Older blog entries for mdorman (starting at number 2)

Got up at 5:30am, went out and walked for an hour. Better than coffee.

The Joy Of Being An Independent Consultant

For the last two days, I spent a fair portion of the day writing an email to the people I'm working for, explaining why I thought the software they had selected to run their corporate web server (Netscape Enterprise Server) was poorly matched to their desires (to run a dynamic corporate site for a .COM).

This is not my idea of fun. Nevertheless, I've spent the better part of a week reading the documentation on Enterprise Server, and Server-Side JavaScript, while perfectly adequate for many things, doesn't have the facilities that you can get from Apache + any number of extensions.

And the only other options are CGI (not even really worth mentioning) and Java Servlets---which I don't have an intrinsic problem with, but the lack of a community building free frameworks drives development time up, and makes this unattractive for what is supposed to be a fast-changing easy-to-maintain marketing-oriented web site.

So, I wrote the email It may cost me the contract, but if I had been told that I was going to have to use these tools before starting the contract, I might not have. Life is too short to fight against tools that aren't suited to the task you need to accomplish.

And who knows, maybe they'll agree with me...

Baseball

I went to my first baseball game ever last night.

I think the thing that I like about baseball the most is that it so obviously rejects the change in the pace of life that has dramaitically reshaped our society in the last five or six decades.

Baseball doesn't have a set length---there is no play clock or time limits on inings. There is remarkably little violence, at least since Ty Cobb died (although the catcher did once look like he got nailed in an indelicate spot). And at least in the minor leagues (as we have here in Durham), the point for the players seems to be the game.

IRC

After more than a decade on the Internet, in the last two weeks, I've actually spent a fair amount of time on IRC.

I'm not sure it's worth it. While hanging around #debian-devel has been interesting (and has given me a much better picture of some of my fellow developers), I'm not sure it's all that good a use of my time.

Perhaps I'll give it another week or two.

I had this great ambition of doing this daily, but, well, I probably wont. Once a week at least, though.

Lifestyle Commentary

  • Olive oil
  • Slightly more onion than you think wise, chopped really fine
  • Lots of sun-dried tomatos, cut really fine
  • Tons of garlic
  • A bottle of wine, doesn't matter what color
  • A can of diced tomatos, unless you're cool enough to have good fresh ones on hand, and the time to skin, seed and chop them. If you do, kudos, if not, Muir Glen does mighty fine

Turn the burner on high. Yes, high. Well, if your burner gets really hot on high, go for medium-high, but don't be a wimp. Take a drink of the wine---if you won't drink it, why the fsck are you cooking with it? Wait a minute, put in the olive oil, let that heat until you can see the ripples below the surface, and then add the onions. Stir constantly. When the onions start to get translucent, dump in the garlic and the sun dried tomatos. Stir for a minute or two seconds, then start putting wine in, about 2T at a time, letting it cook back down before adding more. Add the tomatos, stir thoroughly for a minute or two, then reduce the heat to low, and keep stirring until it's obvious that you're not likely to let things burn. Put a top on the pot and go watch South Park stirring occasionally. Serve with your favorite pasta.

Traditional? Hell, no. But that doesn't matter---you just spent ten minutes making sauce that's a billion times better than anything that has ever seen the inside of a jar or can. Wasn't it worth it?

Politics

My reading for the last couple of weeks has been Allison Weir's histories of Tudor England (well that and a book on consulting contracts), The Six Wives of Henry VIII, The Children of Henry VIII and I just started The Life of Elizabeth I. I've already read another biography of Elizabeth, originally published in 1932---amusingly, a second edition was put out in 1950 so they could emend the title to read Elizabeth I, rather than Elizabeth. Which further made me realize that Elizabeth II has reigned longer than her namesake.

Anyone who thinks politics today is just one step above mud wrestling for fulfilling the purpose of government, please read some history. If anyone feels disenfranchised, likewise. This is nothing.

If you read about Elizabeth, you may also come out amazed at this woman's capacity.

Another possibility, if you want to be really depressed, is Richard Pipes' The Russian Revolution.

Would you like to know the secret of Lenin's success?

Spend life carelessly. Kill anyone who shows the slightest hint of opposition, without morals or conscience.

