Ann Arbor to DC

Tuesday my parents found out that my mom would be able to get her operation on Wednesday. Amtrak is great for a situation like this--a few minutes on their website and I had a one-way next-day reservation to DC for $86. So Wednesday I brought my luggage with me to work, then walked to the station (another big plus for Amtrak) at 7:30, where I met Sara. We had a nice dinner--sandwiches and beer--sitting at the bar at Casey's, right across the street, then Sara left me to the first leg of my trip, the bus ride to Toledo. The bus ride was routine, but the train was delayed on its way to Toledo and we didn't board till 2:30am.

I didn't sleep very well at night, but enjoyed the ride the next day anyway, and managed to get a nap then.

From Union Station I took the metro to Fort Totten, then the K6 to Chalmers. Within a block of home, my parents passed me in their car--I hadn't been sure if they'd be home that night at all, and didn't have any keys, so it was a relief to see them, and to see that my mom seems to be doing quite well.

Tomorrow I'll try to work most of the day--we'll see how that goes.

Mom, new laptop, pizza, and more

My mom is approaching her third surgery in as many months, and though she's generally in good health and is recovering very well, still she needs some help during the recovery period, and my dad and sister have both done more than their fair share. So when we hear that her next surgery is scheduled I'll get on a train or plane and head for DC for a week or two to help out. They have a good internet connection there and lots of space, so the idea is that I may be able to continue working for at least some of that time. Though it's an unfortunate event, I'm looking forward to visiting for a while.

My new thinkpad is set up now, running Fedora Core 6 with a few problems--wireless requires binary drivers that I haven't tried installing, and suspend-to-RAM is a little flaky. This is the first distribution/hardware combination I've used with working Compiz support, which means it optionally does all sorts of silly animations--the desktops appear to be on sides of a spinning cube, windows wobble when they're moved, menus fade in and out, etc. When I'm feeling a little down I just wiggle some windows around a little and it perks me up. No doubt the novelty will wear off in another week. Anyway, the extra pixels (1400x1050 vs 1024x768, on the same 12" screen) and the extra processing power (the previous thinkpad was three years old) are a big help.

Today was a big pizza week. Wednesday and Friday we ordered from Silvio's--unusual but very tasty pizza. Saturday we had some pizza with Paul and Ajit and watched "Ninja Thunderbolt" (abysmal, but with some funny moments) and "Zazie Dans Le Metro" (very strange, great fun, surprisingly faithful to the book, to the extent that's possible--worth another look). And today Sara made some yummy pizza with Brie, walnuts, eggplant, tomatoes, onions, and zuchini.

Most of the ingredients (including the pre-made pizza dough--we've both been very busy, Sara especially, so we're more eager than usual to accept any conveniences) were the result of a Trader Joe's expedition on my bike Saturday morning, which went pretty well. It didn't take much longer than an hour, and was reasonably comfortable despite the weather. It can be a challenge keeping warm on the downhills without overheating on the uphills, but I did pretty well this time, thanks in part to the recent gift of a nice thin but warm balaklava from my dad.

One of the fun things about my current work is the contact with people all over the world. There's a group of friendly people in France that we work with a little. I've only met two of them, just one time, so we mostly communicate by email. I mentioned to one recently that it had been an idle fantasy of mine to maybe find short-term work in France some day, and he's been forwarding me lots of helpful links. So I need to take some time to sift through the confusing array of projects and institutions and see if I can find anything of interest to me that looks practical....

Back to Ann Arbor

The San Jose airport is actually very close to downtown--from a quick glance at google maps it looked like it couldn't be more than 3 miles--and I didn't have a lot of luggage, so I figured it might be fun to try walking it Friday morning.

Not surprisingly, I got a little lost at the end in the pedestrian-hostile spaghetti surrounding the airport, but other than that it worked OK--it took about an hour and fifteen minutes, and I probably could have do it in under an hour another time.

The flights home were crowded, and I was uncomfortable and bored. I did a little work, and read a few chapters of "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler".

Back in early December I ordered a new thinkpad, which was originally supposed to arrive in a couple weeks. Then they delayed it until the beginning of February and then, when I checked at Connectathon, to the end of February. At that point I was finally totally fed up, and planned to cancel it and order something different as soon as I got back. And that was exactly the point when I got the email message saying it had shipped. So it arrived at my office last week, and I had the cab driver stop by work on the way back from the airport so I could pick up the new laptop and drop off some other stuff.

Today I spent the morning wrestling with the linux install, and the afternoon at a Chinese New Year's party hosted by a coworker of Sara's, with lots of dumplings (which we got to help fold up) and other good food.

It's very cold and snowy here in Ann Arbor, and so I'm taking great advantage of all my winter clothing: long underwear, turtleneck, sweater, down mittens,....

lsf 2007, FAST

Monday morning Sara ran off to catch her plane, and I went downstairs to the Linux Storage and Filesystem workshop. It was two days, Monday and Tuesday. I was attracted to it because I have a poor tolerance for talks--I just can't imagine a more deathly boring and inefficient way to transfer knowledge than talking to a large group in front of a bunch of powerpoint slides. This conference had shorter time slots, often with several people grouped together, and a smaller attendee list.

And, sure enough, people did ask lots of questions and argue a bit during the talks, which I thought was good. I still found it a little tiresome after a while, but I got to meet a few people and have some useful conversations.

