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31 Jul 2022 : Selecting a new Linux laptop #
As I spend a significant amount of my time — probably double-digits on most days — using my laptop, choosing the right laptop can have a big impact on my life. Choosing the wrong laptop even more so. It's also a very expensive purchase, the soft of thing you want to get right first time.

Back in December 2016 I needed to buy a new laptop. My then Acer laptop was rapidly becoming unusable. The keyboard on the laptop had always been its Achilles Heel, but it was getting worse and it was time to upgrade. You can read all about it in the post I made at the time. There you'll also find a comparison of the ten different laptops I thought might replace it.

In the end, after all the pros and cons had been balanced out, I ended up getting myself a Dell XPS 13 9360. Compared to most of the other possibilities it was an obvious step up. But in the end I was left torn between the XPS and the Razer Blade Stealth. The latter offered a much more exciting option, although the XPS had a larger screen in a smaller chassis. But what really tipped the balance was Dell's official support for Ubuntu, in comparison to what the Web suggested was patchy-at-best support on the Razer. I've experienced devices with poor Linux support in my time and it's not something I want to repeat.

In September 2020 I decided it was time to upgrade again. Having been pleased with the XPS, especially the good Linux support and lovely screen, I went for the XPS again. This time a Dell XPS 13 9300. It was a worthwhile upgrade and I didn't regret it.

Fast forwards to a couple of months ago. The letter "D" key on my XPS 13 9300 keyboard split into two. I type a lot, and it's not unusual for laptop keyboards to deteriorate over time, so it wasn't a massive shock. In addition, I'd been experiencing difficulties compiling some of my work projects on the device: 16GB of RAM just wasn't enough to reliably build the Gecko engine, and it was hitting the limit of many of the even relatively undemanding games I wanted to play.

So time for a replacement again. But Dell complicated things by announcing the Dell XPS 13 9320 Plus, a significant redesign over previous generations with some notable downgrades: a dubious touch-sensitive function key row, removal of the headphone jack, and no micro SD card slot. On the flip-side it supported much faster CPUs and better integrated graphics.

So with this in mind it's time for another laptop comparison. The laptop landscape has changed quite considerably since my last detailed comparison. Apple is now using ARM instead of Intel chips; AMD Ryzen chips are competing on performance with Intel; Linux support is far more widespread. Plus there are now niche brands that compete on features, price, size and screen resolution, such as the laptops from Framework and System 76. These latter options are particularly appealing given they're bringing something new to the scene; they'd be worth supporting for that reason alone, all other things being equal.

Below you can see the comparison table I put together for the main contenders. I've tried to be as polarised as possible — things are either good bad or neutral now — in order to simplify things and to ultimately be more decisive. For some of the categories such as battery size I've marked them all as acceptable. That may seem odd given the big differences in the actual values, but my experience has been that Linux never does particularly well when it comes to managing battery life, so I expect to be connected to the mains for the majority of my usage anyway. Hence the actual battery size has limited impact on my choice.

On the other hand, memory and number of cores plays a much larger role this time than for my previous purchasing decisions. Since the projects I now work on have become large enough for these factors to have a significant impact on my daily development routine. Hence the 16GB RAM limit of the Razor Blade 14 ultimately ruled it out. This is a real shame: the existence of the Tensorbook shows that Razer devices are now viable for use with Linux, so if a 32 GB option had been available, I might have gone for it.

In the end, and somewhat to my surprise, the numbers led me to the Dell XPS 13 Plus after all. It provides the best performance and features in the form factor for my needs. The removal of ports isn't something that's likely to affect me (I use Bluetooth audio exclusively). My main concern was the touch-bar function key row, but I decided to take the risk.

Now that I have the device I'm very happy with it. The touchpad and keyboard both feel practical and very comfortable. The function keys aren't great, but they're usable. The screen is wonderful once again and the Linux support has been excellent: everything works just as I need it to.

Here's the table with the full analysis. The first two columns containing the Dell XPS 13 9300 and the Lenovo Thinkpad P52S show the specs for my previous Dell laptop and my work laptop.

