Moving howtos to Github Gist

I have made a lot of promises on my technical posts to provide updates whenever I run across them, and I have broken most of these promises. A large part of that has to do with my publication (on WordPress) being separated from my notetaking (on Github Gists).

So here’s a mini announcement: all technical howtos will be migrated to Github Gists. You should see a convenient link to my gists in the right sidebar. And here’s a list of the migrated posts, each hyperlinked to their new home on Github.

  1. Logitech MX Revolution in Arch Linux
  2. Linux and Western Digital Advanced Format Drives
  3. Cyborg RAT 7 in Arch Linux
  4. Linux disk performance tweaking parameters

Thresholds in computing: Part 11 – A Thin-ITX challenger appears: The Intel 5×5

(Part 11 in a series of posts on small-form-factor computing)

Before I temporarily ended my series on thresholds in small-form-factor computing, I talked about Thin-ITX being the last stop in a series of miniaturisations. For a while it looked like the Intel NUC might become the next form factor; there were third-party cases and coolers being made for it, and Intel has stuck with it for three generations, gradually lending it the stability needed for OEMs to build businesses around the product. Nobody wants to make accessories and alternative parts for something that could disappear in
a year or two.

But in CES 2015, something interesting appeared: a socketed sub-ITX motherboard.


Not quite as tiny as the NUC, but it has one advantage over the NUC: it supports socketed CPUs just like their larger brethren, and up to a TDP of 65W. This means that it has a higher performance ceiling than the NUC, which is limited by its small size. A smaller case cannot fit as much cooling hardware, and will run into performance limitations due to the operating temperature limit of processors.

Late last month, this new product was christened: it is named the 5×5. How did it manage to further shrink Thin-ITX, which already had things crammed into every bit of available circuit board space? Anandtech’s coverage has a handy comparison image with Mini-ITX, but which is unfortunately missing Thin-ITX.


Until more details are known, it is hard to say for sure what has disappeared and what hasn’t. But some things are immediately apparent:

  • SATA ports for storage devices take a backseat. There is only one seen in the display unit from Intel, and yet no connector for SATA power. M.2 is expected to be the main storage interface for 5×5.
  • There is no PCIe slot. Not even an ×1 slot. This may seem to limit the potential of the 5×5, and if we are speaking only of functionality provided by add-on PCIe cards, that certainly is the case. But the 5×5 has M.2 slots for add-on cards in addition to the storage drive, so it’s not like it has completely lost all expansion capability. This allows the board dimensions to shrink from 17cm to 13cm (7″ to 5″) as well, since the full-length PCIe slot is almost 10cm long, not including the spacing around it that is mandated by the form factor.

  • There is no platform controller hub (PCH) visible. The PCH is responsible for communication between the CPU and peripherals—the storage devices, network card, audio chip, and so on. That might not mean it is entirely gone; it could be hiding on the other side of the 5×5, or perhaps integrated into the CPU in future iterations, but this is a good sign. In Part 9 on heat dissipation, I mentioned that the PCH is one source of heat inside the case that can really raise temperatures for other temperature-sensitive devices; less heat inside the case is a good thing.

  • The traditional port cluster at the back of the motherboard is gone, in favour of vertically oriented ports fore and aft of the board. Bulky video ports are also gone—that means DVI, and possibly Displayport as well. Hopefully the focus will be on HDMI/miniHDMI and mini-Displayport.

  • The position of the CPU socket has been standardised and fixed. This means it is easier for OEMs to know where it will be, which means it is now easier for OEMs to design small cases that also act as heatsinks for the CPU. It’s hard to build a cooler into the case if you don’t know where the CPU is going to be; you’ll need to have flexible heatpipe arrangements to account for variations in its position. But no longer!

While there are currently no 5×5 boards available for sale yet, I look forward to a near-future of 5×5 boards catering to tiny-ish yet performant PCs. Especially the passively cooled ones. This also makes things easier for building custom options, such as this mini-ITX case-cum-heatsink. I look forward to building one like that within a 15×5cm footprint.

Hopefully I will be writing a follow-up post in a year or two detailing my next desktop upgrade on a 5×5.

Gray Pill

Seen on Twitter, via Slate Star Codex. Decided to try my hand at a more nuanced version. Limiting myself to 1000 words as a challenge, and to avoid spending too much time.

A short break in the middle of a busy month.

Gives you the ability to control any machine or electronic using only your mind. You also have the ability to generate powerful electrical discharges by touch.

You never thought it would be invented in this century.

The neural interface was simple, almost laughably child-like, and like all things that came before it, assimilated itself into your daily life with hardly any excitement. The easy things were easy; switching on your TV, controlling your lights, managing all your kitchen appliances. You threw all your remotes away that same day.

Then you ran into the brick wall of software.

Getting your router to give you a signal in your bedroom was impossible, since it was a crappy white-box router from your ISP, and while you could push buttons with your mind, you have no idea which ones need pushing. Your brief attempt at trial-and-error brought you realisation: you now have the power to render things completely useless, without moving a finger.

There is also the matter of crosstalk.

