Older blog entries for dcoombs (starting at number 58)

2 Oct 2004 (updated 2 Oct 2004 at 23:32 UTC) »
On Superhuman Powers

So I'm moving to a new apartment. After much gruntwork, all my stuff had left my old place and arranged itself haphazardly in random piles scattered around my new place. I was dealing with these piles, while listening to music (one cannot unpack without music, unless one is initially unpacking one's stereo), and I decided to run down and grab something from the car. I hit the pause button on my stereo, and, I swear, at that exact instant, the power in my apartment cut out. I thought I must have blown a fuse in an extremely peculiar fashion. Nope.

I looked in the hallway, and the emergency lights were on. I thought I must have blown a floor-wide fuse or something. Nope.

I go downstairs to investigate some random beeping and honking, which turned out to be the fire-alarm panel complaining that it had no power and couldn't save anybody's life in the event of a fire. I start to become impressed with this newfound force I wield. I determine the entire building and the one next door, at least, are out.

I get in the car to drive to NITI to check my email, and notice several traffic lights in the area are also out, and a stretch of stores and restaurants on Sherbrooke are dark. I have apparently knocked out a good chunk of the Vendôme area in Montréal by pausing a CD.

The Moral Of The Story

During periods of light wind and drizzle, I control the world through my stereo. Fear me.

20 Sep 2004 (updated 20 Sep 2004 at 16:57 UTC) »

I've been hacking. I've merged in most of jdeboer's changes, and have been fixing bugs like crazy. His redesign of my protocol is excellent, and most welcome. A lot of the other stuff he did to get synchronization of a full directory tree working is less well executed, and has needed a lot of massaging. (Admittedly, he was in a hurry.) I've come a long way reworking it, but there's still quite a bit to do before I can start adding new stuff to it.

Next on my list is fixing the absolute/relative pathname mess (it's not only suboptimal, it's downright broken). I'm looking forward to adding more pipeliney goodness to the transmission of librsync deltas, integrating the new index file format, making deletes work, fixing conflict resolution, making renames efficient, and so on. Lots to do.


Nobody I asked had any opinions, so Ashkenazy wins, and yesterday I bought his recording of all Beethoven's piano sonatas. I've disassembled a few of my longtime favourites and I love it so far. He's all kinds of dynamic, which is essential with Beethoven, his technical proficiency is legendary, the sound quality is very good (if a little quiet), but most impressive to me are his articulation and phrasing. It's easy to play Beethoven as a jumbled mess (trust me, I do it), but his phrasing is clear, original, pronounced, and always seems to fit. It makes me slap my forehead and say "of course!" which I was not expecting. Lovely. It seems clear that he has the intelligence to suggest what Beethoven might have intended, and the skill to pull it off.

I may also need to get his complete Chopin, which is apparently also excellent. It is mighty tempting.

All I need now is a piano. I miss that.


Note to self: go live it.

3 Sep 2004 (updated 4 Sep 2004 at 01:42 UTC) »
September Already

Where the [bleep] has this year gone?

Transitions galore. Various new and returning co-ops at work, I have my dog back, Jess has moved out, and I will be moving next month. Last night I was slicing some bread to make some sweet delicious toast, and I accidentally cut my hand. A moment later I realized I no longer owned any band-aids, or, for that matter, a toaster. These things take time.

Been dealing with paperwork, furthering the Ultimate Montréal Sushi Quest with dilu, visiting hub while he was in the hospital and keeping his family in France up to date, exchanging life stories with denizsarikaya, fiddling with jdeboer's hacks to WvSync, and reprimanding myself for being lazy.

Peter Zion gave a great talk at work on Wednesday about processes in Unix. Delightfully obscure and archaic! He chronicled how he solved the infamous years-old Ctrl-C-doesn't-work bug on the Nitix command line in his second week of work. It turned out to be apenwarr's fault (Avery has helpfully provided a generalized admission of guilt for occasions like this), but the subtle ways that signal handlers, setpgid(), controlling terminals, and the ever-quirky setsid() interact are fascinating. And horrifying.

This weekend I clearly need to do some shopping and get my apartment organized again. Beyond that, attending nancyrihakova's garden party, catching up on sleep, and photographing Montréal (the weather has been lovely) are certainly in order.

I also owe mcote some drinks. But he's busy. Booooo.

Pantsless in England

Now that I have your attention, I will talk about things that are unrelated to pants. This bulletin board, for instance, has nothing to do with pants, and is proudly on display in the Worsley Building at the University of Leeds, where UKUUG's annual Linux Technical Conference is being held.

And speaking of that, I am on the eighth floor of a seven-storey building. I can get away with this because they decided to number the floors of this building from sea level, and thus the ground floor is actually the fourth. I suppose that's nice and unambiguous.

