Portable dev environments

In my journey to uncruft my system, I started looking at even uncrufting my user's footprint as well. I found myself bringing in a ton of things for misc dev work. One project I may use Nim, another Python, another I need Zola for this blog, and it started adding up. I knew there had to be a better way. In comes nix-direnv. If you have done development, you may already be familiar with direnv which is great for keeping your system clean in general. I won't repeat everything when there are good links to things, but direnv is built to keep your env vars that are project specific out of your local system, and nix-direnv extends that now to packages! Instead of rambling, I'll show you a simple demo that I actually use on this blog.

You'll need two files for each project.


use nix


    { pkgs ? import <nixpkgs> {}}:

    pkgs.mkShell {
      nativeBuildInputs = with pkgs; [

You'll obviously want to install direnv and nix-direnv in whatever way you would normally. I simply included them in my home-manager file. Deperinding on how you have your shell installed, you may need to add a hook for your shell to automatically load the environment when you change into the directory. Since I don't allow nix to manage my ZSH configuration, I simply added it to my .zshrc, though it may be more readable to most people with the shown example.

# .zshrc
eval "$(direnv hook zsh)"

If you have a different shell, follow the docs for your specific shell. That should be it in terms of global setup. .envrc files won't be loaded by default for security, so you can run direnv allow . in the directory once and it will be allowed to load from that point on when you cd into the directory, and unload when you leave.

After throughts

Not only does this allow you to keep your system cleaner by keeping env vars and packages out of the system and user's packages, it allows you to keep that portable for anyone that has a nix system with direnv and nix-direnv so there's no need to guess what packages are missing for nix as they can auto populate. If you want to adventure further into it, you can even do things like fetching remote envs, version locking to keep all users on the same dev environment, and much more, but that's outside of the scope of this. This is just meant to give you something to start with, or it may already do everything you could possibly need. Hope that helps someone understand what it does so you don't have to dig up everything like I had to.

My foray into nix

Nix is... wild

So I decided that I was going to try nix as my attempt to remove my state from the system, and didn't realize the size of the rabbit hole that I had fallen into. I thought I was getting access to a package manager that I'd bend into shape like I had with Gentoo in the past with their world files. Turns out that Nix does that really well. I figured that I would enjoy parts of it as I've moved closer and closer to it in the years without realizing, but I didn't know what I would uncover. Before I get sidetracked, let's get this out of the way.

What even is nix?

Nix isn't an operating system. It's technically the name of a package manager, and NixOS uses that package manager. Sounds simple enough, but Nix is more of a language or an idea than either of those things. I won't pretent to have any sort of massive knowledge on nix, but there is so much out there that I wanted to make it known that you will likely be lost if you search for anything Nix related. I'll try to document what steps I'm taking and update with how I'm learning my way through it to maybe help someone out.

So what's the status?

I've started transitioning my personal state into Nix to some degree. If you want to see all of the files as they are when this was written, or as they are live, you can follow along as you please. I've started by porting out into a few modules. There's nothing special about not putting everything in one file per se, but it does allow me to not repeat things and have a more central place to edit things I want on all machines. All of this is powered by home-manager which is a nix community tool that's meant to be much like the core nix, but let you seperate users from the core system. It can also be integrated with NixOS itself, but I'll try to keep it simple for now.

what's it look like

Home-manager files are closely related to nix, but have some slight deviations, though they use nix under the hood. Here's an example from farnsworth (mac mini). I'll trim a bit to make it fit better. Mostly self comments.

    { config, pkgs, lib, ... }:

      home.username = "kdb424";
      home.homeDirectory = "/Users/kdb424";

      # Set current stable
      home.stateVersion = "22.05";

      # Checks that home manager is in sync with release
      home.enableNixpkgsReleaseCheck = true;

      # Let Home Manager install and manage itself.
      programs.home-manager.enable = true;

      # pulls in other nix files
      imports = [


There's not really much in here. I've tried to leave the main home.nix manage only minimal things like what types of things it wants to pull in from other nix files and keep it clean. This is similar to how I managed pmm files, or using user defined sets in Gentoo/Alpine. It just lets you group things by topic and turn them all on/off in sets by chosing imports. These files are just collections of packages that look like this as a base.

