it through this pandemic. Along with a crushing number of other crises.

But even after Trump slithers back to Florida—with a few of his favorite swamp creatures in tow—his enablers in federal, state and local government aren’t going anywhere. And they don’t believe in accountability for him or themselves.

Then there’s 75% of Republican voters out there who still think the election was stolen and that Biden is an illegitimate president. Which means The Big Lie isn’t going anywhere either. Don’t ever assume it’s just a small minority that suddenly developed a taste for bullshit.

Worse, Trump might be without a platform but he’ll continue to incite his army of insurrectionists with more grievance and more lies. Not all of these people are silly cosplayers. There are enough with military training and weapons to cause significant damage. God only knows what they’ll do the next time. Possibly pose as real troops or law enforcement.

If we’re lucky, Trump will just blow up the Republican Party instead of the whole country. But let’s not bet on being lucky.

We need to be vigilant. This isn’t over yet.

My traitorous move to Windows

I still have my Mac. Three of them in fact. And, of course, my iPhone. Why would I ever get rid of it? That’s just crazy talk.

But… uh… my primary desktop computer has changed. Just a bit.

Most of you probably don’t know this but a little over five years ago I built my own gaming PC. I’ve assembled other PCs in the past but those were mostly Linux boxes. This one ran Windows.

I realize this might come as a shock to some of you but it’s widely acknowledged that the best game graphics as well as game performance on the desktop require a Windows PC. Who knew, right?

While I certainly gamed my ass off with that homemade machine for awhile, it didn’t really become an essential device for me until I started using it to experiment with hardware video encoders.

Maybe I’m prescient. Or maybe I’m just lucky. But I built that machine with an Intel Quick Sync Video CPU and an Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti GPU. A twofer of transcoding acceleration. So I could use either one. Or even both at the same time.

It was flexible and powerful. And the speed was addictive. I could transcode video from a Blu-ray Disc at over 300 frames per second (FPS). Sometimes over 400 FPS. Which means converting a two-hour movie usually took less than 10 minutes.

What really surprised me was the quality achievable using hardware instead of software encoders. Of course, you have to know how to tune them. Which I certainly understand now. But clearly my assumptions were wrong. Mea culpa.

Anyway, that Windows PC is one of the big reasons I created my Other Video Transcoding project. Well, that and a bunch of other like-minded, mostly-Mac nerds who were collaborating with me, and also using Windows PCs. Some of them even building their own just like I did. Now that’s commitment.

So I migrated my entire development process over to the PC. Because it was so much easier and faster to test that way. And I was doing a lot of testing, experimentation and development. A lot. It was an obsession and still is.

At first it was uncomfortable typing so much without having BBEdit around to hold my hand. But there were reasonable, if not perfect, alternatives available like Visual Studio Code, Notepad++ and Typora. Some of those with features that BBEdit didn’t even have.

And then I discovered Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). Damn. While WSL didn’t allow access to hardware encoders, I now had a full Unix-style command line tightly integrated with Windows. And 95% of the tooling I’ve used and relied on for over 25 years was available.

Eventually, it became a pain in the ass to keep switching back and forth between my iMac and the Windows PC. So I started browsing the Web, reading and writing email, collaborating in Slack, Discord and Skype, all within Windows.

To paraphrase Hemingway, how did I move to Windows? Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.

The really sudden part was finally buying a new desktop computer. Yep, it was a Windows PC. Even more powerful and faster than the machine I built myself. And, more importantly, with a lot more storage. Especially on the boot drive.

That new machine has been my primary desktop for over four months now. And… it doesn’t suck. Even having to use Windows all the time. Which means, I suppose, that you can learn to tolerate anything.

Is Windows as elegant or easy as macOS? Hell no. But it works fine for typical tasks and, really, it’s ideal for gaming and transcoding. The real surprise is its flexibility as a development platform. Didn’t see that one coming.

