work, phones, french

Work just piles up more and more. On the one hand it's frustrating not making faster progress on so many projects. On the other hand, it's kind of exciting to have a to-do list with so many interesting things on it.

Saturday I went to juggling and did mostly club-passing with Dave. My left-hand chops are almost getting reasonable. (Using "chops" here not in the generic sense but as a term for a specific type of overhand pass that's thrown with a bit of a downward chopping motion and that I can do much better in my right hand.) We had some food at Cottage Inn afterwards, then I went home while the rest of them left to see the Simpsons movie. I'm sure the Simpsons movie is fine, but the idea didn't interest me.

I got some peaches before juggling at the farmer's market. I always do that on Saturdays, and carrying them around the rest of the day is always a problem. I've never figured out how to do it without damaging them. But it just means we have to eat them sooner. They're always extremely good, so that's not hard.

I've resisted the mobile phone until now, but two things have worn down my resistance. One was our trip to San Francisco earlier this year, when we had several groups of friends to meet all at the same time, and made them all work harder to coordinate with us then I think they should have had to.

The other is the OpenMoko project, which aims to build a phone completely from free software. I ordered one a few weeks ago, and with luck it'll arrive Friday. It's a developer preview at this point--the hardware's apparently stable enough, but it sounds like the software can't even dial or receive calls reliably yet. Looks like great fun to play with, and possibly give me a chance to speed along development in some small way, but I'll need a SIM card to actually play with it, and, well, a cell phone with a prepaid plan doesn't cost that much more than just the card, so I may as well have an actual working phone too. So I've got some other inexpensive GSM phone also winging it's way towards me.

Tonight I figured I'd try a local French conversation group. I love to read French (novels and especially comic books), so I maybe have an OK vocabulary at this point, but I rarely have an excuse to speak French.

I'm not an extrovert, and it took some effort to convince myself to go to walk into a coffeeshop to find some random group of strangers to talk in a language I'm incompetent in. It went well enough, though. They look to be a fun, diverse group of folks. Only one of them seemed really fluent (hard for me to tell), but the (painful) exercise of forcing myself to find the words I need to express a thought is good on its own.

Douglas Adams, sick

Tonight our book group did "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", which is an odd choice for a book group. Attendance was way up--twenty people--whereas if we read something longer or harder (like last month's "Riddley Walker") it may be under ten. I like it when there's fewer people, so I'll have to campaign for really unreadable stuff next year.

"Hitchhiker's" is a favorite of mine. It's not structured in any particular way, as far as anyone can tell, and often seems frankly sloppy, but I enjoy it just as a sequence of sketches and little comic essays.

Somebody reminded me of a favorite line, describing a spaceship that "hung in the air in much the same way that bricks don't." It's got the surprise that makes it funny (though ending a phrase with an unexpected negative--"a size and proportion which more or less exactly failed to please the eye", "a cupful of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea"--is a device he uses a lot), while calling attention very succinctly a comparison that describes the situation (the ungainly ship shapes, the incongruity of their hanging in the air).

Another random bit I like:

Trillian said quietly, "Does that mean anything to you?"
"Mmmm," said Zaphod, "ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha. ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha?"
"Well?" said Trillian.
"Er ... what does the Z mean?" said Zaphod.
"Which one?"
"Any one."
One of the major difficulties Trillian experienced in her relationship with Zaphod was learning to distinguish between him pretending to be stupid just to get people off their guard, pretending to be stupid because he couldn't be bothered to think and wanted someone else to do it for him, pretending to be outrageously stupid to hide the fact that he actually didn't understand what was going on, and really being genuinely stupid. He was renowned for being amazingly clever and quite clearly was so--but not all the time, which obviously worried him, hence the act. He preferred people to be puzzled rather than contemptuous. This above all appeared to Trillian to be genuinely stupid, but she could no longer be bothered to argue about it.

