Older blog entries for mstarch (starting at number 29)

29 Dec 2001 (updated 29 Dec 2001 at 23:38 UTC) »
The 'Is Open Source dead discussion'

Thought it an interesting discussion, so I will also contribute my 2 cents worth of open-source speculation;

Open source is thriving. Open source is a funny hobby, that allows individuals to gain experience, improve their social networks and have fun while doing it.

Open source does not depend on the succes of Linux or of any other "open" platform, because the two things are fundamentally different things.

Linux and all its related projects inspire lots of aspiring young programmers to get into the open source world. Linux is a crusade, a quest, a holy grail, that provide a focus- point for a lot of programming activity.

Linux makes it possible for all the distributed decision makers to make autonomous decisions that have as a focus- point what efforts will be to the good of the Linux community. However, due to the scattered activity and the absence of any real authority in the community, most or all decisions are made with a lack of information that prevents any decision from being optimal.

Of course there are several kinds of levels of decisions that are continually made. Decisions are made for a specific project, regarding how feature X should be implemented, whether feature X should be implemented at all, and decisions about who writes the documentation, or maintains the website or provides user support etc etc. I think this level of decision making is working flawlessly. All well-functioning open source projects have this level of decision making taken care of, that's what the project is all about.

However, the project doesn't contemplate the fact that 5 other projects exist that are spending time doing the exact same thing. All 6 projects are convinced that they're creating the best solution to the "problem" that this class of projects aim for, and none or very few of the projects cooperate amongst themselves. This is a new level of decision making. An absent level of decision making, because no decisions are made. The decision is left to evolution; the most stubborn project wins (or best if you're an optimist). This kind of decision making incurs a horrendous amount of replicated work, that is useless if any long-time success of the "open source crusade" is intentioned.

There is no way to make people give up this mode of operation, because the open source world is fundamentally an ego-boosting business. It's just not as cool to work on someone else's project. You can do the stuff he's doing better, and you're going to show it to the World. Linux is about ego boosting, and many developers work for projects related to the primary open source platforms to be a part of, and thereby gain part of the prestige that the platforms provide. Ego boost is measured in number of users, but most developers are kidding themselves if they say that they are working on their project for their users. We're only human.

At the same time, because the whole thing is a voluntary "for fun" hobby, no one but the most visionary/obstinate is interested in working on all the dull bits and pieces that are essential for the mass of projects to be able to function together.

This is why the open source community has got to come to terms with the fact that open source software projects like Linux will always be a niche, because it's made for the good of the developers, not for the good of the users. I think thats only fair, because it's the developers who have spent countless hours of their life working on cool software.

To conclude; open source as a creative hobby is far from dead, but a user-focused open source platform is a dead end.

25 Dec 2001 (updated 25 Dec 2001 at 22:57 UTC) »

So this is christmas...

In the following I will adher to the established Advogato trend of partitioning my diary into sections

Books

Finished reading "Flashman and the Redskins", yet another refreshing read about the english voyeuer and hen-teaser Sir. Harry Flashman, knight of the order of Bath, holder of the Victoria Cross, the order of the Elephant (funny for a dane), the congressional medal of Honour, and several other ill-deserved honourary titles. This book takes place both in the year of the gold boom of 1849, as well as 27 years later, in 1876, where he takes part in the "battle" of little Big Horn.

Because I've run fresh out of Flashman books, because I didn't get any for christmas (sigh), I've started reading a book by Rose Tremain, entitled "Music & Silence", about a english musician who get's hired at the court of the danish king Christian IV in the 1630's. Very relaxing.

Inspired by reading joelonsoftware.com, I ordered "Peopleware" and "High stakes, no prisoners" from amazon, which I will be looking forward to reading.

Work

No work until january 3rd :) Although I at the moment don't know what other uses I can make of my time, I probably need some time off.

