On Benatar’s Better Never to Have Been

Ok. So while picking up bits and pieces of what was left from my mind-blown brain, I’ll use this opportunity to reconstitute some thoughts along the way.

First, reading this book is like eating that stupid spicy Samyang noodle shit. You can’t help but dare yourself but it’s all pain while doing it. You kind of question if the whole thing was worthwhile afterwards, but also get quite satisfied once it’s over.

All in all the book is very tightly argued. The noodles are firm and it’s not entirely devoid of flavor. There is sweetness, except for when the author strings double, triple, sometimes even quadruple negative assertions in one sentence. That’s when your head starts spinning and you can’t help but suspect that you are being taken for a ride.

The crux of his argument is this: It may not be good if a hypothetical person who otherwise would have had pleasure had never been born, but because the hypothetical person, not having been born and never to be, is a non-identity anyway, no one is actually being deprived of anything, so it is not so bad either.

However, the same cannot be said of a hypothetical person who otherwise would have had experienced pain but had not been born and never will be, because were this person to exist, it would definitely be bad for the person, and thus sparing such pain is not only not bad, it is also definitely good (even if, technically, no one is also actually spared of anything).

He calls the whole shebang the asymmetry of pain and pleasure. Basically, in Benatar’s moral scale, alleviation of pain weighs more than deprivation of pleasure. And then he goes on about how since every life will definitely experience some pain, it is better never to have been for everybody.

The book is then a catalog of conclusions he drew from this asymmetry and explorations of their implications to usual subjects of small talk – i.e. disability rights, abortion, population control, human extinction, suicide, death – very comfortable topics people are keen to think about. Not.

The brilliant thing about Benatar, in my opinion, is his insistence, supported by really clever argumentation, that his approach to all these is not misanthropic but philanthropic. I literally had a chuckle when he explained a way to view human extinction not as pessimistic, but optimistic. I’d like to rehash how he did it, but then I’d be parroting the book.

So, charms aside, do I agree? Well, I don’t really know. Perhaps the right question is whether I disagree. But then for me to do that not only do I have to logically refute his claims but also come up with some better explanation. Let’s just say that the pain of having to do that is not something I intend to inflict upon myself, so I’ll just admire the cleverness, and keep my conclusions up in the air.

Nevertheless, I do have feelings about the matter. I mean, is it weird that I’m thinking about Naruto the whole time I’m reading this book? It just strikes me as something someone like Pain or Sasuke would write, and to which he would reply,「そんな事言うな! 仲間があるから, 俺達は違う! お前, どういうことだってばよ!」

Perhaps there’s something there too, to the tune that this whole thing could be construed as just one particularly bitter aftertaste in the many possible distillations of Western individualism and its persistent dichotomization of pain and pleasure, wilting in opposition to Eastern collectivism and under a lens where experiences are viewed as a spectrum, thus encapsulating the whole debate inside a supervenience to sidestep the whole premise etc., but as I said, what do I know? These are just words to me. I can barely even read books. Benatar has references to everything.

All that being said, I’d say this book is a must read. It would also make for a very interesting engagement/wedding gift. I don’t suppose anybody can really acquiesce to mediocrity as a parent after reading this. Not for the easily offended nor the easily swayed, the strongly opinionated nor the faint of heart.

So, yeah. Finally. After a decade in my to-read list, I can cross this one out. Shoutout to Richard Stallman’s blog, where I first learned about this book long ago. Also, Tom Rosenthal’s Little Big Mistakes is apt.

For context, and to serve as fluff to intentionally bury the lead, I use mozc-ibus to make Japanese squiggly bits appear on Ubuntu. For the last few moons I have also enlisted myself as a slave to a thing that exists called The Crabigator as a way to drill into my numbskull the meaning of most Japanese squiggly bits.

Now, recently I’m at a point where I have to type the word 詩歌 rather frequently. Thing is, this numbskull was not reading properly, so I thought the only way to make that certain squiggly bit appear is to type しか. Because why not? [If you’re in the know, now is the time to start cringing.] But when I do, mozc-ibus is not giving me the right squiggly bit for the word. It just doesn’t.

So I do the stubborn thing and try to bend mozc-ibus to my will and add しか as a way to type 詩歌. I make the Mozc Settings thing appear, click on the Edit user dictionary, and start adding an entry. Thing is, when doing so I’m being asked to indicate which part of speech the thing I’m adding is so the recommendation magic would know how to sort the new thing properly when doing its thing; but the category list is in Japanese, and said list invoked all sorts of null-pointers causing me to segfault. (Also, how do I capture a screenshot of a GTK dropdown again? With a phone? What heresy! NO.)

So I go scavenging the mozc source code on github to arrive at this file (with text that I could feed to a translator). It must be the source of the part of speech thing I’m being asked to put in the category. I arrive at this file for an embarrassingly long amount of time (at least relative to the realization that follows).