    { config, lib, pkgs, ... }:

      home.packages = with pkgs; [

I try to keep things organized like common tools that may be on all machines, or machines of a type, and have just them at this point to simply replace a world file with only one non standard thing in my common.nix

    { config, lib, pkgs, ... }:

      home.packages = with pkgs; [
        git # shortened for readability
        vim # there's more up here in
        ect # the real file

      ] ++ lib.optionals stdenv.isDarwin [
        coreutils # provides `dd` with --status=progress
        time # GNU time
      ] ++ lib.optionals stdenv.isLinux [
        iputils # provides `ping`, `ifconfig`, ...
        zsh # already on mac
        libuuid # `uuidgen` (already pre-installed on mac)
        emacs # installed with brew on Mac

The use of lib.optionals will let me do an OS check and allow me to install things I determine are missing exclusively from the other. I like to try to keep everything as "linux feeling" as I can in a terminal, where mac has some things already, and Linux should likewise have them.

That's it?

Oh, not even close. That's just where I am in terms of "allowing nix to eat my files" as it can absorb even the configs related to your applications to keep them central to Nix, and easier to manage as things update and config file format drifts. They won't be silently laying around as cruft, or partial cruft if nix knows what they are, and is how they got there. I haven't decided if I want to give my dots up to Nix, but I'm playing with NixOS and it will be allowed to manage system config files wherever possible. We'll see where it goes, but that's my start into nix. Hope you enjoy reading about this other world even half as much as I'm having fun discovering it.


I stumbled into comma, which allows you to tell nix to fetch a command for just the line it's run on and then toss it away. This makes one off tasks, or tasks like fetching a command to fetch itself, and yes, I've tried to do that recently, insanely easy. I'm sure there's more that I haven't discovered about it's usefulness, but here it is in action.

╭─ > ~/src/zola-blog > main >
╰─ cowsay "I'm not installed"                                                                                                                           ─╯
zsh: command not found: cowsay

╭─ > ~/src/zola-blog > main >
╰─ , cowsay moo                                                                                                                                         ─╯
< moo >
        \   ^__^
         \  (oo)\_______
            (__)\       )\/\
                ||----w |
                ||     ||

╭─ > ~/src/zola-blog > main >
╰─ cowsay "I'm not installed"                                                                                                                           ─╯
zsh: command not found: cowsay

Hello NEW Blog!

I changed the site!

A friend decided to ditch social media and is moving to RSS and Atom feeds, and my old blog was broken in terms of feeds. I didn't ever know how pelican worked, so I figured there wasn't a good reason to fight it if I could try something new, and here we are. The site is being generated by zola now, which has been an interesting transition. Once I got used to things being different, it seems to work a fair bit better, though I haven't noticed the speed aspect. I am on some decently fast hardware, and it's a small site, but features like broken link checking is a nice bonus. I'll open source the site soon and make sure to link to it, but you can see all of my projects on gitea now conveniently linked at the top with the new atom feed. I'm tired of staring at text, so I'm going to keep this one short, but wanted to christen the site with a new post at least. ✌️

Update: The site is fully open source here and will hopefully continue to beb updated there as my old blog was.

(Mutable) computers suck

I'm beyond tired of computers failing

I've been on a quest lately to get computers to just "go away"™. When I've least expected it, they have alwasy broken. Taken an update, or just decided one day that it didn't want to boot, or acted in a strange way such as no audio, out of date configs, the list goes on. These days, I am not in the mood to deal with breakage at the most random of times. Things like my laptop get booted at most a few times a year, and I really don't want it to be broken on that rare time that I need it. This hasn't just applied to the laptop, but servers as well. For a long while, I was able to just avoid 99% of it by not using SystemD, but it's now even hitting my Artix systems, both the laptop, and a server that I thought I could be too lazy to switch away from because there was no SystemD. That was a mistake it turns out, and has lead me to where I am now.

Computers suck. Now what?

Let's take a step back from rage and consider that tooling has existed for years to solve a ton of this, and I'd even been using some of it for this reason. Docker. Docker has taken the almost everything that I serve, and made it trivial. It basically doesn't break unless someone stops maintaining containers, and is a voodoo box of magic that works. There's two sides of code. The side that is dirty and impure that can break, but that's quite minimal. Writing files, touching the network, ect, can't be clean and have a safe promise that it will work, but the code that actually runs the logic, it mostly can. No more operating system to worry about. There's two things that make Docker (and other OCI containers) great.


Because systems aren't mutable, you limit the cruft to only known directories that are shared into the container. When you update it, you aren't ugrading a bunch of old packages, worrying about cruft left behind like old libraries, old programs you forgot to remove, config files that may be out of date, ect. All of it is just... Gone. When you "update", you throw everyhing away, except your limited scope that you share inside the container, meaning that the only data that can go bad, is that little data. If your image is broken, just roll back. If you want to run a completely different image based on another container, go for it. The service still runs, and can be rolled back or forward almost seamlessly, and when things do finally go wrong with your shared data, there's not much to look at to update or debug.


