Sun, 12 Mar 2006

Was going through some old tomboy notes today, and realized that I’d written a couple blog posts that never got posted. Given the choice between deleting them, and posting them badly out of date and out of order, I’ve chosen the latter. Sadly, they were intended to have picture links, but my gallery is busted ATM, so no pics for you! :)

From my flight back home after New Years:

What a great and relaxing break. Very little email; very little thinking about school applications at all. (Work, it turns out, is the least of my stressors right now, by a large margin, though I expect things to come fast and furious when I return.) This entry is almost entirely of the personal diary-nature (sans several book recommendations), so ignore it if that’s not your cup of tea :) (And yes, one of these days I’ll switch to a blog system with categories, but I’m not in any hurry ;)

First leg of the trip was to California to see Krissa’s parents. Read Market Forces and Broken Angels by Richard Morgan on the flight out. If you’re looking for light scifi that will clear your mind of other thoughts without challenging you too much, I recommend them both. If you’re looking for something more challenging, my sole attack on that over the break Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds, which my brother and sister got me for Christmas. It is not as challenging as his books usually are (more character-oriented, less analysis of culture/history/etc.) but still fun and more complicated/involved than the Morgan books.

California itself was great. In the ‘architecture is law’ category, I finally realized that part of why Krissa’s dad’s house is so spectacularly family-friendly is that there is no place to go in the house that isn’t the joint living room-kitchen. If you’re awake and in the house, you’re going to be in the same room with everyone else, in a room oriented around the kitchen and the table instead of the TV. Obviously the fact that the family is incredibly open and friendly is the prime reason the house is so friendly and sociable, but I think the layout of the house helps out a lot more than I’d realized before.

At any rate, much socializing (mostly in the form of a family card game called Shanghai) and wine drinking was done. On the 23rd, we went wine-tasting and picked up a dozen bottles or so for ourselves, and a bottle for my dad’s 60th birthday party.

Christmas itself was sort of weird- my first one ever not with my mom or grandparents. Enjoyed it nonetheless. Krissa’s nephews are going to be spoiled (they are the center of the universe, basically) but are adorable adorable kids right now- very smart and talkative for their age. Unfortunately one of them got sick and missed some of the post-Christmas festivities. Was a theme- apparently part of Christmas day at my grandparent’s was spent at the hospital, as my grandmother got some kind of 24 hour stomach virus which she passed on to my mom, aunt, and brother too. Not a great end for a long year at their house.

After Christmas, flew home to Miami to celebrate my dad’s 60th. My dad is a very successful, well-liked guy (well, by everyone except my mom ;) and the party was quite a success. The party theme was ‘the king’ (yeah, that would be my dad) so there was a jester and lots of crown-shaped chocolates. Was good to see some family members I haven’t seen in forever.

Highlight of the trip home was probably actually the boat trip the family took on new year’s eve day. I am still kicking myself for not bringing the camera, because I’ve never seen dolphins in Biscayne Bay so frolicsome. We saw at least three, probably four, pods of three dolphins, and one in particular had a younger/smaller dolphin and was just having a blast- jumping, rolling, and basically wresting with each other. Miami really is a wonderful, magical place sometimes.
Spent some time reading at home, of course, sprawled on a hammock between two palm trees. Between that time and the flight I read the excellent Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer by Warren St. John, Century Rain, and Futebol by Alex Bellos. Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer was a great look into the psychology and behavior of sports fans, particularly through the lens of the University of Alabama football fans who tailgate before games in RVs. Really fascinating book- explaining in much more eloquent terms than I can some of the compulsions and behaviors of the slightly insane fan, such as myself. He also dug up some great research (most of it, sadly, published after my last attempt to research the topic) showing that in fact many rabid fans are pretty sane, normal people.

Food-wise, it was a sort of dull holiday- I ate very well, but nothing new that I can think of offhand. Among other things I’m returning with are a brick of guava jelly (yay) and some incredibly interesting chocolate chips that my brother got for Christmas, from Vosges Chocolate. The first bag are ‘red fire’ chips, which include ancho and chipotle chillies and cinnamon in with the dark chocolate. The other bag are ‘black pearl’, which add ginger, wasabi, and black sesame seeds to the chocolate. Am looking forward to what Krissa invents to put them in. [Ed. Note later: these were delicious, and my brother got us more for my birthday a couple weeks ago. This stuff is silly expensive, and silly pretentious (never thought chocolate could be pretentious, huh?) but fricking crazy delicious.]