I don't know how original an observation that is, but it is common for people to act stupid to cover up some other confusion, and I think he captures it in a clever way here. And I like how it fits into the dialog--taking an aside like this right at the place where Trillian would respond with an exasperated silence.

There's other jokes of course that have been repeated so many times that I just get sick of them.

I think I've got a poor reading memory--I enjoy it when someone points out connections between different scenes in a book, for example, but it's rarely the sort of thing I notice on my own--so I think I read most books as a sequence of local details, and miss the coherency less than others might.

I've been feeling a little under the weather the last couple days--nothing obvious, just kind of achy and tired. Hopefully it'll clear up.

another week

The work week went pretty well. I worked pretty hard, made some slow progress, and mostly enjoyed it. We had somebody fly from Tennessee for the day on Friday to meet with us about some of our work. That still seems nuts to me--why would you want to fly twice in a day if you didn't have to? How could you travel across the country to a strange town and not want to spend at least a day or two looking around?

In any case, it reminded me of a big project we have to do that's felt a little stalled lately. I spent some time over the weekend trying to think about it some more, and it's starting to feel just a little less impossible than before.

A shorter-term project with a looming end-of-the-month deadline is also finally starting to break itself down into smaller pieces, to the point where I can believe it'll actually get done in time.

So, I did some work Saturday, but also passed clubs with Dave for a while at juggling, and got a ride with Ajit to Fred and Deanna's for games later on.

Sunday I spent a little time working at the media union, just for a change of scene. The advantage to being there on a summer Sunday is that it's deserted and there's lots of great places to sit. But the various coffee shops and fast food places are all closed, which puts a natural time limit on how long I could work there. Well, I guess I could have packed a lunch if I'd known.

Friday we saw "Nobody Knows", a documentary-style story about four siblings who, despite an impressive level of independence for their age, just aren't quite mature enough to take care of each other when their mother abandons them. It's a long slow one-directional plot with lots of nice moments to linger over--the sort of thing that's charming sandwiched between more animated scenes in a Miyazaki film, but that started to try my patience towards the end here. It was also very good, but probably too sad for me to bear sitting through it again.

And Sunday we watched "A Prairie Home Companion", which I found hilarious in a deadpan sort of way.

Earlier this week we also tried "Herbie: Fully Loaded". Sometimes you don't expect much of a movie and it still manages to disappoint you. It wasn't a guilty pleasure, or a fascinating mess, or an unintentional comedy, it was just sort of senseless and badly done and predictable.

Baby, the stars shine bright

Wednesday afternoon I met some coworkers (mainly the interns) at Saigon Garden for dinner, followed by an hour or two at Pinball Pete's.

Friday afternoon my favorite local algebraic topologist Igor played some Bach on the organ in the Blanche Anderson Moore Hall, which is magnificent. We should go to more concerts there. It's less than a ten-minute walk from our apartment, too, so we have no excuse not to.

We got a bite to eat at home then got a lift from Ajit back to central campus, where we met Paul for the first of the summer's Japanese film series, Kamikaze Girls, which was great. Maybe it could have been more subtle, or shorter here and there, but it was hilarious.

Saturday we made it to the farmer's market, then I got a little work done in my office while Sara napped. Juggling went well, then I went off on my own to do a little more work before meeting up with the jugglers again at Ajit's for some games.

Dell Inspiron 1420n

My new laptop finally arrived today, a Dell Inspiron 1420n. Usually the arrival of a new laptop means a couple hours at least of babysitting the Linux install, but this comes with Ubuntu Linux preinstalled. I plugged in power and network, turned it on, went through four straightforward setup screens, and it was ready to use. (The first three screens were for language, keyboard layout, and time (and time zone)--all were intuitive and had reasonable defaults. The last was to enter the account details (name, username, password) for one user account.)

All that was left to do was install some software and copy over my home directory.