One could argue that declaring the outcome as opposed to the input directly is a better solution. Docker does this. You state what you want the container to do, but never tell it how to get there. Obviously someone has to create that at one point or another, but the useful bit is what comes out. Many of the best package managers for *nix systems are this way. Portage on Gentoo, Apk on Alpine. The work on the world file and decide "how to get there", but the user controls only the world file. Directly or indirectly. That only covers packages, and not configurations, but it makes rollbacks more possible, but it doesn't completely solve the problem, and why we need both declaritive and immutable together.

So how do we get there?

Many teams have been working to solve this problem for years. Each have their own drawbacks, but I'm giving some of them a test drive to see how they do for my use. Fedora Silverblue is an immutable OS that uses ostree to build in layers, much like docker. Very limited parts of the system are mutable. This leaves almost nothing to damage when you take updates, or add/remove software as you are intended to use containers such as a toolbox or distrobox which are likewise using OCI containers that can also be rolled back if there are problems. If you somehow take a broken host system update, you can roll that back, even if unbootable as the old state is stored and can be loaded from your bootloader menu as if the update never happened. This allows for easy playing with your system with almost no chance that damage can actually happen, and you throw away whatever you don't want knowing you can easily get it back, almost never even needing a recovery disk unless the bootloader gets damaged. I've started messing with Fedora, including making my own spin on Silverblue, but running Sway that matches my dotfiles at the time it was pushed to git at least. Feel free to give it a look here if you would like to see how it works. It took me a long time to get it running, and only managed to use examples from others like Fale's Desktop work, which my work is based on.

Another option that I'm messing with is Nix and NixOS . Nix is able to run on most platforms, such as Mac/Linux and even Windows. Where as my tool pmm was able to integrate with other package managers to emulate world files, Nix can accomplish similar effect, but keeping everything within a container of sorts, exposing things to the outside system. I've started porting most of my packages out of homebrew on my Mac, and into Nix. This allows me to make it portable through Mac/Linux and, even useless to me but it can, Window. On my servers, I need to do misc tasks to manage the server, but almost none of my tooling that's nice for me to use has any bearing on the system, and only adds more cruft that can prevent the machine from working properly. If I can't use exa instead of ls on my shell, it doesn't matter. I need the host to stay stable, and running as intended. Keeping everything contained in Nix also allows me to seperate the "me" from "the system" which leaves everything more porable. You can see my progress, as well as how I'm using that here. I'm using home-manager to keep my personal configuration and tooling away from the system, while also using NixOS on my laptop to declare "how the system is supposed to look" ignoring what my user intends to use on the system. I haven't gone the full Nix route, rewriting all of my configs, docker containers, ect all in their format as I want to keep things portable, but we'll see if that becomes a solution to problems that I hope won't happen yet.


I don't have all the answers, and I don't know what will go wrong next, but staying stagnant was going to leave me not wanting to remember that computers even exist. Immutable and declaritive systems are not what people are used to. It's analogous to someone that's only written procedural code and going to a fuctional language. It's a complete differet mindset. Problems have to be solved in new ways, and things that didn't used to be a problem, may now be one, but at least it should act consistent with this model. We'll see if it's consistently bad, or good, but I'll take consistency at this point over anything.

Denafrips Ares II

Stepping up the audio ladder


I've finally decided to venture away from Schiit DACs into something truly R2R. The Ares II is well regarded as a true endgame DAC for most people, and the price tag is certainly higher than anything else I've owned, costing about 3x what the current price of my Hifiman Sundara are going for, and this is just a DAC. That said, I was looking to up my audio experience, heard amazing things about it, and I'll let you know what I found with my equipment.

Initial impressions

The Ares II is an R2R DAC. This has the unfortunate downside of meaning that it needs to warm up. The day it showed up, I knew this, but ignored common sense and listened to it anyways. It's hard to describe the transition it went through, but the best I can say is that it lacked much detail when totally cold. A lot of things were missing, everything sounded compressed, and it had a haze over everything. It took about 2-3 days to really come to life, but it was at least not a massive step down from an Apple dongle after probably 6-8 hours, and at least on par with that.

Actually performing as advertised now.

This is the first DAC head to head I've had to attempt, so I'll do some back and fourths between songs to give comparisons. I can't note every last difference in them, but I'll try to get anything I feel is worth talking about in this section.

Testing methodology

Where possible, balanced connections will be used, but if only single ended is supported, that is what will be used. All mentions of any differences should be considered a composite of all of the amps unless one is specifically mentioned. All tracks are of CD quality or higher, and streamed from an Airsonic server to Sonixd connected to an M1 Mac Mini via USB.