Advogato

How about an option to "show recent diary entries, without observer diaries". In either case I really don't mind if a spammer writes a few diary entries once in a while. It's really quite interesting that someone can be so incredibly bored that he spams a site as effectively "boring" and "dry" as advogato :)

Programmer-philosophy

Sometimes I worry that we as programmers will run out of cool software to write. When the ultimate operating system exists running the ultimate productivity apps, and when every industrial sector has killer stock-management and auto-ordering, auto-configurating management programs. When hospitals have the best patient monitoring software that money can buy, when military weapons and space rockets as well as crude household equipment never fail. What if new software becomes unneccesary, or what if the need for new software stabilizes at a level supportable by very few people given the ultra-high-productivity languages and tools that are made for that purpose?

This might very well happen in our lifetime, and sometimes I wonder if all we're doing as programmers is working towards the day where we will all be obsolete or at least to a large extent neglectable.

I try to console myself with the thought that humans are basically vain creatures, who will always desire new and improved versions, if not to have better software, then to follow the newest trends and the newest fashion.

Maybe software will some day not be a matter of "pushing the envelope", but instead of polishing new and improved slick interfaces to the same low-level implementations of this years "software-fashion".

I guess that development would basically be a good thing, because it would mean that the basic infrastructure will already be in place, software and computers and the possibilities they provide will be a commodity taken for granted. I think the development is inevitable, given the basic "construct-once-use-in-all-eternity" nature of software.

It's like being amongst the many people who are building the big railways across asia or the north american continent. While building them we are heroes, but when the tracks are complete, we better start look for some alternative ways to make ourselves useful, because history will not be looking back.

Advogato diaries are such clich├ęs :)

I have been reading some more of the "Flashman" series. I finished "Flashman and the Dragon", and am now reading "Flashman and the Redskins". It's some pretty funny books, that have an entertaining way to convey some impressions from the world as it may have been around the 1840-60's.

I saw a link on Slashdot (oh no, not another Slashdot- reader) pointing to www.joelonsoftware.com, so therefore I've been reading some of his "rants" about the software industry. He really has some very good points, and I recommend reading the articles as they have sound advice on subjects ranging from employment policies to GUI design.

It's soon christmas, but work continues to be as stressing as ever - I need a vacation soon.

I've pretty much decided to follow a course at university next semester, dealing with techniques for creating adaptive "artificial intelligence" algorithms using Prolog.

Maintaining an online diary does provide a lot of censuring constraints on what can be written.

I feel like I've been so busy lately it's difficult to track the days. The past two weeks, when it was friday I wondered how the week had passed by so quickly. But still, I guess some stuff must have happened since my last diary entry from the 10th. So, let's go through it little by little, as I remember it.

There was election in Denmark, and a new government got elected. I don't know how that will affect the daily life, but I guess it will probably be 95% same-ol-same-ol, which is fine.

I haven't had much time to read lately, but this saturday I bought two books; a Kurt Cobain biography, and a book modestly entitled "Civilizations". I've read the Cobain biography, which was kinda interesting. I've always been a fan of Nirvanas music, and it's impossible to avoid becoming fascinated by Cobains short, tragic and eventful life story. I didn't know a lot about Cobain before reading the book, but now at least I have some understanding of what his music was about, and what made life so hard for him. I still think of Nirvanas unplugged show in mtv, as mtv's finest hour. Reading about the circumstances of the show, didn't make it less interesting. The book made me think of a lot of things, among the more superficial, how eventless the music scene has become, and how 90% of all popular bands are totally worthless and uninteresting. sigh.

I'm going to read the "Civilizations" book soon (kind of a gamble book-wise), but first I'm reading a book called "Flashman and the Dragon", a book recommended to me by a friend.