Abusing Amazon

I wonder how much it hurts Amazon that I use them as an excellent way to look up books, but never buy from them (and I'll buy a couple of hundred dollars in books each month).

DVD hypocracy in the ranks

Why is is that so many people who're so up in arms about the DeCSS lawsuit also seemed really disappointed that The Phantom Menace isn't coming to DVD? I mean, certainly you wouldn't do anything to support the people who are bringing bullshit frivolous lawsuits against innocent coders, would you?

People

Of course, this just supports an old theory that sprang out of some bull-session in college---that people have never really been better, and people have never really been worse. Only circumstances change.

The obvious conclusion, if you look around for more than five minutes, is that People Are Just No Damn Good.

I wonder how liw will make of that statement?

Sorry aj

Didn't mean to disappoint you.

Arguing

The secret to arguing: don't.

This comes in part from a political theory class I took in college (yes, my degree's in Political Science, but I took more credits in the English department, and I work in the computer industry. Go figure). The professor, Dr. Pound, at the beginning of the course proclaimed that he had, "never taught a student anything except perhaps a better vocabulary with which to express his or her pre-conceived notions."

And it's true. You'll never convince anybody of anything they are strongly opposed to. You'll just rant and rave and piss everyone else off.

SO DONT! Sure, bring the matter up, but be calm, and reasonable, and try not to write everything so that someone taking the other side of the issue can't address the question without self-incrimination ("Have you stopped beating your wife?").

And, as when you're purchasing a car, you had better be prepared to walk. Sorry, but it's as simple as that. If being reasonable doesn't get you the satisfaction you're looking for---and you might be suprised, sometimes people apologize if you don't immediately harangue them---then you need to decide whether the issue is important enough to you to use the only real card you have available: leave. Express your disappointment and get out of there. It's the flip side of volunteering---when things get bad enough, there's nothing to keep you.

Anything else is unhealthy and unproductive. Quit trying to be right, and try to make things work, and if you can't, get out.

Alex Chilton

Caught the last 20 minutes of Fresh Air on NPR the other day, and I was amazed to find that they were talking with Alex Chilton.

Alex Chilton has been a cult favorite for 30 years, ever since the first Big Star album---perhaps only because of the first two Big Star albums. If you've seen That 70's Show, well he wrote the title song---although that particular rendition is Cheap Trick.

Several friends and I lived on Big Star for quite some time during college. It isn't perfect---some of the tracks are terrifyingly early 70's---too many strings, too much earnestness---but some of it is gold. Oh My Soul is a perfect pop song.

I also got to see Alex play once. Even gave him a cigarette. And My Friend Chet got him to play Proud Mary out of the blue---in part because at this point, he wasn't taking requests for old Big Star tunes.

Anyway, go fire up Napster and see if you can find some Big Star. Go! Do It!

And then, if you like it, BUY THE DAMN ALBUM, because if you don't you're working against your own damn interests---artists have to make a living, too, and if you don't pay them, eventually they will stop producing. Why do so many people have problems with this simple economic principle, much less the moral principle of not stealing that which the owner doesn't wish to give away?

Damnit, if you don't respect Metallica's right to claim ownership of its music, how can you expect anyone to respect the copyrights that form the bedrock of the GPL? Just because you don't like the license, or find it inconvenient, doesn't mean you can ignore it, just like we expect nVidia and Be and others to respect the GPL even though it's inconvenient for them.

RRE

Finally, Red Rock Eater.

If you don't know who Phil Agre is, well, let's just say he's damn smart, and he has a mailing list.

Although he started as a geek at MIT, he has since moved to UCLA, doing cross-discipline work on a topics concerning technology's effect on society. He also has a legion of people sending him interesting stuff.

http://dlis.gseis.ucla.edu/people/pagre/rre.html

Apropos of Nothing: Why I don't like ESR

I was going through my enormous email archive a couple of weeks ago, and it dredged up some old memories for me

Several years ago, I maintained ncurses for Debian---this was around the time 3.4 was supposed to be coming out---before the incident that finally made me give it away.

ESR and Tom Dickey---who, to all appearances, had been doing most of the subtantive work for quite some time, with ESR keeping the terminfo stuff up to date (and spelling my name wrong in the file) and doing the occasional fix---had a big disagreement about something. ESR claimed that Tom was hijacking the project, yadda, yadda, yadda. So what, right? This sort of shit happens.