Equipment used for testing

  • DACs
    • Schiit Modi 2 Uber
    • Denafrips Ares II
  • Amps
    • Asgard 3
    • Jotunheim 2 (modded)
    • Valhalla 2
  • Headphones
    • Hifiman Sundara
    • ZMF Auteur

Said the Sky - Faith EP - Disciple

Link to song

Starting right at the beginning of the song, it's noticeable that there is slightly less haze over this highly complex song on the Ares. The bass throughout the track is much more well defined. It's all there on the Modi, but it's not nearly as distinct. Impact and layer separation on the Ares is quite a lot better. The sound goes from sounding busy and becomes much easier to pick out the instruments from the layers of what sounded like a pleasant, but complex blob of sound on the Modi. This becomes very obvious around the drop at 3:30 in the song. The Ares seems to have much more detail, and when it fades to nothing, right before the drop, and right into it, it becomes much more impactful.

Nier Automata - Amusement Park

Link to song

Acoustic instruments is where the Ares really starts to stretch it's legs. All acoustic instruments seem to sound much more real to life. This applies to not only the stringed instruments, but the drums having a more real to life timbre. On the modi, the stringed instruments have a tendency to fall into the background. Thanks to the extra resolution, echos come through much more clear that were boarder line inaudible on the Modi. Right at the intro of the song, the bells have an unnatural timbre that makes them seem more in the distance or clouded on the modi, but the extra resolution on the Ares really makes them sound a lot more true to life.

Jay-Z - Tom Ford

Link to song

For something totally different, this seemed to be a different kind of test. I was proven instantly that all DAC's don't sound the same, and sometimes it doesn't go the way you expect. Right at the beginning of the song, the bass line backs vocals, and the Modi clearly has an advantage here in that regard. At first I thought the ZMF Auteur needed to be upgraded to Classics as the bass seemed to distort the vocals. There is some truth to that, but even on the Sundara, when the volume is pushed up to a nice loud, but still listenable, level, the vocals distorted. This seems to be part of the recording to some degree as no matter the amp or DAC I throw at it, it never goes away completely, but it happens noticeably less on the Modi with the Sundara than any other pair. After letting it go on loop for a while, as I listen to the tracks many times, I did find the track to fatigue much more with the Modi and the Jot combo, but feeding with the Ares or either into the Asgard 3, it calmed down, even at higher volumes. The track is simple, and produced enough that I don't find any major areas that I can point to the Ares being better here other than being less fatiguing, which to me, is a plus, but the lack of control on the bass in this specific instance may be a deal breaker for some.

Purity Ring - Bodyache

Link to song

This is quite the simple song at first glance. Not much going on in terms of layering, but a nice strong bass line, and contrasting female vocals. This really stresses control of at least bass, as opposed to sub bass from Tom Ford, and here, the Ares really shines again. There's a lot of details in the background here that seem to be flat out missing on the Modi. The air seems to be much more thin on the Modi and really open up switching back and fourth. Echos, trailing notes, fading sounds all extend much farther.

Unorganized thoughts

Over all, I feel that acoustic instruments have a much more natural timbre on the Ares II than the Modi. It also comes off as much "smoother" in terms of fatigue, but not rounded off. The detail is clearly all there, but less "in your face" than any Delta Sigma I've heard personally. The older AKM Modi is still far better than the ESS chips I have given a critical listen to, but it's not as pleasant as the Ares. Some albums or tracks left me feeling fatigued quickly, notably 'Til The End - MitiS would leave me unable to listen to music for reasons I still can't explain, and only after a few tracks of the album. This is gone on the Ares completely. Another thing that wasn't insanely apparent in the tracks that were listed above, but are easy to notice is that the sound stage is much wider on the Ares, especially when mixed with the Valhalla. The Sundara are known to be intimate headptones, and those also gained some sound stage on the Ares, which was quite the surprise. The Auteur gained the most in this regard, and it's enjoyable to listen to well produced music. Tool - Lateralus comes to mind here, as the drums sound like they are being played exactly where they are in space, as opposed to sounding less defined and just a blob of in your head on the Modi.


These are different architectures at VERY different price points. It seems stupid to compare them, but I have them both, and it gave an interesting look at "what a DAC sounds like". If you have headphones reaching into the $1000 price tag, and are looking for more out of them, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Ares II to almost anyone. With rare exception, it has performed leagues above the Modi as it should, with only Tom Ford being the exception, and for all I know, that's just how the recording actually is, and it's just being revealed better. If electronic music is your primary option, there is likely to be a delta sigma DAC that can give you more in this price range, but if you want all of the detail there, but not as in your face, I can say this is the top pick from me. It's still no slouch for electronic, and that's one of my primary genres, but I had to leave something bad. For acoustic, orchestral, anything naturally produces, this is a flawless device, and I don't know what could possibly beat it until you get into the many thousands of dollars.