You have a nervous tic in your mouse-hand, a critter that sticks its paw out from under your mousepad and clicks your mouse every so often. It wasn’t so bad, since your cursor was seldom above any big red buttons, or buttons of life-changing significance. Unfortunately that could not be said of your neural interface. That nervous tic, its mysterious origins buried deep in your brain, had somehow spread to the neural chip, and when you are not careful it leads to really scary things happening.

Like the time you wrote your career fantasies out LOUD in your work review form, barely covering it in time for a quick remote-edit and reprint.

You read that anybody who was somebody did their things in Linux. You made an ISO, stuck it in a flash drive, booted it up, and discovered the horrible truth about drivers and platform compatibility. It only figures that whoever slipped you this experimental prototype in exchange for your grandfather’s antique would not have bothered writing drivers for—wait, how does that even matter if he only made one? You can tell when you are confused, because your laptop starts to go a little bonkers, moving windows about the screen quasi-randomly. You have to be careful to close your social media feeds then.

How do you show off something that’s literally in your head?

It was awfully convenient answering phone calls without doing anything, but it wasn’t as flashy as flicking a wrist, or tapping a ear. And you’d much rather have the attention, you grudgingly admit. Some things were made for flaunting, and this neural chip wasn’t one of them. Making your phone do things remotely didn’t work out as well as you wished; phones almost seem to have a mind of their own these days, and your dates found it hard to believe that it was you and not Google making it tell their fortunes.

More worrying things have happened lately.

The first time you plugged the adapter in, a pop-up helpfully informed you that new HID drivers—Human Interface Device, thank you Wikipedia—were being installed. Figures that it would need to know how you wish to interface with it. Now you’re not so sure what those drivers are for. In the shower, your sister’s Twitter feed suddenly poured itself into your head, swirling around your shower song and feeling very much like a bird swarm. In your head.

What is an HID exactly?

The voices in your head sometimes remind you of things you read online, popping up at the most opportune times (for them), giving you advice like a Youtube commercial. It’s getting smarter. And it’s getting friendlier, in the manner of salesmen, eye contact and smile all there, firm handshake, and you tell them what you want and they have just the thing for you. But wait, there’s more!

Lately you just remembered that neural signals are electrical too.

Red Pill

Seen on Twitter, via Slate Star Codex. Decided to try my hand at a more nuanced version. Limiting myself to 1000 words as a challenge, and to avoid spending too much time.

I know I skipped Red Pill, just because I wanted to write Blue and Pink together. So here it is.

Gives you super speed, super strength, and rapid regeneration (not invincible).

It has only been two months, and already they’re asking you to try a Caterpillar.

15 metres in length, and almost as tall at full height, and a whole 600 tonnes in weight. The A380, which you already tackled last month, looks a lot more impressive, but the one they gave you was ten times as empty and half as heavy.

They didn’t even put on the handbrakes.

That attitude was what got you in trouble in the first place. A runaway ego led to one bet, then another, and two bets later you are flying to the US to haul a Caterpillar in heaven knows which state. All expenses paid, and the only thing on your mind is what is coming next.

“Biggest land vehicle ever built” links you to the Bagger 288. You couldn’t find any information on its weight, which is still disturbingly worrying, despite your manager’s best efforts to remind you that weight isn’t the main consideration.

You’ll have to take that on someday.

On the flight back, you thought about how surprisingly few people there were at Detroit watching you. A handful of cameras, and a bunch of drones; the videos from those would spread. But a virtual audience brings cold comfort.

The trolls were fun at first. Full of cynicism, but yours is not a truth that needs defending. The only resistance was commenters sticking their fingers in their ears going “lalalalalalala” and that didn’t need any paying attention to.

But the speculation about how you were doing it, that was really chilling. In a week, you learnt about muscle cells, of myosin, and of the unimaginably tough membranes that hold your skin together, much more than you wish you ever had to know. And you saw multiple calculations of how each part of you will come apart, calculations which cohered disturbingly, dark pixels coagulating into a calculated death wish.

“He could pull an A380 on handbrakes maybe, but not a NASA transporter, moving in reverse, with a Shuttle loaded”, they mused. You’re dimly glad they didn’t suggest trying to stop a Shuttle while it was taking off. In a corner of your mind you google what muscle tearing feels like.

“They are very painful.”

On hindsight, it’s amazing the philosophers hadn’t arrived earlier. But now they are here, and they are out for existential blood. Philosoraptor scratching its chin on various meme-sites, asking “Can a man be made so strong, he can’t tear himself apart?” Philosophers aren’t having fun until they are pushing things to the limit. And you are just another one of those things.

You were really looking forward to trying the Bagger 288.

In your room you have a little statue of Atlas, picked out from an antique shop you were passing by. The look on his face is an endless source of fascination. Was that the look he first had when he picked up the heavens, marvelling at their weight, and at the apparent possibility of carrying them? Or only later, after realising the trick that had been played, robbing him of the pleasure of exertion?

Which is heavier: the weight of the world, or the weight of an ego?

