Hi folks! Another month has passed so it’s time for a brief recap of the main news, articles, and projects that made the rounds during this period and are on topic for Blog System/5.

As usual, this is not just a list: every entry is accompanied by a short blurb detailing why I found the content interesting, which is meant to nudge you into reading it! Also, the list is ordered by when the links made it my way, not chronologically, and some items are not from this time period.

Let’s get to it.

The links

“The Retro Web”

An impressive database of old hardware with tons of details about motherboards, processors, chipsets, hard disks… Even more impressive, but not unexpectedly, is that this is entirely maintained by volunteers. Be careful to not get lost.

“Building Red Hat Enterprise Linux 9 for the x86-64-v2 microarchitecture level”
By Florian Weimer on January 5th, 2021

The Hacker News thread discussing the “Gentoo x86-64-v3 binary packages available” article made me wonder what exactly the v3 suffix after the x86-64 architecture name was about. Fortunately, a helpful reply from dtech pointed to this other article that explains where these version suffixes came from.

“The Berkley Software Distribution”
By Bradford Morgan White on February 4th, 2024

Unix has a long story and, if you are interested in it at all, this is a great piece describing how BSD came to be. Most of the text is focused on the pre-FreeBSD and pre-NetBSD days though, so we are talking about some really old history here!

“Beyond the 1 MB barrier in DOS”
By yours truly on February 7th, 2024

Last month, I gave you a detailed explanation of how DOS applications pulled all sorts of tricks to maximize the usage of the first MB of the 80286+ address space. In this one, I continue the exploration to see how some DOS apps (particularly games) broke free from those limitations and moved into external memory.

For a richer discussion, you can see the coverage in OSNews and Hackaday among the other usual places. That said, it looks like I pretty much drained the pool of people interested in this topic: the discussions are pretty quiet on this second post and the number of subscribers to Blog System/5 got a bump, but a small one.

"(Almost) Every infrastructure decision I endorse or regret after 4 years running infrastructure at a startup"
By Jack Lindamood on February 1st, 2024

Good reflections on the technical decisions made at a start up and how they turned up after four years. We need more of these sorts of introspective posts: many times, people in tech make decisions, stick around for a year or two, and then leave for greener pastures higher comp without witnessing the impact that their choices had long-term. I’ve seen this play out repeatedly and… I’m probably at fault too.

“A 2024 plea for lean software”
By Bert Hubert on February 8th, 2024

It is easy to dunk on the bloat of modern software—and you should dunk on it because the current state of affairs is terrible—but this article takes an interesting look at the problem by focusing on security. Or, rather, lack thereof… because the massive amounts of code we have to run even for the simplest tasks leave us open to unpredictable security holes.

“FOSDEM 2024: my experience, some notes and tech tips”
By Herman Õunapuu on February 12th, 2024

Very detailed trip report to FOSDEM from a first timer. It’s really long but it’ll make you feel like you missed out for not going. A lot of the advice in it matches what I wrote back in 2020 during my first (and only so far) time there as well.

“Chimera Linux”

This Linux distribution sounds very appealing because it is very non-conformant—no glibc, GCC nor systemd—and leverages core system components from FreeBSD. A tweet from @unixterminal shows how to set it up under WSL, which means it’s super-easy to test-run it if you happen to be on Windows. I haven’t tried yet, but if you have some time, there goes an idea.

“Is something bugging you?”
By Will Wilson on February 13th, 2024

I’m a believer in automated and comprehensive testing. I often hear that you should not write tests for short-lived projects or during quick initial growth—and I think such advice is just plain wrong. Tests do slow you down at the very beginning of a greenfield project, but they pay dividends after just two weeks of full-time coding.

This article describes how the creators of FoundationDB reached the same conclusion because they developed and leveraged a solid infrastructure to run their software in a reproducible manner. They, in turn, turned this idea into a product—which means that the article is an ad, but it won’t feel like it. Promise.

“The original WWW proposal is a Word for Macintosh 4.0 file from 1990, can we open it?”
By John Graham-Cumming on February 13th, 2024

An interesting story in trying to open an old document from 1990 and render it in its original format. Contemporary tools like LibreOffice or Word are still able to open it, but they don’t load diagrams properly.

This is why I made the choice a long time ago to avoid Blogger and Medium and, even if you are now reading this in Substack, why I still author the originals in Markdown and store them in a Git repository.

“Running GNU on DOS with DJGPP”
By yours truly on February 14th, 2024

Following up on the earlier two articles describing how DOS apps managed memory and dealt with the limitations of real mode, I was finally able to write about how DJGPP achieves those goals and also makes GNU programs run on DOS. If you picture DJGPP as the “WSL for DOS”… you aren’t too far off. Mind you, the article will show you bash running on DOS, but the content is primarily about the internals on how DJ achieved such feat.

“cve-rs: Blazingly 🔥 fast 🚀 memory vulnerabilities, written in 100% safe Rust”
By Speykious on February 15th, 2024

Big news everyone! Rust is finally able to replace C and C++ because, thanks to this little library, you can now implement memory vulnerabilities too! Don’t miss out on the new GLWTSPL license either, which you’ll have to assess for compatibility with your own before you can incorporate the code.

“To C or not to C”
By yours truly on February 21st, 2024

An article disguised as a Twitter thread where I joined the ongoing discussion argument in the platform on whether knowing C is a prerequisite for being called a “good programmer”. Spoiler alert: it is not, but what C teaches you is very useful no matter what language you use.

“Ladybird browser can load VSCode”
By Andreas Kling on February 24th, 2024

This is not an article but a mere comment from Andreas showing how the Ladybird browser, a from-scratch implementation of the web, can now load VSCode. Most of it doesn’t work, but some does.

The reason I find this interesting is that it shows how much a small group of motivated developers can achieve in a short amount of time. “Nobody” believed that it was possible to implement a modern web browser from scratch in this day and age… and Ladybird is proving that wrong. Back in my time in the Bazel team, I always said that Bazel’s demise would be a motivated grad student with lots of free time creating a truly open and small build system written in a systems language. The reason I believe this is possible is because I almost had that going on years before Bazel even existed… but I lacked the expertise to push it forward. Check out the Buildtool rememberance article for context.

“The January/February 2024 Issue of the FreeBSD Journal is Here!”
On February 28th, 2024

This is fresh off the press so I haven’t had a chance to read through it yet (other than for the opening Foundation Letter). However, I still hold FreeBSD and NetBSD close to my heart and felt that this deserves a shout out. In particular because the content is now free and they dropped that weird web/mobile app they were using in favor of publishing directly as HTML and PDF.

Maybe someday I’ll have time to go back to contributing to the BSDs… but I do have some exciting news coming up about ATF and Kyua. Stay tuned.

Parting words

And that’s all for this month. I know the list is shorter this time around, in part because the noise around AI has eclipsed everything else and in part because I do want to focus on other projects. I’m happy to have picked up EndBASIC again and some goodies are coming up soon:

But don’t worry. Anything that comes up from this work will definitely deserve some article in Blog System/5. So don’t forget to subscribe and have fun reading all of the above!

A blog on operating systems, programming languages, testing, build systems, my own software projects and even personal productivity. Specifics include FreeBSD, Linux, Rust, Bazel and EndBASIC.

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