New Year’s resolution, I think, is not to say anything out loud that I would be uncomfortable putting in my blog. Last year’s resolution, for the first time ever, was a success- I got a couple new suits for Christmas, and I vowed that by this Christmas I’d lose enough weight to force them to be adjusted. Mission accomplished; have dropped two pants sizes and am hoping to drop at least one more this year. We’ll see how that goes. [Ed. Note: not doing great on this year’s resolution, but not terrible either. We’ll see how it goes :)]

I also found a short note from Berlin:

The new Reichstag is pretty cool, except that you can’t actually walk on the lawn of the republic (or whatever they call it) so you can’t really see the dome, and from within the dome, you can’t really see the floor of the Reichstag unless the angle is perfect. This is a shame; I really like the symbolized idea of a ‘transparent’ government- much better than the powerful but aloof architecture of DC. (Open Question: were the white columns always ‘aloof’? Or are we reading it to it modern feelings about our government?)

The new holocaust memorial is fairly powerful, but (1) is not embedded in something like DC’s Mall (it is in the middle of cityscape/construction) and hence loses some of the meditative/emotional power. (2) It does not provide any context… a little bit of context and separation, and the raw design of the thing would be massively powerful. (compare/contrast the miami beach holocaust memorial, with stark images of starvation, or the personalization and scope of the vietnam memorial.) You want to walk into it, explore, think, but the surrounding cityscape and the lack of anything to even say ‘by the way, this is a holocaust memorial’ sort of dampens the effect. [There is some kind of vistor center-y thing, but there was only a line- no signs that I could see, even in german.]

Sat, 11 Mar 2006

I’ve spent part of the morning playing with Trac. I have to say I’m pretty impressed. It is still not in bugzilla’s league for a beast-sized project like GNOME or mozilla, which require sophisticated user handling and cross-project interaction, but for my personal projects, and possibly for small projects at work, so far Trac seems pretty good. Setting it up was easy (though bugzilla is pretty easy these days too, and would be easier if it supported sqlite, which it probably shouldn’t given the target market.)

Things trac needs to compete with bugzilla:

  • multiple projects per install.
  • Email notification that doesn’t feel hackish.
  • Well-integrated user management.
  • Keep up with the cool things bugzilla has on the horizon: XML-RPC, for example.

Things bugzilla needs before trac eats it for lunch:

  • Good source control integration, like trac has with SVN. (There are some ways to make this happen with bugzilla, but none are official/well integrated. To install trac you must specify an svn repo.)
  • Would be nice to have wiki-ish comment formatting.
  • Trac considers itself a repo for documentation and project planning. I’m not 100% sure that makes sense to put in bugzilla (large projects tend to want to do that kind of thing separately) but it sure must be nice for small projects to have that all in one bundle. And it sure is nice as an admin to be able to edit bugzilla’s front page like a wiki instead of hacking code. Picture, for example, how maddeningly cool our new browse.cgi would be if it were a wiki page (automatically generated when a new product was added) built with macros instead of hard-coded.
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify- adding/removing fields in trac is brain-dead simple, with a nice command line tool for it. It is still a pain in bugzilla, after all these years.
  • Make it work out of the box. Trac is quite useful from go; to make bugzilla feel polished you need to install and then fix stinkers like REMIND and LATER, which has been acknowledged to be a bug in bugzilla since 1999.

Both projects need to learn from bugzilla.gnome and bugzilla.kde and simplify/refocus bug views, and improve information for maintainers. Compare and contrast the dreadful spew of unuseful information I get at the top of a default bugzilla bug with the simple, focused view in bugzilla.gnome.org. And as already mentioned, every bug tracker should have something like b.g.o’s browse.cgi.

Thu, 09 Mar 2006

Congrats to my old team on another cool-looking release. I am a little surprised to see it referred to as SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, not NLD, but you can’t win every battle. :) Look forward to playing with it whenever it is released.

Tue, 07 Mar 2006

Couple other personal notes from Miami:

  • I told someone a few months ago that I liked the brash wealth of Miami. That sounded wrong, because it came out like an endorsement of the ridiculous gluttony that is Miami- ferraris, huge boats, extravagant parties, etc. When I was home this weekend, I realized that the adjective I love about Miami is exuberant. Miami’s exuberance comes out in a lot of ways- in incredible gluttony, yes, but also in the night life, and the music, and the food (man, the food…), and just the general enjoyment. People in Miami are all (rich and poor) generally doing their damndest to enjoy their lives, and doing that loud and proud. And I love that. And I’m glad I finally have a single word to capture it, and I hope some day I can go back and do the same.
  • Krissa and I went twice to the Chihuly installation at Fairchild. If for some reason you’re in Miami, go. If you’re in Florida, rent a car and go. If you’re in the US, consider getting a plane ticket and going. Chihuly is amazing, and this installation is spectacular. My gallery installation is a little hosed right now, but hopefully I’ll get it up soon and be able to share some of the 400+ pictures Krissa and I took over the two days. In the meantime, the website has some nice, pro shots to give you a clue about what we were drooling over.
  • I got to see my sister play a set or two at a fund raiser for an environmental non-profit she used to work at. Lots of fun. Her CD is still on CDBaby, including links to listen to it in good quality mp3s and low-quality ones (which are easier to link to). My favorite track is probably the first one (listen in lo-fi here), but the family will probably kill me because, as far as I can tell, peaches (also lofi) is the only acceptable answer for ‘what is your favorite deblois track.’ Anyway, fun stuff if you’re into sort of southern acoustic blues folk :) (Think Indigo Girls, sort of, though more mellow.)
  • Like I said yesterday, spent time this weekend talking with my parents about life advice. My father (who really is the american dream personified, in so many ways, and to his credit has never really explicitly pressured me to follow in his footsteps) gave the best advice he has given me in ages: ‘if you ever feel like you are a failure, give me a call, and ask me to tell you about my failures. There are plenty.’ I tend to put him on such a pedestal, at least professionally, that this was really good to hear.

