Older blog entries for Johnath (starting at number 24)

19 Jul 2001 (updated 19 Jul 2001 at 15:49 UTC) »

3-4 weeks seems to be settling down as my intra-entry interval, so here I am again right on, or perhaps a teensy bit behind, schedule.

Life is still grand - I'm not so rabid about cooking in the mornings any more - I've gotten pretty good at the perfect omelet, I just generally prefer to sleep for the extra 10 minutes that a bowl of cereal buys me. Dinner though, is still a cooking party. I got my manual pasta maker, which makes a world of difference believe me. When amy & I cook the packaged pasta now - even the good quality stuff, it just seems flavourless by comparison.

Work is making sense now - I'm actually producing code, starting to merit IBM's investment, and generally understanding what's going on to a far greater extent. The beauty of working on a product line that came into existence a month before you joined the company is that everything is very one-point-oh, but that's a double edged sword. No question it's where I want to be, I love this kind of work - work that actually requires/allows me to make relevant decisions - but it's... interesting at times. Imagine the amount of documentation that exists, for instance, on something brand new and kind of complicated to boot. Now cut that estimate in half and spread it all over a company with 350,000 employees. Interesting.

I guess my CompSci profs should be proud - their message got through to me - document document document - and now I'm in the real world, reading vast expanses of code, and the documentation is sparse. Or not where I'd expect it, anyhow - it does exist... somewhere. But I'll continue doing my part anyhow - in-code explanations, javadoc comments on every method - actual written specs that are up to date. Maybe that makes me a keener. I'd like to think it also makes me a better developer, though.

My hacking life is done by proxy right now. I'm learning php while teaching it to Amy, who is going to whip up her first cgi driven site and who has relatively little programming to fall back on. PHP seemed like a safe choice - I might have recommended JSPs, I'd certainly enjoy reading a couple books on the subject, but I think that would be too much extra work for too little extra payout - at least for her needs. So our evenings right now are cook dinner, racquetball, SQL tutorial. Or cook dinner, racquetball, C-style syntax refresher. Or... etc. Essentially, I just read through the php docs faster than she does, and answer the questions she has since I've got a little more background to which to attach this stuff. I gotta say, btw, props to PHP's doc writers - they use excellent, unambiguous language when describing the features of php, makes a compsci major feel quite at home. Does manage to be a little intimidating to newcomers though, I'm guessing. Perhaps there should be "Programming PHP" and "Learning PHP" style manuals, to steal from perl's format. Perhaps there already are...

Extra! Extra! I find out, just after writing this, that I have had copyrights infringed-upon! How exciting. My AI tutorial (written a couple years ago for psych students) has been copied, almost in full, by these guys. They have preserved our names at the top (though they removed the mailto:'s) and they have removed all our copyright notices. Charming. I've written to the prof with whom I wrote the tutorial, to get his thoughts on the matter. I'm inclined to let it be - I wrote that tutorial because I thought people might find it educational, maybe even interesting. For the most part, I'm happy it's reached a larger audience. I do wish they'd been a little more polite about it though. We'll see.

For two weeks now, I have been an IBM employee. I have also just finished moving, and so the short story is that my life has been very busy. All things considered then, 3 weeks since my last diary entry can hardly be considered surprising.

Home life is good, great even, but takes some getting used to. We love the apartment: the move from a basement with little light and no climate control to a wide open, spacious apartment with frostbite-level air conditioning and a downright pretty kitchen has just been incredible. I have ordered in once in two and a half weeks, and even then it was more just to try the local wing joint than because I really needed to - cooking is every bit as rewarding as I thought it would be, and I am eating splendidly. :) We haven't started playing racquetball regularly yet, but we've played enough sporadically for me to know I'll enjoy it, and we've even gotten a semi-regular poker night going, so all in all, I'm pleased.

The getting-used-to that I mentioned is mostly getting used to working real hours. 8 hours plus an unpaid lunch, plus commute, can make a day feel pretty long, and make my home time feel pretty short, but I'm getting there - the nights are starting to feel less cramped - and having weekends all to myself, with no essays, with *nothing* overhead, is an unmitigated joy.

IBM is turning out to be surprisingly cool. Red tape is almost non-existant, which is simply unbelievable for a company this size, but there it sits. I am working pretty heavily with XML and Java, which is a happy place for me to be, and I'm doing some pretty fun stuff to boot, designing the tools that will be used to make a business 'e'. It's a bit jarring at first - you start to twitch because all around you people are spouting these buzzwords: e-business, XML (DTD, Schema, etc), integration tooling - and to be sure, some part of it is just buzzword parrotting, but a surprisingly large proportion of these people are actually using the terms because they're appropriate - they're using the technologies because it's the right choice to make, not because of the infamous phb factor - heck, my b doesn't even have ph! :)

Point is, work-wise, home-wise, things are pretty pleasant. Geek-wise, things are still a little too busy, and a little too still-in-their-moving-boxes for the geek factor to get going again, but it will come, and lord help me, a significant chunk of my upcoming paycheques will be feeding that geek fetish.