The Linux integration still seems a little rough around the edges. The manual in the box, for example, refers only to Windows, not Linux, though it also has plenty of useful OS-neutral information (like how to install new memory). Of more concern: a shrink-wrapped Ubuntu CD is included, but it's not clear whether it would reproduce what's installed on the hard drive. That's not a great problem for me, but it might make restoring from disaster a problem for someone not used to installing Linux from scratch. Update: actually, they do have some details on the install, and it appears to be very close to a straight Ubuntu install. Neat! And there's also a "reinstall partition" on the drive.

Other than that, I've seen three problems:

  • The little sound volume applet on the panel crashes after the laptop wakes from sleep. A dialog pops up asking if you want to reload the applet, and if you do, then it's fine. So this is an annoyance, not a show-stopper.
  • For some reason the Firefox spell-checker defaulted to German.
  • The one 3-D game I tried (Planet Penguin Racer) crashed the machine. I didn't get a chance to investigate, but suspect the video driver needs an update.

There's also the usual problems that result from the clash between free software and the legal system: e.g., if I want to watch the DVD's I buy or check out from the library I have to go track down the software on my own, since the people that control the DVD format claim it's illegal for me to watch a DVD with software that I can actually read or modify. Thanks to the Medibuntu people, that's a five-minute fix.

Anyone who knows they want a Linux laptop is probably prepared for that. And for those people I think this machine is a no-brainer. It seems like a decent laptop. My previous machines had 10-12 inch screens, and this one is 14, so I find it a little cumbersome, but I think most people prefer the larger size.

Of course, the holy grail would be a computer that I could recommend to people who were just looking for a computer and didn't care about the OS. It's close. If it wasn't for the video driver problem I think I might recommend with the obvious warnings. If hope Dell continues working on this--they seem like they're making a serious start.

In other news, Linus just accepted this patch. Now I have super-powers. I think. Actually, I feel just as stupid now as I did last week. There's too much to do, and I can't be on top of it all....

maintenance, movies, wii

A patch is a file that describes a change to another file (or set of files). For example,

    NFSD/SUNRPC: Fix the automatic selection of RPCSEC_GSS
    Bruce's patch broke the ability to compile RPCSEC_GSS as a module.
    Signed-off-by: Trond Myklebust 

diff --git a/fs/Kconfig b/fs/Kconfig
index 6a64990..58a0650 100644
--- a/fs/Kconfig
+++ b/fs/Kconfig
@@ -1674,7 +1674,7 @@ config NFSD_V3_ACL
 config NFSD_V4
        bool "Provide NFSv4 server support (EXPERIMENTAL)"
-       depends on NFSD_V3 && EXPERIMENTAL
+       depends on NFSD && NFSD_V3 && EXPERIMENTAL
        select RPCSEC_GSS_KRB5
          If you would like to include the NFSv4 server as well as the NFSv2

This is a patch my friend and coworker Trond made to correct a mistake of mine; it tells you to modify the file fs/Kconfig by deleting one line (the one preceded by a minus sign) and adding a slightly modified version (the one preceded by a plus sign).

The nice thing about a patch is that it's precise enough that a computer can apply the described change automatically, but it's still readable by people, once they get used to the format.

That means you can send a patch to a mailing list and it's easy for people to read it, argue about whether it's a good idea or not, quote parts of it as necessary, and so on.

So as a Linux kernel developer, what I do all day is write patches, to fix problems or add new features, and review them, to decide which are worth applying and which aren't.

And that's the way all changes to the kernel happen--we accumulate patches on top of patches. Linus takes the patches we agree are good and applies them to his version of the kernel, and the rest of us mostly use his versions as the basis for further work. Not because he has any special power--the code is licensed in such a way that anyone can do the same thing--but because over the years he's shown consistently pretty good taste about which patches to apply and which not to.

But the kernel is a big project at this point--a single major revision of the kernel, which takes 2 or 3 months, will include several thousand new patches, and Linus can't keep up with that pace on his own--so the review decisions end up requiring the input of hundreds of developers.