Pink Pill

Seen on Twitter, via Slate Star Codex. Decided to try my hand at a more nuanced version. Limiting myself to 1000 words as a challenge, and to avoid spending too much time.

A companion story to blue pill, and also an unabashed fanfic.

Gives you the ability to make any person love you with a single touch. Can turn off the effect by retouching the person(s).

They say love is blind. That is how it looks from the outside: veneered infatuation, a surface attraction, failure to see imperfection.

It’s surprising, when you read the interviews, how many abused partners know exactly what they are getting themselves into. They loved, because they knew their love was needed. Love helped them to see; it was hope that made them blind.

And so it is with all these whom you have taken under your touch, telling them where to put their money, where to spend their time. You lay on the flirting gestures, the sweet nothings. They’re not needed—the lady at the counter told you so—but they make you feel better about what you are doing to them, harnessing their labour to the voracious appetites of your ego. It lets you feel sorry for them. You dip in a pool of pity replenished by the sorriness of their existence, kept sorry by your need to keep feeling sorry. It keeps you occupied, this need to keep your pool of pity filled, so that you are not invited to notice that other, deeper, pool of their pity gazing deep into your eyes.

Perfect understanding is perfect love. It brings one low, forces one to condescend—for how can the ignorant condescend to knowledge? The servant must know better than the one he serves. And so your power empowers the ones it enslaves. In their pools of pity you see all of you exposed, your whims exhibited, your vagaries laid open. The one to be healed lies naked before the healer.

You never let them touch you, at first because of what the lady at the counter told you, about the dispelling touch, but later because you understood. What has been seen cannot be unseen; knowledge transforms a person in irreversible ways. The only way to empty those pools of pity is to erase their target, the fountain from which they are replenished. It would reverse the relationship, turning the knower into the known. Too dangerous. So you never exercised that option. It was exercised for you instead.

He touched you first, when you didn’t push him away with your eyes. And then he touched you again, with three—no, four—hands. You screamed and ran out, and saw him again, yet another pair of hands, not touching you but other curves, made of glass. And you loved and hated him all at once, whether confused by the successive opposite effects of the pill or the simultaneous way you are caressed and revolted by his touches, you don’t know and you don’t want to know. You want to be loved, and he has just broken you and possibly the pill as well.

In a few more moments he will take you out of this world. This selfish act of his will almost kill you, but it secretly makes you glad. Unlike your other lovers, he is a being that can move mountains at will, and so there are some things of you he will never know. And for that reason his love is safe, and this spell will never be broken.

You will never reach him but his love will always be with you.

Blue Pill

Seen on Twitter, via Slate Star Codex. Decided to try my hand at a more nuanced version. Limiting myself to 1000 words as a challenge, and to avoid spending too much time.

This is short because of lack of inspiration, and simply because I couldn’t quite get into character for this unabashed fanfic. In compensation I will post pink pill together with it.

Gives you the ability to fly, swim, and teleport to any area while being impervious to any physical dangers.

Where does one end, and the universe begin?

Teleporting an atom, and teleporting another atom, there is virtually no difference. These atoms came from a long line of creatures, feathered lizards, Roman rulers, paupers, bourgeoisie and proletariat alike. We have in each of us some from Julius Caesar, and some from St Francis. The atoms they do not care, they do not draw lines and boundaries.

The atoms they do not belong to us.

Sick of petty conflicts over special atoms on earth, I teleported myself to Mars. Myself, without the atoms I borrowed to manifest my existence; there are many more on Mars that can be used. There I built. And I observed that what I made was good.

But she was not there.

Not her atoms, but a part of her, immediately spontaneous and ephemeral, not belonging to any atom or group of atoms alone but something between the parts. Not more than the sum of its parts, but arising because of those parts. Unlike me it has not been separated from the body but exists alongside it, in the same space, the way a volume integral can only be considered in the presence of a volume.

In a few moments she will be brought here. Not her atoms, and not that spontaneous and ephemeral part of her either, just the structure that makes her recognisably her. She will get angry at me, and I will fail to understand her, because she is she and I am me. Somehow the spontaneous part forms spontaneously, not by any action of mine that I can perceive, but when I put the pieces in place (it took me a long time to learn how) in appears.

This is curious and I wish to understand it more, but she does not like it here where there is no oxygen and no atmospheric pressure, and there are things I must do on earth to ensure her continued existence.

I will do that, and then I will try my hand at creating this spontaneous and ephemeral presence. I will put atoms together in familiar and new ways and observe what brings this strange presence about.

Sometimes I wish I had taken the blue pill instead.

Orange Pill

Seen on Twitter, via Slate Star Codex. Decided to try my hand at a more nuanced version. Limiting myself to 1000 words as a challenge, and to avoid spending too much time.

I’m skipping blue pill today as I haven’t done enough reading on it. Orange pill feels a bit more familiar (but not any more comfortable) so let’s go with that first.

Gives you the ability to instantly master any sport, job, activity, martial art, etc, that a human can do.

It’s the first day of a new academic term, and you are understandably nervous. Continue reading Orange Pill