Do I miss Safari and all the other applications I helped to develop at the Fruit Company? Of course. But I haven’t abandoned macOS. My MacBook is always close at hand. And I’m sure I’ll eventually upgrade it to an M1-based model.

Now, excuse me while I finish typing this post on, and then publishing it from, my Windows PC.

A metastasis in America

America is sick. And I don’t just mean with COVID-19. The bad news is that removing the ugly, orange tumor in the White House next week will not be enough to affect a cure.

The malignancy has spread. It didn’t even start with the presidency. We’ve been brewing and self-dosing a toxic carcinogen for centuries. White supremacy is, of course, the not-so-secret ingredient.

While responsibility for this has changed hands over the years, the modern Republican Party is obviously ensuring racism persists and even flourishes here in America. And for nothing more than electoral advantage.

The GOP cannot maintain power if everyone is allowed to vote. We all know this. But even disenfranchising non-white, non-native and otherwise different people is not enough for them now.

And their new strategy only starts by overturning election results they don’t like, achieved by lying to their lesser number of voters that they’ve been cheated.

The violent insurrectionists at the Capitol last week weren’t really interested in elections, fair or otherwise. They wanted to install a dictator. And many in the GOP—federal, state and local officials as well as their voters—were encouraging that.

It’s clear that Republicanism is no longer compatible with democracy.

So we have a big problem. The reason so many of our fellow citizens are angry and demanding autocracy is more complicated than simple political disagreements. There’s something elemental going on here. An embrace of conspiracy theories, ignorance and grievance. And on a scale I’ve never seen.

I’ll be honest that I have no idea how to cure this disease. I’m not even sure where to begin.

But our nation needs some powerful medicine. Or the body will die.

How not to blog

First off, be sure to wait at least three and a half years between posts. It’s all about keeping your audience riveted in anticipation.

Sweet sixteen for Safari and WebKit

On June 25, 2001, I arrived at Apple Computer to lead the effort in building a new Web browser. It was also Ken Kocienda’s first day on the job, both at Apple and on that same project with me.

For that reason, Ken and I have always considered our start date to be when Safari and WebKit were born. Not any other position on the calendar. Only June 25, 2001. We were there. We should know.

Sorry to belabor the point, but every few years I need to clarify exactly when that birthday was because someone from outside the project mistakenly thinks the anniversary is a random internal milestone we passed later on. Ugh. Please never do that.

Anyway, I’m proud of the work Ken, myself and the other original team members put into the project. And I’m just as proud of the effort by everyone else who’s worked on it since then. It’s a delight for me to see the current Safari and WebKit team still kicking ass.

So, happy sixteenth birthday, folks. Keep going.

Hot enough for you?

For some strange reason I checked the temperature today in Brawley, California, one of the many small towns in the Imperial Valley where I grew up.

It’s over 110 degrees Fahrenheit there as I write this. With a forecast for 123 degrees later today. The folks in Brawley sure know how to celebrate the summer solstice, don’t they?

Tragically, this assault on the mercury is not all that odd for June in the Imperial Valley. Just wait until July if you want to see some really lethal weather.

I live in the Bay Area now—thank god!—and I’m always amused when people panic or think they’re being punished if gets over 90 degrees. Seriously, folks? I wear a hoodie for 10 months of the year around here because it’s so pleasantly cool. And by “cool” I mean when it’s 72 degrees or less.

Now I can take the heat a little more than some, but I’ll admit 123 degrees is really fucking hot. When I was a kid in Brawley during the summer, we just didn’t go out in the middle of the day—that being after 9 a.m. or before 7 p.m. No, sir! Even the stupid children stayed inside hugging their air conditioner vents.

But 123 degrees? Step outside in an atmosphere like that and it’s as if someone rolled a Buick into your chest. Never mind that your lungs would be on fire if you could actually breathe then.

Still, it’s the rapid change in temperature from leaving the safety of even moderately cool interiors that will knock you on your ass. Or worse, send you tumbling forward unconscious for a face plant on pavement that might as well be on fire. I’ve seen this happen to people multiple times. It’s not pretty.