I've been here speaking about WvStreams on Saturday and WvSync today. In fact, I was extremely pleased with the positive response to my WvSync talk, after which people asked sensible questions, offered encouragement and some new ideas, and one brave soul even asked if I was willing to accept contributions (yes), said my talks were among main reasons he came to the conference, and promised to fiddle with WvStreams and look at the WvSync code and see what he thought. Yikes!

The rest of the conference has been good. It's quite low-key and enjoyable. Highlights for me were seeing Michael Meeks talk about OpenOffice.org development (wlach, you got a quick mention!), Simon Myers demonstrate ridiculous things I didn't know Vim could do but am glad it can, Aaron Crane's talk about Unicode and how to make it work right, and Antony Stone's talk about wardriving.

Tomorrow I go home.

4 Aug 2004 (updated 4 Aug 2004 at 18:52 UTC) »

(Crossposted minus photos. See here for Rising Bollards!)


After a day in London and a day in Cambridge, I have arrived in Leeds for the UKUUG's Linux conference.

Unfortunately, I can barely walk due to having messed up my knee while spending the last two days walking constantly, so I haven't seen much of Leeds yet, although it does look nice.

I still need to get both my talks in order for the conference. Isn't that always the way?

In Cambridge I met up with my friend Tony, who I know from a past life during one of my co-op jobs. I hadn't seen him in three years, so we had a lot of catching up to do. We traded stories, laughed a lot, drank beer, ate curry, and discovered that while we weren't paying attention our lives went and developed some eerie parallels that neither of us would have expected.

I am reasonably impressed by the quality of English train travel. They've always had a reputation for being late, but from what I can tell they're not nearly as bad as Canadian trains. That said, they're also clearly not as on the ball as the German ones, but then they're more comfortable and at least as frequent. Who's to say?

I did some night photography in London, followed by something mind-blendingly stupid. I lost my tripod. I still have its carrying bag, but no tripod. I suspect I was too lazy to put it back in its bag on my way home, and then I just left it sitting on the seat of the Underground like some sort of idiot. I liked that tripod, too. Grumble.


Our CEO came for a visit and a motivational talk on Thursday. We decided to remind him, in case he had forgotten, that it is a dangerous idea to bring customers, investors, journalists, etc to our R&D MontrealOffice, by getting as many people as possible to not wear any pants.

Mission accomplished.


The Yann Tiersen concert was amazing, and so much more than I expected since my only prior exposure was his beautiful work on the Amélie score. We got a lot of lovely piano music, yes, but we also got some pretty unique solos on accordion, violin, viola, and, I kid you not, he used a violin bow on a xylophone. His ability to play the piano and accordion at the same time is equally remarkable.

The man is the kind of mad genius modern composer I admire without hesitation. As a performer, talented and highly volatile. Full of anger, full of sweetness, alternating on a whim. He throws himself with no warning at all into raging passages, quite literally shredding his violin bow on the strings, and demonstrating that there aren't enough impassioned, fearless, bitter accordion virtuosos in the world today. A travesty, that.

The encore contained a 15-minute segment of echoed, feedback-laden electric violin and space-guitar noise. I've never seen anything quite like it.

I must hunt down some CDs.


YUL to LHR tonight on AC 864.

28 Jul 2004 (updated 28 Jul 2004 at 19:57 UTC) »
Back from OLS

The parts of OLS that I haven't written about yet are kind of a blur at this point, due largely to the passage of time and increased beer consumption toward the end. I witness it every year; people really slow down during the last day or two of the conference. They start to arrive later in the morning, and have that glazed look in their eyes throughout the talks.

Someone suggested to me that Andrew and the other organizers should have the talks start an hour later each day to compensate. I thought about it, and I'm not sure it's a good idea. It's a fine line these guys walk between having a serious conference and having a big party. Right now it's both, but too much in either direction would ruin the effect.

I enjoyed Robert Love's talk about D-BUS, something I hadn't paid much attention to before. Beyond that, I can tell you that Colonnade Pizza was eaten, beer was drunk, foosball was played, sushi was devoured, more balloons were launched with surprising accuracy, PGP keys were signed, pants were dropped, rail-gun design was discussed with Donald Becker and Matthew Wilcox, death was cheated while swimming, and I think, at some point, that I actually managed to get some sleep. But I couldn't tell you what order it all happened in.

Pictures are here.

Off to Leeds

And soon I do it all again. I'm speaking about WvStreams and WvSync at the UKUUG Linux conference next week. I'm flying on Sunday, I'll spend a day in London, a day in Cambridge visiting a friend from a past life, and then up to Leeds I go.


But before that, I intend to see the last instantiation of the fireworks festival tonight, and on Friday I'm going with mich and dilu to see Yann Tiersen perform. This is the guy responsible for, among other things, the score for Amélie, which I find increasingly haunting every time I see it.