One week till we move into our new place. That's pretty exciting, and it means 9 days till I start work.

Predictably enough, May has not quite been the reading- gorge-fest I had hoped - too many things crop up when you think you have time off - but Java is still being absorbed, and I picked up the O'Reilly XML book, so that's next on the hit list.

Life is good, but most of my life is in boxes at the moment, so life is also pretty lean at the moment; imagine being down to only about a dozen books.

No significant hacking has transpired for a while - I'll have to get back in. Paradoxically, I think I will do more free-time hacking when I'm working than when I have time off. Go figure.

This entry's pretty lightweight, since I'm on my way out the door, so I'll compensate with a poem from Louis Dudek which I really like.


My two dogs
tied to a tree
by a ten-foot leash
kept whining and howling for an hour
till I let them off.

Now they are lying quietly on the grass
a few feet further from the tree
and they haven't moved since I let them go.

Freedom may be
only an idea
but it's a matter of principle
even to a dog.

Today I finished school.

Today's diary entry is brought to you by the word: Transition.

End - I submitted my last marks file today for the course I tutor. I've TA'd this course for 4 semesters now and it's been a lot of fun. I may have actually set a couple novice programmers down the right path. I'll have to find another way to teach now, I like it.

End - I am studying for the first of my 2 exams - Natural Language Programming. This is it - I write one wednesday, one in early May, and then school's done. I will come back, I will take other courses but in the larger sense, for the time being, school is over.

Beginning - I bought The Java Programming Language 3rd ed. the other day. That means I'm officially ready to start the Java binge that will occupy much of May. That in turn reflects the fact that I will be starting work for IBM in a month.

Beginning - Last Saturday Amy and I signed the lease. We are officially apartment owners now. We are officially roommates now. We even put a deposit down on a couch, chair and ottoman set we like. I don't know whether this, or the IBM job, is the bigger beginning.

Beginning - My 8" Sabatier Chef's Knife arrived last Friday, meaning the trip towards becoming a competent cook has also started. Of course, I can't do anything with it yet except take it out and look at it approvingly, or slice baby carrots with it - but you know, I'm still jazzed. :)

Goodness, my certs are slipping fast: from Journeyer down to Observer in a month or so. What's that about?

4 days left. I don't want to sound like I'm just waiting for school to be over, I've loved university life, and a non-trivial part of me still clings to the notion that these will not be my last days here, that I am just going on hiatus for a bit. Having said that though, in 4 days, I'll be 2 exams away from being a University Graduate, "with all the privileges and responsibilities of that rank." Man. 4 years of essay writing and formalized thinking have left me no better off for expressing how I feel.

May is going to be a really great month, I think. One day of interruption to write a logic exam in what will otherwise be a month of hacking and knowledge absorption. I will get to make some important upgrades to CanonicalTomes.org and maybe even some upgrades to beep, of all things. That, plus learning all there is to know about Java. We're talking immersion. We're talking remind-me-to- change-my-underwear-and-eat-occasionally immersion. By God, it'll be beautiful.

Amy got the IBM job. The ramifications of this sentence are myriad and complex, so if necessary, re-read it. It means that we can sign a lease. It means that we can buy furniture. It means she and I will be living together. It means we will both be in positions we like, at good pay, and insofar as the above contributes to one's sense of wellbeing in the universe, it means we will be happier.

I'm so in to cooking now. 4 years of living in an apartment without a stove has made me nutty. I'm all about cooking now. If May is Java-month and June is Getting- Established-in-New-Life-month, then so help me July through December will be Johnath-learns-how-to-be-a-badass-cook- month. I can't wait. Yesterday on impulse I picked up a Sabatier 8" Chef's Knife (forged, of course) for $15. It's an "Elite" which is a far cry from their nicest line, but an 8" forged high-carbon blade for $15 is tough to pass up. Or maybe I'm really obsessed with this cooking thing.

How cool is it that CanonicalTomes has precisely the books I will need for Java- and Cooking- months? It does exactly what I want it to. This pleases me.

Been a busy month.

CT is now in full swing. It's been slashbacked, it's been k5'd, and it's now got well over 500 books, and coming up on 1200 votes. Nice. It is also actually useful now - I've managed to find books in topics I wasn't familiar with that are agreed to be standards (dude, Blacksmithing?) Now it enters the next phase - slower growth, plus some time for me to work on incorporating suggested features and fixes. In this form, it will incubate for a while, followed maybe by a re- announcement down the line, when it's all polished and useful.

School is winding down - 6 things left, 3 weeks left, then it's all over. Man. I don't yet have anything to say about that.

Apartment hunting is going very well, we think we've found The Place - at least for a year or so, till we can pick up a mortgage on a condo. Good location (Yonge & Finch, for any Torontonians reading) - significantly north of the downtown core, but still on the subway line, still very much *in* Toronto. The building itself rocks hardcore, our suite will be a little small but very workable, and hey, right now I live in a 12'x18' basement with no kitchen, so you know, I'll cope.