Tue, 07 Mar 2006

Stefan: Awesome to hear you were pushing GNOME at Linuxtag. For what it is worth, the answer I usually give when asked the difference between GNOME and KDE (for users) is simplicity- compare, for example, nautilus’s right-click ‘burn to CD’ for an iso with the incredibly powerful but difficult to use k3b, some simple preferences menus (like nautilus’s v. konqueror’s), or the necessity for search functionality in the KDE control center, or GNOME’s leadership in developing desktop software that Just Works, like hal and network manager or tomboy and muine. When giving this answer, it is always important to stress that this isn’t for everyone- I think this makes GNOME clearly better for me, and for my mom (and hence in the long term for hundreds of millions of people), but we should be honest and up front that this approach is not necessarily for the average hacker or admin who likes to tweak every little setting.

For developers, of course, the answer is LGPL and language support- python, C++, and C# are first-class languages for us, not just C, and Java is catching up, which means you can do work in just about any language you might want. Again, it is worthwhile to admit that right now have better tools for development, but hopefully we’re catching up in that area as well.

For businesses and big deployments, the answer is ease of use/simplicity, which means cheaper support and lower training costs, and corporate support- Sun, Novell, Red Hat, Nokia, and perhaps now Palm are all helping develop our software, which improves the experience for everyone, and providing support for customers who want that level of expertise.

Mon, 06 Mar 2006

Spent the weekend in Miami, talking over my future with my parents (who despite it all are pretty decent advisors) and getting a touch of a sunburn. The biggest goal of the weekend was to de-stress- so I continued to read Getting Things Done, which so far has just been really dead on about my problems, if not necessarily all of the solutions- mostly the suggested solutions seem right, but the constant prattling about paper and file folders, when I have search tools galore in front of me, seems odd. Anyway, I was inspired to start cleaning up my desktop on the flight back. Because of the lack of network, I wasn’t able to actually remove too many things from my action list, but I was able to review some things and clean some old things out. Felt really good, for example, to delete all my old LSAT and GMAT notes, and delete a slew of other stuff out of my home directory and my Desktop. And I’ve bitten the bullet and completely rearranged my desktop- I’m running gimmie, tomboy, and deskbar as my only real interfaces right now. I’ve even turned off nautilus rendering the desktop so there are no distractions visible when I’m trying to focus. (I would love to run gdesklets on a layer so that I could nuke the weather and clock applets, but I need to file a slew of bugs first.)

GTD is going to be slightly frustrating software-wise- tomboy is almost perfect for it, but not quite (because it has no categories), and a perfect Getting Things Done desktop would allow you to use the same tags across basically all objects in your life- my files, my tomboy notes, my emails, and the people in my life would all (ideally) use the same tags so that when I wanted to find information relevant to what I’m doing right now it would be trivial. That isn’t coming any time soon, it looks like, though who knows, stranger things have happened :) If I could even just get it consistent between evo and tomboy, that would be the feature that would make me take my personal mail back out of gmail and into evo.

(Of course, I appear to have left Getting Things Done on the plane, the same thing I did with Effective Executive. Maybe my subconscious is trying to tell me something.)

In other news… this is a really nice example of effective open source development.

Thu, 02 Mar 2006

Good things:

  • Getting a totally surprise birthday gift from a good friend.
  • Krissa’s mom gave me a great-looking book for my birthday, which I expect perhaps I’ll send it to Todd when I’m done.
  • When I get off the plane tomorrow night, it’ll be 70-some degrees, instead of the teens it has been all week.

General gripes:

  • My computer was turned off for a while this evening, so I missed an offer of ACC tournament tickets. I’m never turning off my computer again.
  • Networking in dapper regressed seriously a week or two ago; despite the fact that I never have eth0 plugged in, it gets brought up every time I boot now, which breaks all kinds of things. And when I upgraded my desktop from breezy to dapper my network card disappeared, with no way that I can find to bring it back. Grr.