As I was about to add the new entry in the user dictionary that instructs mozc-ibus to do things my way, it dawned on me. How about I try to type しいか? Of course.

Oh well. Now this numbskull doesn’t have to type しじん + Backspace + かしゅ + Backspace every damn time, nor needs bother with untranslated part of speech categories in Mozc settings.

Title is stupid.

What I mean is that when you create an ext2/3/4 partition, by default 5% of the disk is allocated as reserved system space.

So things like this happen:

df -h shows 443G total, 420G used, but only 941M available space. Where did the 22G go?

Bad accounting: df -h output showing missing space allocation


If I have a size 443G disk and I used 420G, I should have 23G unused space, no?

So, imagine my surprise when this started to pop-up every so often:

the volume home has only 986.3 MB disk space remaining

Whut? Only 986.3 MB remaining, when I should have around 23G free space!

To make sense of what’s happening, this gibberish from some redhat geek provides some psychological comfort for what most tutorials instruct on what to do next.

What you do is alter the percentage of the aforementioned reserved system space  to something more reasonable for a large disk, like 1%, by issuing this command:

 $ sudo tune2fs -m 1 /dev/sda7

Take note that doing this is advisable for non-root partitions, since the reserved system space is reserved for a reason. This is one upside of having a partition for all them data separate from the OS, I think.

Btw, I blame youtube-dl for all that disk usage, because I download Youtube now, because adaptive streaming don’t cache videos anymore, and I don’t want to download the same data repeatedly when I watch instructional stuff and music videos, because I am billed by the amount of data I consume*, because I live on some island where internet access is only available wirelessly.

Plus, www [dot] skytorrents [dot] in. No ads, no popups. Hope it stays that way.

* Sort of, and yes, for most, but for me, not exactly.

You switched to UEFI and was annoyed that you can no longer get to the BIOS setup, even through the Windows troubleshooting options (the thing that you get to after holding Shift while restarting) because the option to boot to change the BIOS UEFI settings is not there.

So what you did was to look for BIOS updates and alas, Samsung software pointed you to flash the BIOS with P07RAA.rom.

However, after setting the BIOS with the newly flashed rom to boot in UEFI mode, you lose access to the BIOS Setup again. The next time you want to flash, you can’t, because the flashing utility tells you that it cannot flash when the BIOS has a newer firmware.

So you find a workaround on how to flash the BIOS manually without using the official flashing utility by Samsung. This involves running the exe from Samsung, and while it’s displaying a confirmation dialog, sifting through C:\users\<user>\appdata\local\temp\__samsung_update for the rom file and winflash.exe utility.

However, this workaround only flashed the BIOS. Apparently there’s also a MICOM component that you could only flash using the official utility. So your strategy was to flash with an older firmware using the workaround (BIOS and MICOM mismatched as it will be), and then use the official flashing utility to flash a newer BIOS and MICOM firmware.

So you look for your original firmware installer, which is P05RAA. However, you were unable to extract the rom file from this official installer because it only runs on Windows 7 and you already upgraded to Windows 10 which is the reason why you were enticed to convert the partition table to GPT from MBR and ditch Legacy boot for UEFI in the first place. You try the dumb idea to run the installer on another Windows 7 computer but of course, it has a different BIOS and didn’t even run, so that’s just dumb.

For the time being you settled on manually flashing with the P06RAA rom because that runs on Windows 10, and then using the official flashing utility to flash the P07RAA again.

At this point, you solved the BIOS and MICOM version mismatch, but not your original problem which was lack of access to BIOS setup while in UEFI mode. Also, you unnecessarily updated the BIOS from the original P05RAA to P07RAA and can’t downgrade for the moment. You will need Windows 7 to run again on this laptop to do that, and you cannot install Windows 7 because you know that after switching to UEFI boot, booting to an installer comes after Windows Boot Manager in boot priority. You cannot change that because you cannot access the BIOS setup, and Windows troubleshooting options does not list booting to USB as an option either. Weirdly, it lists your ubuntu entry on the EFI partition as the sole other option to boot from, and Windows sees it as a USB HDD at that. Supposedly, you have the option here to boot to BIOS settings, and any other boot options provided by the BIOS, if the BIOS firmware is following standards, that is. But at this point, you learn that Samsung has a history of not giving a shit about this. Because, who on earth dual boots anyway?

You are lost and defeated.

You muck around with bcdedit on Windows and efibootmgr on Ubuntu. The latter was a bad idea. A VERY BAD idea it turns out.

When lost, stop what you are doing and sleep.

Using bcdedit on Windows, you can see the entries on the Boot Configuration Data. Using efibootmgr, you cannot. You are weirded out about this. So you tried to recreate the bcd using efibootmgr. You feel uncomfortable about what you did, so on next reboot, you pressed F4 to boot to Windows recovery. Your full intention was to do the sane thing which was to repair startup from Windows. Possibly issue a bootrec.exe /rebuildbcd or something. But it was 4 a.m. and you mistakenly proceeded to shutdown the laptop instead.