Still very jazzed about IBM. Very. I have already decided that in May, I will be reading many many books on Java, I will be steeping myself in Java, I will, by the end of it, grok Java in all its infinite glory. And XML. Middleware at IBM means Java + XML, it seems. In a brand new lab facility. Ubiquitous wireless LAN. Multiple on- site cafes and restaurants. This rules.

Birds are coming back, and when I walk across the iced- over grassy parts of campus, the ice is at that stage where everywhere you step, it cracks through, and little fountains of brown meltwater soak your shoes. It tried to snow today, but I think this is just winter throwing a final tantrum; spring is coming very soon, which also rules. Spring is it for me. Except for the rain, I am all about spring.

I have been watching way too much of the cooking channel lately. I am looking forward to having a stove and to being able to cook without a microwave. Anyone recommend a good cooking knife? I want a good cooking knife. Ming Tsai has these really cool looking ceramic knives, all white, and apparently they hold their edge much better than steel, but they're wicked expensive. I'm thinking just a good set of Henckels.

CanonicalTomes.org is up and running. This has been on my mind for the last month or so, since a conversation about it in an earlier advogato discussion spawned multiple offers of free server space. It's getting hits, I'm getting feedback - it's even been trolled a couple times, which had to happen, and which I am still, for the moment, on top of.

Man it feels good to have that done. I'm still obviously going to be very tied to it, with upkeep and so forth, but the site's simple - even the troll removal is pretty straightforward. The hardest part was getting people to notice, and between a kuro5hin article about it which seems to be getting the votes it needs, and hopefully an upcoming mention in a slashback, it should begin babysteps towards usefulness now.

Feels really good.

School is in full swing now, and I just finished off the first segment of my natural language programming course-long-assignment. Man, perl is good at a lot of things, but when you use it for the purposes it was originally designed, gathering, extracting, and reporting data, it absolutely glows.

CanonicalTomes.org is still being hosted on my home system, but is about to move over to reactor-core.org (thanks JW!) and from there, ideally, explode. Everything works now, it's simply a matter of adding extra features where appropriate - and I must say, the whole idea of having a site that may actually take off... has me rather jazzed. By all means, head over and poke at it if you haven't yet. But no submitting to slashdot. :) Actually, the /. guys (well, timothy and hemos) have both been quite cool about the prospect of posting it, though they say they'll hold off till it has some more content - which makes sense.

Life is moving along about as well as can be expected. House-hunting with Amy was cut drastically short when we found out that banks won't issue a mortgage to people who are officially employed "on probation". Now, my position with IBM is a permanent one, not a tentative 1yr contract or anything - but the contract does have the phrase "9 month probationary period" in there, which - I'm assured - is as far as the bank will read before getting out the NO stamp. So we'll rent. I guess a year of renting won't kill me - I just resent building someone else's equity instead of my own. On the plus side though, this means not having to sink myself into some temporarily nasty debt on downpayments and stuff - which means I can actually purchase furniture, and food, and Stuff, which is nice.

Hacking is pretty much solely on canonicaltomes right now which, considering I had to pick up perl and postgres on the fly, is not an insignificant thing, but with luck, the hackery part of it should now be gradient- fading into the maintenance and evangelizing phase. I've got a couple other website thoughts in mind - I think next time I'll try PHP, just so I can compare the feel of external code vs embedded code. Zope also looks very cool. beep is still getting hits, which is great - but it's pretty wrapped up for the moment, barring overwhelming re-architecting (which is a silly word for a 9k program).

CanonicalTomes is a step closer to being done. I'm still hosting it on my own server, because it's still in development, but if people want to play with it a little (http://johnath.com/~ct) I wouldn't mind any feedback that comes in. Be nice, it's running on a p100/32M RAM, so no submitting it to slashdot, but by all means, log in, submit books, submit topics, vote, and tell me what you think (johnath at johnath.com).

(For those who don't know what the hell I'm talking about, CanonicalTomes arose out of a thought of mine that leaked onto an advogato discussion a while back, and which subsequently became an actual Undertaking of mine. It's a DB-driven site - perl + postgres - which aspires to catalog, for each topic of interest to its users, the Bibles of the topic - its Canonical (standard, normal, dictated-by-law) Tomes (books, especially big, important ones) as it were. I don't know how excited this makes people, but it's something I know I would like to have.)

Please, in addition to the site, if you have the time, take a look also at the Privacy and Free Use of Data policies, and let me know what you think on that score. In short the policies are, respectively, "Never give away or use any personal information ever. Never never never." and "Make regular exports of all non-private databases available (i.e. book and topic information) freely to everyone."

Or, if this ain't your cup of tea, ignore what I'm saying here. :)

PS - I put this in diary, not frontpage because I don't want to use advogato for self-promotion that shameless... here's hoping this is good enough to generate a little beta- tester traffic.

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