No Post Today

There will not be a new post today. I have been running into several problems trying to get a video done for the Friday post. The Saturday post maybe a rant about getting OBS to record in a better intermediate format than x264.

NPM Encourages Abandonware

I am using Gulp.js or just Gulp for automating the compilation of CSS stylesheets for the upcoming custom WordPress theme for this blog. In the process of getting that automation setup, I have concluded that NPM’s extremely lax requirements for adding a package to their servers have resulted in an explosion of abandonware.

One of Gulp’s useful advantages over a more traditional solution like make is its choice to pass virtual files around between stages of the processing chain. Parts of the Gulp chain can modify the contents of a file and pass on those modifications without writing them to disk and creating dozens or more temporary files that require exclusion from git and other tools. The most constructive use of this ability I have found so far is a tool that can replace strings in files based on variables I setup.

NPM manages Gulp’s dependencies and plugins. Since creating a new public NPM package is pretty easy, sharing a plugin you wrote doesn’t take any time. That all sounds great until you end up trying to use a plugin and find that no one has updated it for one or two major versions of Gulp. Worse yet is the situation where some dependency is several versions behind, and either is a security vulnerability itself or requires another dependency that is.

I don’t have time to maintain a public NPM package. I may fix one or two outdated plugins I am probably not going to share those fixes on NPM.

Current Opinions on Web Design

I have been designing websites as a side gig for about a year now. Most of that design work has been CSS modifications to existing themes. Since January, I have needed to do more extensive design changes. That work culminated in a scratch-made WordPress theme designed for people using WordPress as a CMS, not a blog platform.
During that time, I have begun preferring Gutenburg’s design philosophy over Elementor’s. Gutenburg does a better job of separating content, and content-specific layout from the general theme layout than Elementor does. Gutenburg also seems less opinionated about its block styling than Elementor.
The downside to flexibility is a lack of capability to micromanage the layout. I don’t see the appeal of complicated website designs that demand pixel alignment from individual paragraphs or worse letters. I tend towards a utility first approach. That utility first approach doesn’t mean that I do not appreciate any artistry. I cannot entirely agree with form over function.
I like the mobile-first approach to design. However, I do get frustrated at the limitations of mobile devices because they can complicate the implementation of proper form and function. A navigatable mobile interface for tabular data is one example.

Programming Languages and Nonoptimum Tool Use

Some backstory

In my post about OpenWRT on x86 hardware, I mentioned that I considered balenaEtcher’s size to be a negative trait. I also complained in Yarn versus NPM about the dependency management for Node.js projects.

Both complaints stem from a similar problem, Using a tool without respect for its constraints.

Constraints?

All tools have constraints. For physical tools like a hammer or saw, they have to do with how the tools materials, size, and shape affect whether it scratches a surface on impact or how smooth the cut is. Digital tools like software also have constraints. C, for example, treats nearly all data structures as merely a location in memory. This provides excellent flexibility at the ease of creating memory leaks and buffer overruns.

The creators of a programming language have both a problem domain and several other constraints to juggle when creating the language. The original problem domain especially restricts the general utility of the language.

What does that have to do with the examples in the backstory?

All of those programs use the JavaScript programming language. Netscape originally designed JavaScript to make small dynamic changes to a browser’s DOM. Combined with a choice for fast iteration, JavaScript ended up without a robust typing system and little attention to modularity.

You can see the attachment to a browser’s DOM in Electron. The programming environment that balenaEtcher uses. Two hundred and four megabytes, installed, for a program whose task is to order a dozen or so command-line tools around.

The failure to update transitive dependencies that I ran into using Yarn is a side effect of how Yarn deals with JavaScript’s lack of module separation. The original program I wanted to use didn’t help matters by choosing a broad semantic range for their dependencies.

Conclusion

Like physical tools, software, including programming languages, has constraints. Strive to be a polyglot so you can use the appropriate tool for the job.

OpenWrt on x86-64

Backstory and why

I switched to using OpenWrt as my preferred firmware for SOHO routers 5 or 6 years ago. During that time, I used it on a Linksys WRT 1900AC. However, over the last few months, I have had to use another WRT 1900AC that is using Linksys’ provided firmware. The Linksys firmware works for necessary routing. It’s troubleshooting, and firewall management tools leave a lot to be desired, though.

Due to constraints on the current home/lab network, I can’t reassociate a few WiFi devices with either OpenWrt on the current WRT 1900AC or replace it entirely with another WRT 1900AC running OpenWrt.

So restricting the current router to just the WiFi access point role is what I am limited to doing. The next question is what should replace it in the role of network router? My three options appear to be:

  • The other WRT 1900AC running OpenWrt
  • An old computer running pfSenseĀ®
  • Or the same old computer running OpenWrt

Onto the testing

Right now, I am testing the old computer running OpenWrt option. So far, the installation was simple. I downloaded the latest version from the OpenWrt Releases page. For a 64 bit x86 device, the required target is x86/64. I went with the combined-ext4 image. After downloading the device image, I wrote it directly to the hard drive I am dedicating to the new router. I installed the hard drive in the computer and booted it up.

Contrary to the OpenWrt documentation, I could use a keyboard to login to the local console on the test rig. My biggest complaint so far is the lack of software installed by default. Most x86 hardware that you would run OpenWrt on are much more potent than the other devices they support. I expected that Samba and ReadyMedia formerly MiniDLNA would be installed though disabled by default. Most SOHO routers you can buy have the option of being a NAS, so OpenWrt not including the software for that by default in the install image for the most spacious target they support is a bit odd from my perspective.

Interesting stuff learned during the process

While I prefer Rufus for writing ISO or disk images to USB media, the OpenWRT documentation recommended using a tool called balenaEtcher. I decided to try it out. I do like that it validates that the flashing process completed. I also like that it can handle compressed images directly saving the step of uncompressing the image before writing it.

What do I not like about balenaEtcher? File size. Rufus will fit on a single 3.5″ floppy disk. balenaEtcher would need 89 3.5″ floppy disks. For my younger audience who don’t know what a 3.5″ floppy disk is, you can read about them on Wikipedia. They have a standard storage capacity of 1.44 Megabytes.

Yarn versus NPM

Over the last few days, I have had to use both Yarn and NPM to attempt to install two different programs for a couple of home networking experiments. The dependency packaging of Node projects leaves something to be desired. Problems with dependency fulfillment become especially apparent when the package manager pulls in dependencies that are several years out of date for some reason.

I eventually figured out which dependency was causing the problems and that a non-feature breaking update would solve the problem. Yay, I can get the problem solved quickly and get back to testing a new networking feature for my home lab. A yarn update node-gyp upgrade should have solved the problem.

Over 30 minutes of running around in circles trying to get yarn to update a transitive dependency. A short sequence of

  • Installing npm-check-updates
  • running npm-check-updates -u
  • and npm update

Meant I had node-gyp and several other outdated dependencies updated.

Yarn might be better than NPM for running a built Node package, but it isn’t the easiest to use when a dependency update is required.