That was stupid. efibootmgr corrupted the NVRAM.

The next time you powered up the laptop was fun. It starts the fan and shows SAMSUNG logo welcoming you, telling you to press F2 to access setup or F4 for recovery, but neither of which does anything. It then halts, and reboots doing the same thing. A boot loop.

Screwed as you are, you get the screwdrivers out, literally.

The first thing to get unscrewed was the laptop hard disk. The idea was that the boot priority will cascade to USB when HDD is not present. It did not. That was unnerving.

The next thing that got unscrewed is everything that has screws on the laptop. Because theoretically, if you remove the CMOS battery for a while, NVRAM will be cleared and BIOS will be reset.

So you watch disassembly videos of laptops with similar chassis design. (There are none for the exact make and model of the one you have). After a while, you feel simultaneously hopeful, desperate, and confident enough to disassemble the thing yourself. After successfully disassembling the laptop without physically breaking anything (that you know of), you remove the CMOS battery and let it rest. Boot loop persisted.

Well, at least you were able to clean the fan and replace the thermal paste. You find solder notches labeled BIOS CRS and RTC RESET and gets excited. Shorting these did nothing. Boot loop persisted.

Out of ideas, you just randomly smash keys. When nothing makes sense, everything is possible. Ex falso quod libet.

Of course, there is a method to randomly smashing keys. You figure that smashing any of the function keys was priority. Also, you do this while having a USB installer that can boot to either UEFI and Legacy plugged in to a USB 2.0 port and not the USB 3.0 one.

After a day of smashing keys while hopelessly thinking about other options including reading success stories about hot flashing the BIOS and fighting a very strong temptation to dust off a soldering iron somewhere, a breakthrough: pressing F9 allows you to boot to USB. You hear angels sing while Ubuntu liveusb loads. Light descends upon mankind once again. This is happiness.

The goal now is to flash the BIOS with the original firmware, return the hard disk partition table to MBR, and forget about using UEFI in this laptop altogether.

The only thing that’s needed is to find a way to boot Windows 7 from USB. This is supposedly unsupported by Microsoft. But compared to actually disassembling the laptop, this is easy.

You make a fresh install of Windows 7 on an old desktop, and figure out how to use a tool called Win2USB to transfer this installation to an external hdd. Booting to Windows 7, you can at last flash P04RAA rom first using the workaround method, and then flash the original firmware P05RAA using the official firmware installer from Samsung.

You backup the HDD somewhere else, convert the partition table to MBR, copy the partitions back, use Windows installer startup repair to fix booting into Windows 10, and then use Ubuntu live usb to switch grub on the installed Linux system back to grub-pc from grub-efi. At this point, all these was trivial and a joy to be able to do to a laptop that was near death just moments, no, days ago.


So if you are fond of adding PPAs to your Ubuntu system (who isn’t?), sooner or later you will reach this limit and suddenly the next sudo apt-get update you do will throw multiple “…public key is unavailable: NO_PUBKEY …” errors, which will be cryptic as hell.

You will first blame your internet connection, and then be paranoid that perhaps your VPN host is mucking with your security, and then after trying multiple sudo apt-key adv --keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com --recv-keys XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX with processed:1 unchanged:1 results, you will realize that you need to ask Google, which will eventually tell you that there’s this bug.

And that, yeah, you have to go check  /etc/apt/trusted.gpg.d and remove duplicates and entries that aren’t in use anymore, because apparently, it happens that even after a ppa-purge the gpg keyring remains in there, filling up space, waiting for this resource limit to be reached, finally putting a rather innocent apt-get update into tantrums.

So, do a sudo apt-key list right now, and keep those gpg files at /etc/apt/trusted.gpg.d to less than 40 entries, perhaps while pondering about the life of Werner Koch, and the decisions that led him to institute such a resource limit.

Instructions are already available here and here. Basically, read the official documentation here and establishing a connection to a server is the easy part.

The tricky part is, vpnclient/vpncmd on linux doesn’t yet manage your ip routes automatically, so it has to be done manually.

The point of this post is to mention that if you’re using http-proxy*, after a connection is established on vpncmd, don’t forget to make an exception for the http-proxy-server-ip when routing ‘default’ traffic to use the tunnel. If you don’t, the connection will loop, and softether will be cut off from the server. (This is annoyingly obvious in hindsight, which is why it is very easy to miss.)

So, before doing:

ip route add remote_ip via default_gateway dev ppp0 proto static
ip route del default
ip route add default via vpn_server_local_ip dev vpn_se

Make sure to first do:

ip route add http_proxy_ip via default_gateway dev ppp0

On the other hand, the client on Windows has a feature complete GUI, plus an integrated list of servers to connect to.

* a rare case, I think, but is the point of this whole affair in my use case, because I route my traffic to the ISPs own http proxy intended for GPRS connections, in order to bypass data-capping