And realize that it’s not just eggs you can cook on the sidewalk when it’s that goddamn hot. You can pretty much fry a steak, too.

So, fellow Bay Area residents, please stop complaining about the weather. It’s not that bad. Yet.

That bleeping kerfuffle

After I posted that link to my latest podcast with Rene Ritchie, several folks alerted me via Twitter that all my colorful metaphors had been “bleeped” on the audio.

I didn’t realize that because I hadn’t listened to the recording myself. And I don’t normally listen to my own podcasts because… that’s just sort of creepy, isn’t it?

Obviously, that means I don’t mix the audio either. I don’t do that because 1) I don’t have relevant experience at it, 2) I’m really lazy and 3) fine folks elsewhere do all the hard work for me.

My apologies if you didn’t get the whole “Melton” experience you were expecting. Rene tells me that episode was an accident and our next podcast won’t be censored. “Let Melton be Melton,” as he likes to say. Plus, we might just release an explicit version of the current show.

Has everyone calmed the fuck down now?1

OK, here’s the thing—I was not upset at all about being censored.

The show might be called “Melton” but that’s only because 1) Rene Ritchie is a generous man, 2) I’m vain and 3) we couldn’t think of a better name after we recorded the first episode.

I consider the whole enterprise as something Rene and I do together. It’s our show. Not my show. If anything, I’m the co-host. This is exactly why I call Rene (and Kelly Guimont for our “Westworld” podcast) “boss.” I’m not trying to be funny, ironic or insult them. I’m reminding myself who really is in charge. And who does all the hard work.

Seriously, I just talk into a microphone, folks. And it’s a microphone that Rene gave me! A really nice Røde Podcaster model, too.

Talking is easy and I continue to be amazed that anyone out there cares about listening to what I have to say. I’m honored that all these nice people enable me to broadcast my various musings, opinions and rants.

So if Rene and anyone else at iMore—or Jason Snell and anyone else at The Incomparable—decide to censor my many and frequent vulgarities, it’s their call. They’re the publishers.

And being censored won’t damage my “brand”—whatever the hell that means. (Actually, it scares me thinking about what that means.)

Yes, words matter. Exact words even. But the truth is that some people—whether they admit being offended or not—have difficulty listening to vulgarities. Especially at the pace I spew them. A friend of mine told me he’s sad that he can’t listen to my podcasts in his car anymore now that he has kids. I get it. There are valid reasons to hit the buzzer.

As anyone who’s adventurous enough to follow me on Twitter knows, I’m saltier than most sailors. I don’t plan on changing that there or on this website. But if someone needs to filter me a bit elsewhere, I’m fine with that.

  1. A tired catchphrase which really needs retirement. I should know. 

Peter Abernathy speaks

Anyone who listens to me on other podcasts1 knows that I might be, oh, just a bit fanatic about “Westworld.” And my favorite performance from the very first episode—among an array of other favorites—was by veteran character actor Louis Herthum.

His unsettling but riveting performance as Mr. Peter Abernathy in one particular scene still creeps me the fuck out! All the while sitting naked like a piece of machinery oposite Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jeffery Wright.

That’s some acting chops, folks. And apparently Hopkins thought so too.

Anyway, Herthum has been pretty quiet all year until Sarah Rodman of the Los Angeles Times sat him down for an interview. And not just about “Westworld”—the man continues to have a full and fascinating career.

But Herthum did manage to spill the beans that filming for the second season will begin—yay!—in July. Also, now we know what Jeffery Wright really said to him as he shuffled into cold storage.

Here’s the video—not violent but still a delight.

Via Westworld Watchers.

  1. That’s a link to “Greetings from the Uncanny Valley” hosted by Kelly Guimont and co-hosted by me. We’ll be cranking up the re-watch shows any day now, so be sure to join us! 