Colour coding:
Good
Acceptable
Bad
Current laptops
 
 

Dell XPS 13 9300

Thinkpad P52S

Dell XPS 13 9320 Plus

Razer Blade 14

Dell XPS 15

Company

Dell

Lenovo

Dell

Razer

Dell

Review

Engadget

TechRadar

Engadget

Engadget

Engadget

Height (mm)

9.58

20.2

15.28

16.8

18.54

Width (mm)

295.65

365.8

295.3

319.7

344.4

Depth (mm)

198.68

252.8

199.04

220

230.1

Weight (kg)

1.207

1.99

1.26

1.78

2.1

Screen size (in)

13.4

15.6

13.4

14

15.6

Screen width (px)

3840

1920

3456

2560

3840

Screen height (px)

2400

1080

2160

1440

2400

Battery (Wh)

52

32

55

61.6

86

Touchscreen

Fan

Backlit keyboard

Processor

i7-1065G7

i7-8550U

i7-1260P

Ryzen 9 6900HX

i9-12900HK

Cache (MB)

8

8

18

20

24

Frequency (GHz)

1.3

1.8

4.7

4.9

5.0

Cores

8

4

12

8

14

Memory (GB)

16

32

32

16

64

SSD (TB)

1

0.5

2

1

2

Graphics

Intel Iris ICL G2

Nvidia Quadro P500 Mobile

Intel Iris XE

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050

OS

Ubuntu

Ubuntu

Ubuntu

Windows

Windows

Price (£)

1631.04

1966

2058

3600

3300

Pros

Small, light

Good specs for dev

Good specs, small

Ideal screen/size balance, design

Ideal specs

Cons

Underpowered

Big, heavy

Weak GPU, design

Too little RAM

Size, weight

Notes

16GB too low for dev

Too large for bag

 

 

Too large & heavy

           
 

Razer Blade 15

Tensorbook

Framework Pro

Galago Pro

Lemur Pro

Company

Razer

Lambda Labs

Framework

System 76

System 76

Review

Engadget

The Verge

TechRadar

Ars Technica

OSNews

Height (mm)

16.99

16.9

15.85

17.5

15.5

Width (mm)

355

355

296.63

324.9

321

Depth (mm)

235

235

228.98

225

216

Weight (kg)

2.01

2.1

1.27

1.41

1.09

Screen size (in)

15.6

15.6

13.5

14.1

14.1

Screen width (px)

3840

2560

2256

1920

1920

Screen height (px)

2160

1440

1504

1080

1080

Battery (Wh)

80

80

55

49

73

Touchscreen

Fan

Backlit keyboard

Processor

i9-12900H

i7-11800H

i7-1280P

i7-1165G7

i7-1165G7

Cache (MB)

24

24

24

12

12

Frequency (GHz)

5.0

4.6

4.8

4.7

4.7

Cores

14

8

14

4

4

Memory (GB)

32

64

32

32

32

SSD (TB)

1

2

2

2

2

Graphics

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080

Nvidia RTX 3080

Intel Iris XE

Intel Iris XE

Intel Iris XE

OS

Window

Ubuntu

None

Ubuntu

Ubuntu

Price (£)

4200

2786

2134

1548.36

1287

Pros

GPU/Gaming

Ideal specs

Configurable, good specs

OS, size

OS, size

Cons

Size, weight

Size, weight

Screen, size

Screen, CPU

Screen, CPU, not yet available

Notes

Too large ∓ heavy

Too large ∓ heavy

Low-res screen

Low-res screen

Not yet available

 
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25 Jul 2022 : Carbon Cancel Culture #
If you've visited my site before you'll know I've been tracking my waste and CO2 output for a few years now. Last year I used the UNs Framework Convention on Climate Change to offset Joanna and my 2020 emissions. I tried to do the same back in December for our 2021 emissions but ran into trouble.

The site doesn't take payment itself, instead it hooks you up with the projects so you can pay directly. Unfortunately I experienced some difficulty trying to pay my preferred project at the time, and ultimately had to give up on it.

It's taken a while for me to catch up to it again, but I finally got around to trying with a different project. Happily I had more success on this second attempt, and our emissions are now being offset by RIPPLE Africa by providing lower carbon cooking stoves in Nkhata Bay District, Malawi.
 
Cancellation Certificate from offset.climateneutralnow.org

 
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14 Feb 2022 : Backups all the way down #
My home server has spent the weekend completing an offsite backup. Duplicity provides a rather nice stats dump at the end of the process, so I now know that what felt like a full two days of poor internet connectivity was actually only 37 hours 10 minutes and 41.54 seconds. During this time it uploaded 122 GB of new and changed file data resulting from 113 GB of actual changes.

That's quite a lot of delta, considering the server stores 381 GB of data in total, and that's more than I actually thought was on there. Most of this is probably backups from my other devices which go to my home server, then into this backup here. Backups of backups. I've had need to rely on these backups in the past, so it's reasuring to know I have something recent now to fall back on.