(Another cross-post. The real thing contains pictures.)

OLS Thursday

An extremely enjoyable day, overall! I hung out in the hacking area in the morning, where I met mulix and ladypine and chatted with them for a while.

The highlight of the day had to be Damian Conway's abridged, compressed, and abbreviated talk about Perl 6. It's taken years of work already, and it won't be ready for another couple of years, but it does look spectacularly neat. It left pphaneuf drooling, and it certainly left me interested. I talked with pzion and we agreed that they are not only cleaning up the language syntactically, they are actually creating some new, extremely interesting ideas in programming languages. In particular, junction types have never been done before as far as I can tell, and look like they could be handy. Ditto for iterating more than one list at the same time.

A bunch of us watched Jim Gettys and Keith Packard talk about the (re)architecture of X. It's partly about adding eye candy, and partly about improving efficiency in both 2D and 3D environments. The idea to add a customizable display manager process (separate from the window manager) which controls how windows and other controls are displayed (fade in/out of view, translucency, etc) is interesting, and I could imagine a lot of people wanting it. Keith gave a fantastic demo of this, with movies playing in overlapping windows, with translucency enabled. Very fast, and moving the windows around was pretty seamless. Most impressive. It ended, as so many talks do, with a resounding plea for help.

In the evening I went to an Indian buffet with Jean-Luc, Ken, Hugh Daniel, H. Peter Anvin, Mike Halcrow, and a couple others. They were discussing improvements to the kernel's crypto API to make it asynchronous, among other things.

I felt like being antisocial last night, so I figured some night photography was in order. I used to live in Ottawa, so I already know where everything is, and I'm far from being a tourist, but I never really took any pictures while I lived here, so I feel justified in my actions.

There was a free music thing on Parliament Hill including cool lighting and effects projected onto the façade of the Centre Block, but I only caught a glimpse as it was just ending. Regardless, I lay on the grass for a while and enjoyed the night.

22 Jul 2004 (updated 23 Jul 2004 at 00:35 UTC) »

(This is cross-posted. The real thing contains pictures.)

OLS Tuesday

The first day and a half of OLS has been a whirlwind of catching up with old friends, meeting new people, attending talks, and eating.

Tuesday night, the six of us representing NITI went to Patty Boland's pub for the opening party.

As the Desktop Conference had just ended, at Boland's we ran into wlach, ppatters, and apenwarr, whose presentation on UniConf apparently went well. I spent a while chatting with Ken Bantoft (Openswan) and Jean-Luc Cooke (kernel crypto), who I knew from last year's Linux-Kongress.

I left Boland's early due to extreme tiredness. I haven't been sleeping well lately.

OLS Wednesday

The talks started interesting and then my interest sort of dwindled toward the end of the day. I did, however, enjoy seeing Werner Almesberger and acme (more friends from Linux-Kongress last year) speak. Werner's TCP connection passing is pretty interesting, although still rather theoretical. It's interesting how he's using umlsim to test this, because it would be rather difficult to get the timing right otherwise.

At dinner and the welcome reception, sfllaw and jlavoie introduced me to Jeff, a super-interesting smart-seeming person who's been debating applying for a job at NITI. Go Jeff go. Also chatted with Alan and Telsa, who were forthcoming with advice about surviving English pubs during my trip to the UKUUG conference in a couple of weeks.

After the reception, where I escaped my off-by-1-or-2 curse by not being even remotely close, anonymous 16th-storey use was made of someone's water-balloon launcher (impressive stuff), and we retired to a nearby pub for more beer. Enjoyed meeting Jody McIntyre, who knew lots about NITI because he used to work for one of our competitors. Asked good questions.

And I am now, once again, tired.


Tomorrow I head to Ottawa for this year's instantiation of the Ottawa Linux Symposium. As usual, I intend to post updates, stories, and pictures as frequently as convenience and wakefulness allow.

Strike Force NITI this year consists of me, pphaneuf, sfllaw, jlavoie, pmccurdy, and pzion. I look forward to seeing, talking with, and/or getting drunk with as many people as possible. In addition, there is still a fighting chance that pphaneuf will keep his pants on.


While in Ottawa, I will also be meeting with a real-estate agent, as Jess and I are attempting to sell our house. Managing it remotely is pretty difficult, especially when something goes wrong, plus the time is right for a number of reasons.


Last night featured office-based bacchanalia, which is always a peculiar kind of fun. We used apenwarr's fabled non-corporate projector in his absence to watch Office Space (I think I was the only person alive who hadn't seen it), Pulp Fiction, and The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. The latter is a purposely satiric spoof of campy 50's science fiction horror movies, and it's either really good, or really bad, depending on the degree to which your definitions of "good" and "bad" converge.

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