The review process is completely open--anyone with an email address may observe and contribute, and patch authors are expected to deal with any legitimate criticism regardless of the source. That also means that the community is too large and ill-defined to achieve complete consensus. And we can't really just take a vote either.

So in practice we depend on a sort of web of trust, relying on the opinions of developers with proven track records in their areas of expertise. This is formalized by recognizing some developers as "maintainers" of certain subsystems. Maintainers are responsible for filtering the good patches from the bad, giving feedback, working with people to resolved problems, and hopefully providing some overall direction.

I've been working on the kernel's NFS server for a while now, and as of recently it started looking like we might agree that I should be an official maintainer for that code.

That's just attaching a name to something that I've already been starting to do. But it's somewhat of a big deal to me anyway. And it potentially makes some difference to the people I work with and for. So I spent some of day at work figuring out how to explain some of the above. We'll see where it goes.

Anyway, that all sort of started Friday. Saturday I spent mostly with juggling friends. A guy and his daughter visited from Japan--they have roots in the area, and she's starting college in a year, so they're looking around at campuses. I passed clubs with her for a while, which was fun. Afterwards we had some noodles and then went back to our friend (and new neighbor) Ajit's place to play some Wii games. Also fun, though a little tiring in the end--maybe we should have called a quits a little earlier.

Sunday I went to a "Cinema Guild" event. It was in a classroom in the basement of Angell Hall. There were four of us altogether, so we chatted in between a little.

They were showing two short movies, one, "La Fin Du Monde", an unfinished French movie that had been cut up into pieces and had plan-9-worthy subitles, narration, and more, complete with a scientist's overly stiff and earnest introduction. It was a collage on so many levels--sound, text, video, all thrown together to give the vague impression of a plot. It was fun to guess what the original movie might have been about.

The second movie was Pabt's 1933 "Don Quixote", which was wonderful. They captured the spirit of the character really well, and I liked the songs. I'd see it again.

laputa, a mystery solved

Last night and tonight we watched Miyazaki's "Laputa" which is typically touching and full of unexpected and delightful details.

Also, the unsolved mystery of the little bundles of sticks that we saw at Park Lyndon with my parents in April appears to be solved by this boing-boing post; they were probably caddis fly larvae!

art fair, anniversary/moving brunch

The annual Ann Arbor Art Fairs are several fairs under different management (with, no doubt, all sorts of fascinating politics) that all run at the same time, but despite the occasional pedantic reminder, everybody refers to whole as "Art Fair".

Anyway, it ran Wednesday through Saturday. It's hard to miss, as it fills down large swaths of the downtown core with rows and rows of a little tents each filled with wares for sale and an artist in a director's chair.

Sara and I walked around for an hour or so after work on Thursday, but that's all I could take. I'm not sure why. It's the kind of thing I think I should like, but it always just depresses me. Maybe it's the quantity. An otherwise interesting painting might lose its impact in a tent with a bunch of its kin, in the middle of this huge artists' cubical farm, where there's probably somebody doing similar work two blocks over.

Maybe there's great stuff I'd like if I just had the patience to look for it.

Sara and I got married in Rocky Mountain National Park five years ago today. Our friend Ajit was also moving in Saturday. So we figured it was a good day for a combined welcome-(back-)to-ann-arbor / anniversary party. We had brunch with bagels from the nice bagel place next door, sticky orange muffins (from a Fanny Farmer recipe), fruit salad, and omelets. It was possibly as many as 12 or 13 people (turned out to be 9 and a baby, I think), and we're not used to doing that sort of thing, so the preparation was a little hectic at the last minute. It seemed to work out fine, though. We played a game that Fred and Deanna brought, and Ajit stayed on a little while longer while we cleaned up. I thought it turned out to be pretty pleasant overall.

grad school reunion

It came a little out of the blue--my friend Bill, who was a year behind me in the math PhD program, and who still lives in Ann Arbor, but who I don't see that often--emailed me to let me know a bunch of mutual friends from grad school were all getting together this weekend.