 
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2 Jan 2022 : Reckoning and Renewal, Part II #
New year, new resolutions. At the start of last year I made some new year's resolutions, and the time has come to judge my actions against them.

Unlike 2020, my 2021 achievements aren't best measured in television series and computer games. Which isn't to say I didn't get through a lot of television (How to Get Away with Murder, Borgen, Capitani, Lupin, The Expanse, Witcher, Another Life, Cursed, all 172 episodes of Voyager) or computer games (Hades, the Banner Saga, Creaks, Dishonored Death to the Outsider, Titanfall 2, Trine 4). But unlike in 2020 these weren't the completion of multi-decade odysseys.

Instead, I spent much of my year focussing on work. A surprising amount of my free time was taken up writing the Sailfish OS community newsletter. I also spent a lot of time trying to learn Finnish, wracking up a 339 day streak on Duolingo and, in the second half of the year, attending intensive Finnish classes. Unfortunately my actual progress in being able to communicate doesn't match what my Duolingo stats imply.

 

I managed to eradicate some long-standing sores in my life. In September I finally released my website code as open source, thereby completing the first of my 2020 resolutions.

"1. Put this website code into a public git repository."

This had been on my to-do list for fifteen years, so I was pretty happy to get it finally resolved. Also by September I'd managed to transition my password approach from the Stanford to the Cambridge algorithm, releasing an updated PwdHash app in the process. This has been on my to-do list for five years. In December I managed to upgrade Constantia, my home server, to the latest versions of the software it runs (Linux, NextCloud, jitsi, etc.). Upgrades are always daunting in prospect and painful in practice, so I'm really happy to have this back under control. Finally Joanna and I have arranged to have our gas central heating converted to a heat pump. It's taken a lot of organising from us both, and it won't actually happen until later this year, but this is another long-standing issue I'm really happy we're going to get fixed.

The other positive from 2021 was that I managed to reduce my carbon footprint, and my waste output.

Those are the big positives from 2021 for me. It wasn't all positives of course. Joanna and I still haven't addressed our living-in-two-different-countries challenge. We really need to find a better solution. This was made worse by the travel restrictions this year, which really meant we spent much less time together than is right.

While I succeeded with my first resolution, I did much worse with my other two.

"2. Each week by the end of the weekend, spend at least an hour doing something calming that doesn't require a computer."

This was always going to be a challenge, and even though I spent ages trying to formulate this resolution into something measurable, it still didn't work out. My year was busy, sometimes stressful, and I didn't make progress in the non-computer calming things, such as reading, that I'd hoped to. I did at least do a lot of walking in the forest and by the lake, and even managed to do some work in the forest and by the lake. But I need to keep track of it better in the future.

"3. Complete the bisection analysis that Frajo and I started working on a year ago."

Again, this was a fail. I made some progress, but the work isn't even close to being complete. The fact I've not pushed my write-up to git is a good indication that it needs a lot more work.

So that was my 2021. What about 2022? Based on the above, what are my resolutions for the next year going to be?
  1. Maintain a digital record of all of my grocery purchases during the year. Since I already keep track of my waste output, I think it'd be interesting to compare this against my goods input
  2. Learn quantum programming, measured by completing the book I'm reading on the topic, and writing at least one quantum computer programme. The programme should do something.
  3. Complete my Curious Correspondence course with Joanna. We've already completed four out of the twelve tasks, so we have another eight to complete this year at least.
  4. Write up the bisection analysis work.
 
Plus keep my average waste down to below 200g per day on average, which is a reduction on my 2021 goal, but above my 2021 level of 114 g/day, in order to keep it achievable.

I'm dropping my aim to spend a measurable hour away from my computer each week in favour of these specific tasks instead. If I can manage the above, then I think I'll have achieved something similar.

Finally, despite my usual cynicism I was won over by this article about improving without trying. I think it's because the sentences are so short. Here are five I really buy into and will be test-driving this year.
  1. Sharpen your knives.
  2. Start a Saturday morning with some classical music – it sets the tone for a calm weekend.
  3. Be polite to rude strangers — it’s oddly thrilling.
  4. Learn the names of 10 trees.
  5. Politely decline invitations if you don’t want to go.
One thing I'm pleased to note is that none of my 2022 resolutions are intended to fix long-term sores, which I think means I must have tackled the most serious of them. In which case, I can now focus on preventing any new ones from forming.

