Older blog entries for ztf (starting at number 11)

Thoughts:

Everyone who wants to be a thoughtful advocate of [ free | open source ] software should really go read raph's 10/31 diary entry. It's quite insightful.

Back in my transition from school to industry, I read (ugh) some awful assigned text on Software Engineering. It was awful because of being a classic example of Soporific Prose, but it was worth enduring for the key insight that a software product is more than just source code. A software product consists of the totality of code (source and binary), documentation (online and printed), test suite, build tools, support infrastructure, and (dare I say it?) marketing collateral. And the quality of a software product, as a product, depends on the quality of all of these things, not only on having an elegant design and clean, bug- free code. (Good design and code are necessary but not sufficient conditions.)

This is where proprietary commercial software vendors have traditionally had their advantage. It's a very rare person who has an "itch" regarding test suites and code coverage metrics, or good user guides, and the time and ability to scratch it effectively. This is what companies like The Great Satan can do so well: afford to hire people to take care of these "fit and polish" issues. I'm hoping that the new models of commerical free software will be able to do the same thing, but it's probably too soon to say that they've all proved that they can compete long-term against the proprietary vendors (and this varies in interesting ways by market segment).

The other thing that raph correctly notes is that it's hard to find quality free software implementations in areas that require very specialized application expertise (such as high-end graphics). Proprietary vendors have the cash to affort application specialists and software specialists; free software efforts seem to rely on finding the rare combination of a double application/software expert who is also philosophically a free software fanatic. Not to mention, having a day job which supports writing software to give away. Fortunately, such people do appear from time to time, but the scope of their work is limited.

I'm not sure how to tackle this problem, other than to (a) make sure to support worthy free software commercial enterprises, and (b) work on educating the free software community about the utmost importance of non-coding contributions, and making sure that such people get their share of the credit as well.

Life:

Rachel said her first word this week! She looked right at her mom, lit up with the most wonderful smile, and clearly said "Hi!" We're such the proud parents. :^)

Work:

Got my first controls project done. It's kind of a thrill to actually see this hunk of steel, mess of tubes and wiring, and rapidly rotating blades actually move and do something useful to large pallets of plywood.

Of course, like any program, there were bugs. Lots of them. :^( But after consultation with someone who knew what they were doing, and two complete rewrites, there's finally a PLC program in there that I'm happy with. And that should never do anything unpleasant like start up unexpectedly after a power burp. :^/

Hacking:

I finally got a useful first cut of the Bonobo API docs generated; anyone who cares can preview by grabbing from http://www.bright.net/~zfrey/techstuff/gnome /bonobo-api.tar.gz. Feedback welcome. Yes, I know it's just a skeleton.

Code:

More patches accepted, this time to bonobo. I must be getting the hang of this (he says, tempting the Fates).

Work:

Controls engineering is scarier than Deep Wizardry Unix hacking ... if you mess up coding, you crash something or diddle some data, and generally the worst thing that happens is someone's lost time. In controls, if I screw up, people can get killed. It pays to be more careful about your bugs, or at least make sure that there are physical interlocks to back up software decisions (see the Therac-25 disaster for a case where this wasn't done).

Life:

Hectic. Rachel gave us a week or two of break from teething; now she's back at it worse than before. Lack of sleep is no longer as fun as it used to be in college. :^)

Leaves are turning, temperatures are dropping, and the combines are in the fields; must be fall.

Made it to my first TALUG (Toledo Area Linux Users' Group) meeting last month; won the grand doorprize of a Debian box. There were about twenty Caldera technology previews too, but everyone wanted the Debian. :^) Now I just need to take some time and install it.

Felt pretty good about life and hacking last night; got to make my first CVS commit to the GNOME source base.

Woke up this morning with the horrified realization that I'd committed the cardinal sin of doing a commit without a ChangeLog entry ... :^(

Oh well. I went back and added my ChangeLog comments, only to discover that my clever configure.in hack had been removed already by lauris as deprecated. C'est la vie. Life on the bleeding edge and all that.

Wow, over two months since a diary entry. I must not be doing anything worth writing about. :^)

I've actually gotten a production Linux server in use where I work now. The odd advantage about working in a place that is in the "stone knives and bearskins" stage of computing is that we don't have much established infrastructure, and people here don't have the MSFT religion. So I'm (mostly) free to adopt the best Free Software solutions.

And I've actually submitted a patch to gnome-print in my Copious Free Time(tm); now to see if it gets accepted ...

Not only am I not moving to Boston to work on free software, I'm not moving (back) to Ann Arbor to work on a proprietary/free mix of software with a nasty non-compete agreement. I guess if I can give up working at a hot Linux startup for family reasons, I can give up working at a warm telecom startup for family reasons too.

Instead, I'm going to stay in the wilds of rural Ohio, keep my kids in the country near their cousins and grandparents, and make the jump to being a controls engineer and automation specialist. Plus, being the all- around local computer guru. Hmm, a perfect opportunity for Linux evangelization, wouldn't you say ... :^)

And since I don't have one of those nasty IP/noncompete agreements in place anymore, I'm actually freer to help write free software than I've been in over a decade.

Now, if only I had free time ...

(*sigh*)

Bummer.

Well, it's official -- I won't be moving to Boston to make a living by joining the Free Software revolution. It's the right decision, family-wise -- but it's still a bummer.

Wahoo!

(... in case anybody actually reads this and cares, more details later as I can make them public ...)

Last week at the office, it struck home how Free Software / Open Source is really winning the battle for the "hearts and minds" of developers.

My job, at the moment, is to help do the legwork for people doing the real work on buzzwordy, web- based technologies. So, I'm looking at web servers, XML and XSL software, CORBA, etc.

And every single developer that I work with has expressed the equivalent of "don't even bother me with some proprietary crap, I want the good 'open source' stuff."

So, my sample is no doubt biased because we're a Unix-centric shop, but still, it's interesting ...


GNU does not eliminate all the world's problems, only some of them.
-- RMS, "The GNU Manifesto"

Nothing to do about free software ...

Tonight my daughter Rachel was baptized at the Easter Vigil service at Grace Episcopal Church, Defiance, Ohio. This is the first time I've been to an Easter Vigil service. It's pretty neat (although long); the readings and the prayers give an overview of salvation history from Creation through the Resurrection.

Some small children cry or scream when baptized -- Rachel giggled. And gave everybody one of her 1000 watt smiles. It was too cute for words.

My family very graciously turned out, and the sheer Catholicity of it all didn't send them running out screaming in terror, so I guess we're all OK. :^)

Good music selections (I should hope so, Nancy was on the worship comittee), but the execution was ... lacking. (*sigh*) Oh well, there's no way to learn to walk without a few stumbles, right? But I think this may have been the whitest performance of "Go Down, Moses" in history -- I don't know if that means we need to try singing spirituals more often, or just give it up as hopeless. :^/

He is Risen! Alleluia!

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