My reaction to WWDC 2017

Episode number 12 of the whenever-the-hell-we-feel-like-recording-it “Melton” podcast with Rene Ritchie and I is now available. At least—as of this posting—it’s available on Overcast. Apparently the iTunes podcast crawler just can’t keep up.

This episode is called “Zero regression” where we discuss my reaction to WWDC 2017, the continued awesomeness of the Safari and WebKit teams, HEVC transcoding and that new bullshit book about iPhone history. Enjoy.

Under new content management

Today I returned to my roots and replaced the WordPress installation here with free-range, handcrafted, artisanal HTML, this time statically generated by Nanoc. More on why I made that change later. For now, please take note of these caveats:

  • My RSS feed has moved back to https://donmelton.com/rss.xml but you should be automatically redirected there if you’re using the old WordPress URL. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to update your subscription bookmarks.
  • The <guid> elements for older posts in my RSS feed will retain their whacky-ass, WordPress-generated values so your reader software shouldn’t be confused into thinking that 10 new items just appeared. But cross your fingers on that one because some RSS readers are easily confused.
  • If you subscribed to my old comments-only RSS feed then you should’ve already noticed there haven’t been any new comments in over a year—I disabled that feature—and after today’s update, that feed URL now answers to the name “404 Not Found.” But please enjoy the bonus content I included on the new “Not found” page.
  • Several other URLs—mostly WordPress-generated paged archives for the main index and various years, months, days, etc.—also respond with “404 Not Found” now rather than a redirect to https://donmelton.com/archives/. This is intentional because I want those pages removed from search engine results soon.
  • Search results here are once again provided by DuckDuckGo. However, I’ve added a handy “Favorites” section to the top of my “Archives” page so you can easily find popular essays like “Memories of Steve.”
  • My “How to contact me” page has reverted to an intelligence test where you suss out my email address. Sorry, but I removed the WordPress-generated form which challenged users to include their email address—a task which was sometimes problematic.
  • The new—and far simpler—CSS here should still provide a responsive and mobile-friendly presentation. Please let me know if that’s not the case.
  • The absolute minimum of engineering effort was put into support for legacy Web browsers. But please let me know if your evergreen browser—i.e. Safari, Firefox, Edge or Chrome—doesn’t seem to render content correctly here.
  • While I do employ Darth Google for Web analytics, I finally added an 'anonymizeIp' line to the JavaScript tracking snippet, making at least the appearance of trying to protect your privacy.

So, after all that work moving this website to WordPress—much of it documented here—why am I moving back to static HTML? And why use Nanoc instead of my own generator, Magneto?

Well, I’m a dinosaur who couldn’t make the transition to the highly-regarded, Web-based editor in WordPress. My writing workflow starts in BBEdit—my preferred text editor for the last 25 years—formatted as Markdown. With WordPress, I wound up pasting my posts into its editor afterwards and then cursing—even more than usual—while I translated them to Texturize format.1

That said, WordPress does work as advertised and it’s simpler to maintain than most people think. For the most part, it even updates itself—especially with fixes for critical security vulnerabilities.

But my big problem with WordPress was performance.

Using this website while logged into the WordPress dashboard was excruciatingly slow—often a three-second or longer wait for each page. And without being logged in—even with the WP Super Cache plugin enabled—each page took over twice as long to load as this current static website does. And Gramps don’t like sloth.

I suppose I could have written my own WordPress theme to help solve some of the performance problems, but after looking at the design requirements I decided the easiest solution would be returning to a static generator. Seriously, writing a good WordPress theme is a non-trivial effort.

As for Nanoc, five years of contributions from multiple developers have made it faster and more capable than Magneto, a poorly maintained project from a single knucklehead (me). Plus, Nanoc doesn’t suffer from the my-way-or-the-highway design that plagues so many other static generators.

In retrospect, I think I installed WordPress just so I could play with it. But playtime is over now. Back to work.

  1. Yes, I know there’s a Markdown plugin for WordPress, but it has… issues.