Plenty of things to aim for in 2022. Let's see how this one goes. I predict 3% chance of success.
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31 Dec 2021 : How lightly did I tread in 2021? #
I'm trying to make doing an environmental check-up an annual habit. I have so many bad habits, it feels like getting a good habit would make a nice change. So this is my attempt. Looking back is also a lot safer than making future commitments.

It turns out that 2021 was a good year for me environmentally, or that it at least looks that way on paper. Hemmed in by the pandemic and forced to reduce flying, it wasn't hard to do less this year. On top of that 2021 made my third year of collecting waste data, which — even unconsciously — has trained me into throwing less stuff away.

So let's start with my 2021 household carbon footprint. According to the Carbon Footprint Calculator, in 2021 Joanna and I contributed a combined total of 7.73 tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere. That's a lot of CO2, but our output is at least following a downward trend. In 2019 we contributed 14.47 tonnes and in 2020 it was 8.50 tonnes. The following table summarises where all that gas came from.
 
Source Details for 2021 CO2 output 2019 (t) CO2 output 2020 (t) CO2 output 2021 (t)
Electricity 3 009 kWh 0.50 0.40 0.59
Natural gas 9 089 kWh 1.18 1.26 1.66
Flights 3 HEL-LHR, 4 TMP-STA 5.76 2.26 1.90
Car 3 219 km 1.45 0.39 0.39
Bus 168 km 0.00 0.01 0.02
National rail 676 km 0.08 0.01 0.02
International rail 513 km 0.02 0.01 0.00
Taxi 100 km 0.01 0.01 0.01
Food and drink   1.69 1.11 1.05
Pharmaceuticals   0.26 0.32 0.31
Clothing   0.03 0.06 0.06
Paper-based products   0.34 0.15 0.14
Computer usage   1.30 1.48 0.75
Electrical   0.12 0.29 0.19
Non-fuel car   0.00 0.10 0.00
Manufactured goods   0.50 0.03 0.03
Hotels, restaurants   0.51 0.16 0.15
Telecoms   0.15 0.05 0.04
Finance   0.24 0.24 0.22
Insurance   0.19 0.11 0.10
Education   0.05 0.00 0.04
Recreation   0.09 0.06 0.05
Total   14.47 8.50 7.73

The main reasons for the reduction compared to 2020 were fewer flights, and fewer computer purchases (I purchased precisely one less laptop than the one I purchased in 2020). Laptops, it turns out, are surprisingly carbon-intensive to make.

So those reductions are benefits, but I'm not sure they're benefits we'll be able to maintain over time. In early 2022 we've arranged to have a heat pump installed to replace our gas central heating. This is a big change, with the main aim to reduce that 9 089 kWh of natural gas usage in the table above. Gas is clean to burn, but as a non-renewable fossil fuel it's especially problematic, with no easily switchable environmentally-friendly alternative. Hopefully a heat pump will reduce our overall power usage, not just our non-renewable usage.

Our numbers equate to an average of 3.87 tonnes of CO2 per person in 2021. That compares favourably to the UK average of 5.4 tonnes, an EU average of 6.4 tonnes and a world average of 4.8 tonnes according to the World Bank.

How about waste output? My average waste output for 2021 was 114.69 g/day. You can see how this came about, and how it was split across different types of waste, in the graph below.
 
Daily waste data histocurve

This average is equivalent to a total waste output of 42 kg for the year. In theory everything except the General waste shown in the graph was recycled. The total is also a reduction on previous years, comparing to 57 kg of output in 2020 and 118 kg in 2019. These number are slightly lower than the actual amount. For example this year I've spent around six weeks in the UK, during which I'm not able to collect waste output data.

This all looks quite positive, but I'm becoming increasingly aware that waste output is a volatile metric. For example, if at some point I have to replace a piece of furniture, my waste output will go through the roof for the year. This does honestly motivate me to try to fix things rather than throw them away, but it's also a source of angst, knowing that it'll happen eventually.

According to eurostate, average per capita municipal waste output across the EU was 505 kg per person, with the average in Finland being slightly higher at 596 kg. Compared to this, my 42 kg of output looks pretty good. Still, I'm supposing that at least some of that 505 kg was made up of chairs.

So in summary I'm happy that Joanna's and my CO2 output was down on 2020, as was my waste output. We both trod a bit more lightly, even if it's not yet light enough. We've not quite reached that fully circular economy. The main driving factor for the reduction seems to have been the pandemic, so it will at least be interesting to see what happens next year.

 
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