I have been working a lot on packaging at work lately, trying to make the search engine more of a packaged product. It's one thing to write a piece of software that performs a given task, but it's quite another to create logical product boundaries, and decide what features arguably belong in the product, and which ones don't. Then there is pricing policies, license policies, extra features policies, support policies, maintainance policies, customer support, product tailoring and more. Thankfully I only have a small part of that responsibility, but it makes you think about how a better focus on the big picture of product development would have avoided many problems. On the other hand, theres the problem of evaluating which problems could have been avoided by better planning, and which problems would have surfaced no matter what. After all, it's impossible to plan every stumbling block in advance.

I've decided to be more active in my studies next semester. The last year, I've used too much time working, and too little time studying. In fact, I haven't had a single course this entire year, but now I've reached a point where I'm beginning to actually feel inspired for some more studies. There was a reason for not studying the last year, I've not really been in the mood for written projects or courses or exams or stuff like that. I hope that has changed now.

Advogato as a community is a funny animal. Unlike most other communities which are by nature focused on discussions and direct interchange between participants, Advogato is most of all (in my mind) a forum where people publish their immediate thoughts and diary entries, with no particular audience in mind. Of course the other readers of advogato is the audience, but the connection is very indirect. The diary entries are like a continuous stream of consciousness which is fed into the community as a testimony of the daily lives of other in the community. Most readers of a given diary entry does not know the person writing the entry, but still people recognize user names from previous entries, and gradually get an impression of that person. Of course it's impossible to follow all "threads" of diary entries, so instead you naturally "pick up" a couple of people (who you don't know) and follow their diaries. I don't why, and I don't know if it's only me (which I doubt). I guess its both natural curiosity, and at the same time the desire to assert that ones everyday feelings are shared by others in this "community". At times I fear that advogato attracts narcissists. At times I fear that I am a narcissist, in a culture of self-love gone wrong. Or maybe I've rust read too much Cobain biography in the weekend :)

These are busy times. I've hardly had time to read, and have only read Couplands new book, "All families are phychotic". I like most of Couplands books, and this one is no different. All the books are different, yet share the same style of writing, which although sometimes being on the verge of becoming too "chic", is always refreshing.

At work I'm becoming more and more involved in non-coding stuff, and although I've always thought that was a thing to avoid, it's currently quite interesting, and is a nice variation, although I fear the price will be paid along the road in terms on missing product development.

Today I bought Monty Pythons complete set of Flying Circus shows on dvd. Although I just had to buy it, at the same time I felt ripped off at the shameless prices they asked for it. I mean, how can a work that has been sold and resold so many countless time, continue to be sold at almost-as-new prices?

21 Oct 2001 (updated 21 Oct 2001 at 21:27 UTC) »

Finished reading a book called Marcus the Roman, about a roman who happens to be in Jerusalem at the time of the crucifiction of Christ. The book provides an interesting speculation (its pure fiction) about how the events at the time may have been experienced by some of the contemporaries, and is as such very interesting.

Lots of stuff at work, so much to do, so little time. I think I need to learn myself to take the necessary time to prioritize my actions on a given day. Friday I fixed a bug in the search engine which has bugged me for a long time, so that was positive.

I'm involved in a software process workgroup at work, where I have been made responsible for constructing a software requirements specication template for use in our company. We have agreed to use the basic layout from Karl Wiegers "Software requirements", but I'm wondering what's a "typical" amount of standardization in that regard in software companies in general. I guess it's really just a matter of trying some alternatives until you find something that works in the specific context of your organization.

We have started playing some quake arena at office, it's good with some fast-paced action once in a while :-)

Oh, and I bought Dead Man on dvd - Neil Youngs soundtrack for that movie is so cool, so cool.

Btw, I think lkcl's and others work on dce/rpc support is great. I think of their work as one of the few examples of a really constructive effort to increase the long-term viability of Linux as a server platform.

Things have been busy at work lately, and it seems like I have somehow become involved with most of the ongoing projects there. But I guess that's cool, because then at least I don't have to worry about not having anything to do at work ;-)

I guess I havent experienced anything interesting since last time (do I ever?), but I at least just wanted to add this entry to show that time hasn't gone by without leaving a mark. Oh wait, I read most of Karl Wiegers "Software requirements" so I actually did somehing active :) (and I also bought a new cellphone and did tons of other things that are meaningless to tell about). And yesterday, I won a small tournament of table fussball at work :)

I'm also wondering whether now is a good time to buy stocks.

