Older blog entries for ztf (starting at number 17)

Hacking:

Well, "this week" for the new gCAD homepage was a bit optimistic, given that my attempted upgrade from RedHat 6.2 to 7.0 managed to trash LILO and my root partition. :^( Note to self: having /home on a seperate partition was A Good Thing(tm); must make sure to use clever partitioning on future systems. Note to Red Hat: "upgrades" that fail to detect a filled disk partition and leave a system unbootable are A Bad Thing(tm).

Life:

Well, no advogato reader has yes taken me up on my offer of free beer and friendship for helping me find that dream free software telecommute job. Maybe I'll have to throw a bottle of Glenfiddich into the deal. :^)

Work:

Some progress on our company computing infrastructure. I got mod_dav set up and tested with Windows Web Folders; now my users can create and upload their own web documents, in Word 2000 (shudder) if necessary. And NTP is working now and happily keeping server time in synch. On to trying to beat HylaFAX into submission, and finally getting Samba and printing set up propely. Oh, and actually do some engineering while I'm at it too.

Life:

If anyone knows of a Free | Open Source software company looking for a senior (10+ years) C/Unix hacker with a myriad of software engineering talents and is willing to deal with telecommuting, please point them at my resume. If anything comes of it, I'll owe you lifelong friendship and a beer. Or two. Heck, a whole case.

Work:

I really wish OpenCASCADE had more fit and polish, and the ability to work with AutoCAD .DWG files. We are going ahead and licensing Solid Edge, but our joy at getting modern 3D MCAD software is rapidly being tempered, nay extinguished, as the bug-ridden nature of it becomes obvious. I know, it probably Serves Us Right for trying to run Serious Software on Windows 98, but sometimes one makes do with limited resources. :^(

Hacking:

miguel gave me the go-ahead to practice maintainership of gCAD since Iñigo seems to have dropped off the face of the earth. I've got a SourceForge project set up for it; I hope to have the web page transferred over and GNOME CVS updated this week.

Snow!

We're up to about 16 inches (that's 40.6cm for the rest of the world) in just the last two weeks. Just north of here, Ann Arbor has over 2 feet (61cm).

What that number doesn't reflect is drift. After the blowing and drifting, I had a 4 1/2 ft. (1.4m) wall of snow in front of my garage to get rid of Monday. With no power tools. The bright side is that I got some much-needed exercise. :^/

ObTech:

I realized that good old fashioned horse transportation has an advantage in this kind of weather. It's modular -- when the snow gets like this, you just leave the buggy at home and hitch up the sleigh instead. This eliminates the need to keep the entire road infrastructure clear of snow and ice, something we need with our wheeled automobiles and that represents a considerable recurring expense (paid via taxes, so it's invisible but still there).

So, the Amish are on to something here. And, of course, horse-powered transportation is much much more environmentally friendly, having a positive rather than a negative effect on greenhouse gas emissions. I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for USDOT to advocate more horse-and-[buggy|sleigh] use as a means of complying with the Kyoto Protocol, though. The buggy-whip manufacturers don't have a rich enough PAC.

Hacking:

The search for Iñigo Serna continues -- while my email to him doesn't bounce, it doesn't get answered either, and all of his listed co-collaborators on gCAD say he hasn't been heard from for at least six months.

When exactly is a project considered abandoned? And what's the protocol for trying to hack on it when the maintainer isn't reachable?

Work:

It looks like we're close to a decision on 3D MCAD software, and it will probably be Solid Edge. A pity it's proprietary and Windows-based, but this is one of those areas (like raph said ) where free software just hasn't entered with workable results. (Anyone who knows of a free 3D modeller usable for Real World(tm) engineering work, please let me know ASAP.)

Life:

I hate the Christmas rush.

Snow and ice storms are incredibly beautiful. Until you have to drive to work through the aftermath.

I just finished reading Wendell Berry's Fidelity: Five Stories. It's fantastic. I love Berry's essays and poetry, but these are the first short stories of his that I've read. Great stuff, a good stretch of the literary muscles after many, many O'Reilly books, and wonderfully angst-free. :^)

Hacking:

That would require free time (ha!). :^(

Although I did post some random thoughts on the "desktop" article. All I can say about aaronl is that he's clearly never been responsible for long-term maintenance of a substantial, multi-OS, multi-compiler code base. Or else he would know better.

Life:

Nancy's back went out over Thanksgiving, so I've been doing double-duty lately. See above about no free time for hacking ... Fortunately, she's starting to feel better.

Work:

Doing more engineering than IS work lately. Realization: lots of controls engineering today is simply learning what gadgets are avaliable and for how much. Remember, it's science if you care about the theory, and engineering if you care about doing it cheap. :^)

I think we're close to selecting a 3D-CAD program for the mechanical designers. This is an area with no usable Free software, so we're stuck with Windows for the forseeable future. It's even making me consider converting us over to Windows 2000, because it's the only Redmond OS that supports both multi-processor systems and AGP graphics cards.

Thoughts:

Tomorrow begins Advent. I suppose I'm some sort of reactionary fanatic, but it irks me that we are already being bombarded with Christmas commericalization, which will crescendo to a frenzy on Dec. 25 and then drop to a whisper -- exactly when Christmas really begins! Christmas starts on Dec. 25 and continues the full twelve days (yes, like the song) until Epiphany on Jan. 6. The next few weeks are supposed to be a time when we take a deep breath, slow down our lives a bit, and meditate on The Meaning Of It All(tm) a touch more in preparation for celebrating the birth of Christ. Instead, it will be nearly impossible to squeeze a thought in edgewise over the shopping din. It's positively diabolical, I tell you.

Oh, well. Nobody likes the people who point out that the new millenium hasn't started yet, either.

Life:

My little baby girl is one today! That can't be right, it seems like she was just born. I must be having fun for time to fly like this. She's pretty much officially graduated from "baby" to "toddler" with a vengeance -- not just walking, but climing (she's determined to find a way to scale the outside of her Pack-n-Play), disdaining baby food, and working very hard on learning to talk. She's got a vocabulary of about three or four words, and is clearly working hard on catching up with her big brothers. Oh, and did I mention that she cut three teeth in less than twenty-four hours? :^)

Work:

It's scary what you can find in some factories. If you think "spaghetti code" is bad, try spaghetti wiring ...

I finally got AutoCAD 2000i yesterday, and hopefully will get it installed and kick the tires somewhat today. I'm looking forward to it -- besides the traditional AutoLISP, they're now touting something called VisualLISP. Also, this version includes VBA and better Automation support than AutoCAD 14 had. Time for some CAD system hacking!

CAD software is an area that is in great need of love and attention from free software hackers.

Hacking:

Very little of that going on. I need to make good on setting up autoconf for the PuffinPLC project. I've been trying to follow the debate/flamage on the gnome-office list (learned more about the internals of AbiWord than I thought I would ever need to know). My conclusion: we really really need a quality Win32 port of GTK+ (with native look-and-feel), plus a whole bunch of other libraries (gettext, libglade, etc.). Prefereably with mingw32 instead of the entire Cygwin project thrown in.

Spent a bit of time investigating gCAD. This is a very interesting project, especially with the promised integration with Varkon. Unfortunately, there's been no release for almost a year and a half, and it's hard to tell if the project is alive or dead. :^( I've emailed Iñigo Serna, but no response yet.

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.

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