But I will never forget the glee with which ESR pointed out that because of the license, Tom Dickey no longer owned his own code, it all belonged to him [ESR], and there was nothing he [Tom Dickey] can do about it.

That's not Free Software, and I've not really trusted ESR since.

Cheap Shot

<slashdot>First Post!</slashdot>

Why Make An Account?

Opportunities for cheap shots aside, I mostly created this account because I thought it was silly for Jeffery W. Baker to be stuck at Apprentice level. The work I do on a day-to-day basis depends on Apache::Session, so I felt obligated to at least see him promoted to Journeyer.

Obligatory Self-Referential Observation

I wish I understood from whence this diary/journal impulse that has infected the free software community in the last few months springs. Is it:

  1. an expression of the sort of thoughtless self-importance you might see in an adolescent who thinks that everything he or she is doing should interest everyone, or

  2. an attempt at human contact on the part of hundreds of people so consumed with work that they are almost shut-ins, or

  3. an attempt by a large dispersed community to give keep one another abreast of what is going on in their shared experiment, much like the informal correspondence of scientists

  4. All of the above

Still Pissed

Jeff Buckley shouldn't be dead.

The case for goodwill

Why do some communities work, and others not?

In addition to being a Debian developer, and thus party to (though no longer much of a participant in) it's quarterly attempt to gnaw its own leg off to escape some imagined trap, I also participate in a fairly large email list for a group of people from an honors program where I went to college. It's a fun list---there's at least four foreign languages seen regularly, discussions of everything from music to politics to geekdom, and the range of knowledge and experience that people bring to the table is staggering.

The program's celebrating its 40th anniversary this year---it celebrated its 30th during the time I was in residence---and so the mailing list has a wide cross-section of people on it. We have people who graduated when I was barely out of diapers, people who are still in school, and everything in between. Though everyone usually knows at least one other person, there's always a number of people you have never met, though you may have heard about them one way or another.

(Heck, for a while there my wife's ex-husband was on the list. That was kind of interesting.)

Funny enough, for a group of loosely connected strangers, we don't have the sort of knock-down-drag-outs that Debian experiences all too regularly.

Sure, we have disagreements---bring up certain topics, and you're sure to see a couple of heated messages. We have had one real flamewar, which I'm sorry to admit I was deep in the midst of. But that was five years ago.

How so little conflict? I mean, it's not as if these people aren't opinionated!

I think I can explain it. It's what Robert Fripp might call an assumption of goodwill.

Simply put, our shared experience in this honors program helps us remember that, however stupid the person whose email you're reading may seem at that moment, they're probably not; and just as you assume that no one's going to take violent exception to what you post, you shouldn't abuse this persons similar assumption.

And even when someone gets out of line, it's usually enough for a third party to express disappointment at that sort of behavior, and things clear up.

I'd like to see more of that in some of the free software community---Debian certainly, but there's other places.

For instance, earlier today, a developer on IRC commented about killfiling another developer, because all of his posts in the last six months have seemed intended to stir things up.

Why aren't we trying to deal with other like adults, and actually communicating about problems like this, rather than putting our fingers in our ears and saying "I'm Not Listening" when someone displays this behavior? Do we really think they're not worth the effort? And if that's the case, on whom does this reflect most poorly?

As a final addendum, I'll note that someone on this mailing list I'm on said several particularly stupid things in quick succession a few months ago, and I kind of unceremoniously *PLONK*ed him. Well, not really, but I said I had, just to make a point, and I studiously pretended that I didn't see any of his posts, even though I did usually read them.

He died suddenly in his sleep, of a heart attack just three weeks ago. If you don't feel like shit when someone dies and your last words to them amounted to, "You're not worth talking to", you need to have a refresher course on being part of the human race.

So perhaps we can keep some of this in mind when dealing with the other people in our community. That they're here probably says a lot.

Still Still Pissed

Kurt Cobhain, too.

New Advogato Features

New HTML Parser: The long-awaited libxml2 based HTML parser code is live. It needs further work but already handles most markup better than the original parser.

Keep up with the latest Advogato features by reading the Advogato status blog.

If you're a C programmer with some spare time, take a look at the mod_virgule project page and help us with one of the tasks on the ToDo list!