Spent the weekend at my fathers new house away from the computer (well almost :-)). Read an annotated book-style danish version of Dantes "Comedy". Reading the entire book in verse form was just a bit more than I dared, but reading the revised version was interesting, because the author had intermixed comments that related the original story to Dantes contemporary history. One of the most interesting things I realized was that the part about being "lost in a dark wood" which was also the thought that was the central aspect of "in a dark wood wandering", was also one of the central themes in "Comedy". Ah well, I may be a litterary nimwit, but I still find it fascinating :)

I have been following the debate about "recovering from a morale slump" with interest. Although I wouldn't say I suffer from writers block to any bad extent generally, I know the feeling of not being motivated. I think one of the most true points made was the one about the necessity of feeling that the work one does matter somehow. I think thats one of the central problems of software construction as it is today.

Everyday thousands, in fact millions, of programmers write software that share so many similarities that it would be a far stretch of the imagination to talk about the "art" of software development. An analogous example from "real life" might be the contrast between an art painter, and a painter of walls. Both use paint, but the big difference lies in the artist making a unique work, whereas the painter of walls is simply painting "yet another wall".

Perhaps the average everyday programmer just has to come to terms with him just being a "painter of walls" in that sense. It's tempting for the everyday programmer to think he's an art painter. But there can only be so many art painters. We must strive to become art painters, and use this striving to avoid thinking about that what we're currently painting is walls.

I've finished "In a dark wood wandering" which is a very well-written story about factional strife in medieval feudal France in the early 15th century. I am now going to read an old classic that I've heard about for years but still haven't taken the time to read - Steve McConnells "Code Complete". I'm looking forward to it - he really knows how to write books that are both educating but also entertaining to read. If it wasn't because he obviously has deep knowledge of the subjects he writes about you might be tempted to call him a giant fuckwit :-)

Right now I really feel like starting to write on a a medieval strategy game incorporating elements of feudal obligations, trade and factional strife. The problem is that I know myself too well to believe that I would be able to see it through before I loose my enthusiasm. So, if you're reading this, are very dedicated and are also a world-class graphician, then send me a mail ;-) (like that would ever happen)

I hacked together a small basic set of dx8 sprite/texture classes, and it's just great how much the dx api has improved since earlier versions :-)

11th of september was a strange day, and somehow the days continue to be strange.

I am anxious about how the world will look as a result of the attack on the US. Maybe something good will come of it, but I doubt it. I understand the rage of the americans, and I think retribution is justified, but I fear nothing good will come of it. I watched CNN from just after the second plane hit the WTC and it was really weird to just stand and see the plot unfold - the buildings burning and then falling down, and afterwards the news about the pentagon and the believed car bomb outside the state department.

... also in the news (we are all becoming cnn zombies);

I have now received a new more game-enabling computer at home, and has also begun to toy around a bit with directx 8. Last I had a serious look at directx was around directx5, and my how the api has changed since then. But thankfully it has changed to the better :-) I really just love the thought of vertex and pixel shaders, and really hate that it's not a Geforce 3 I ordered ;-)

I have read Microserfs for the umpteenth time, and I am now reading "In a dark wood wandering" by Hella Haase, which takes place in medieval france in the beginning of the 15th century. It's very much concerned with intricacies of high politics, and has a dark looming feeling over it which is kinda inspiring. It's also funny to read the introduction about how the book was translated from its original language dutch, to english in a process that took over 25 years, because the translater after several years died during translation, whereafter the almost finished manuscript lay in his appartment for 20 years until it was salvaged after a fire. Reading that story reminds you how warped our modern idea of deadlines sometimes seem.

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