So, Saturday morning he picked me up at my place and we drove the 45 minutes to Monroe, Michigan, where our David, who was in my cohort but left after a couple years, and who I had no idea was even in the area any more, has a house and a family. We were early. He and his wife and three kids all seemed to be doing pretty well. She (and the two elder kids, from a previous marriage I assume) are from England. While offering us drinks she noted that squash and ribena were available.

Eric and his girlfriend had arrived Friday and stayed there overnight. Chris S. and his wife and two kids showed up a little later, as did Scott. There were vegetable skewers, hot dogs, hamburgers, a couple salads, various drinks and snacks, and ice cream and cookies for desert. We sat around talking till probably 7 or so, then headed back to Ann Arbor to pick up Sara for dinner, which we had at Grizzly Peak.

It was good to catch up with that particular group of people. But I'm reminded of why I didn't continue in academics. Everybody was doing fine, it's not that--despite a certain amount of griping and self-deprecation the two that had gone on as professors sounded like they were doing well--but it just didn't sound like what I'd want to be doing.

I had a bad stomache ache when I got home, for some reason. It lingered on through Sunday, which I mostly spent laying around reading, but nothing really bad came of it in the end. Today I'm fine.

Canoeing, bands, friends, end of ToP

Saturday Dave and Paul met at our place and we carpooled together to Millford, where we were offered free canoe rental in the morning in return for juggling at an event that afternoon. Ajit, Micah, and Gene met us there. The rest of them each got Kayaks, and Sara and I paddled a canoe with Ajit as a passenger, since he was having a problem with his hands.

Sara wasn't sure about the steering, so I figured I'd stop paddling for a while so she could figure out how it worked without my interference. She did too good a job, and I got lazy, and by the end she was complaining about having to do all the work, so I took over more of the paddling again.

There were a fair number of other people on the river, but we did still get to see a few interesting things, including a lot of turtles, and one bird's nest complete with baby birds and a couple of extremely agitated parents. We heard a lot of frogs, but never managed to see one.

The event was the first stop in someone's swim down the Huron River, intended to raise awareness of the Huron watershed, I guess. There were some tents set up in a park, and we juggled and interacted with the other people, including the swimmer herself, who we tried teaching to juggle.

It was a pretty good time overall, but by early afternoon I already felt like I'd been up and outside for a little too long.

So we got back home in time to nap a little before someone else gave us a lift to a party for Trond and Laura (who were married in an extremely small ceremony earlier in the year), at my coworker Andy's house. It was quite an affair--fireworks, two bands (Andy and his friends are great musicians), lots of food and drink, a bonfire, and some silly Viking hats (a tribute to Trond's Norwegian-ness). We got back around midnight.

We took it pretty easy the next day. I got in to my office late in the afternoon and did a little git housekeeping, then met Sara and some other friends at Top of the Park for the final event of the year, featuring (as always) George Bedard and the Kingpins. As it happened the "Kingpins" (Bedard's drummer and bassist) were both jamming at the party the night before, so Sara and I were feeling pretty cool. It was a good end to the series. We went home to get to bed at a reasonable hour instead of staying for the final movie ("Night at the Museum", which didn't sound that good anyway).

Sara suggested Russel Hoban's "Riddley Walker" for our science-fiction book group this year, and that's what we're discussing tommorow night. It's tough going--entirely written in a dialect of the author's invention--and though I got an early start on it I'd set it aside more recently thinking I'd leave it mainly to Sara to defend the family honor at the book group. Which she'll do quite handily--our copy is bristling with her notes now identifying all sorts of little puns and such. But she convinced me I should finish, so I did that last night and this morning. I'm glad she did. It's absolutely fascinating, and the moment I finished it I turned back to the first page and started reading again. I've never read anything quite like it.


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