The rest of the week is the FAST conference, which is all talks with big audiences, and not so interesting to me, so I'm just sitting outside, catching up on a bit of work, and reading the abstracts so I have something to talk to people about after they come out of the talks....

The first two papers were about studies of hard drive failures, with a couple results that were new to me at least--I hadn't realized that hard drives tend to fail more uniformly over their timeline than the typical "bathtub curve" you might expect. But I guess it makes sense given that they're made of complex moving parts, not just electronics.

The third talk was presenting data from a huge study of filesystems on PC's at Microsoft. The sample design seemed totally bonkers to me--they used a mass email to employees, who were entered into some kind of drawing. The response rate was 22 percent, but they ended up with tens of thousands of filesystems. So they saw lots of filesystems, but does that kind of response rate actually allow any inferences about the whole population? Seems like a mistaken emphasis on quantity over quality. What do I know.

rest of connectathon, weekend with Sara

For the rest of connectathon, as is often the case, we didn't accomplish what we set out to, but made some useful progress anyway; for example, we didn't manage to get our locking patches working on GFS, but we at least made some progress towards getting a GFS cluster set up. The intended ACL interoperability testing was a bit more of a loss. People found some good bugs in my integrity and privacy code. One nice thing is that there are now people from Redhat, SGI, and others who are use code that's just modified versions of mainline linux code, so their testing helps a lot.

I took off the Sunday in the middle and visited the art museum in San Jose, which has pretty interesting stuff. My favorite was a piece called "listening post", built out of software-controlled LEDs and speakers which presented a multi-movement "piece" based on words culled from conversations in some internet forum. They didn't say with. If they had I suppose people like me might have been tempted to seed it with our own stuff just to see what happened, so maybe it's best they didn't.

The Thursday at the end of connectathon I worked most of the day, and then Sara arrived that night. Friday we went to the art museum again, and the quilt museum (also interesting), and made a brief stop into a little comic book store which turned out to be just a little corner of a warehouse-like building full of boxes, with a office off to the side and people working and drawing--so apparently it was actually a complete publishing house. We probably should have asked for a tour or something.

We'd contacted some friends and family to set up visits with them while we were around, but we almost set up more than we could handle. Saturday we took the caltrain to San Francisco, walked to union square, looked at a few interesting stores (including a four-story fabric store next to union square), then met Sara's high school friend and wife for lunch in the basement of Macy's. Then at four my juggling friend Marc met us at the Berkeley Bart stop and took us on a whirlwind tour of Berkeley--the city, the campus, and his lab up on the hill. The city wasn't quite so interesting thanks to rain, but the lab was fascinating, and had great views of the bay.

Then we got in his car and drove down to Alameda to have dinner at "Pasta Pelican" with my high school friend Tim, his wife Ingrid, and their daughter Isabel. The dinner was good, and everybody seemed to have a good time. Isabel could understandably have been extremely bored by the whole thing, but she was very patient with us.

We went back to Marc's for the night, and stayed up late talking and playing with his toys. "Ricochet Robots", should you ever have a geek in need of a fun game, is a very nice little puzzle-like game.

Sunday night Marc fed us a quick breakfast and then we headed back to San Francisco to meet Sara's aunt, uncle, and cousin--who by coincidence we met on the Bart there. Together we walked around the arboretum in Golden Gate Park, as we had a few years ago with them, then had a lunch at a nearby Thai place, and returned afterwards to their place to watch some of Bruce's stuff. Sara's uncle has always had some health problems and seems to tire out around noon. We watched a short of his--he speculated that it would be his last movie, part of a documentary project that ran into rights-clearing problems (among other problems) before it could be finished--and watched one episode of Buck Rogers. Buck Rogers reminds me of a silent film--I think it's the overacting, and something I can't pin down about how they put the scenes together.

Then finally we took the train back to San Jose just in time to meet a college friend (Cary) and some of his friends for a production of "Camelot". The trip back didn't go quite as smoothly as it could have because we just missed the Bart-Caltrain connection at Bayshore. I think the only way to make that connection is to buy tickets ahead of time so you don't have to stop at the ticket machine. Given that, though, it would have been quite doable.

I enjoyed Camelot, but can't say I loved it. It's sort of odd and interesting to have a musical devoted to an abstract principal other than love. Instead of ending with a big kiss or something, it ends with Arthur proclaiming the importance of the rule of law. We intended to have some food together afterwards, since we were right next to San Jose's big restaurant and entertainment district. But that late on a Sunday night it was pretty deserted. We managed to find osmething anyway, and had a fun talk about Harry Potter, while sitting on a bench outside next to the light rail tracks.

connectathon day 2

I did a little more bug fixing today and worked on our cluster locking patches, sending out a new version to the relevant mailing lists. That part makes me nervous--I feel like despite the eons we've been tossing these patches around, they still aren't really done--so I'd rather we waited until we were able to get a few more things figured out. Oh well; perhaps we'll get some useful feedback.

Beer and big heavy food seems to be the preference of a lot of people at these meetings. We end up going to a lot of brewpubs and such. After a few days I find myself craving a salad. The restaurants we go to will have salads, of course, but usually with lots of meat, cheese, dressing.... And I like an occasional beer but it tends to wake me up at night for some reason, and when I'm out west and already inclined to wake up too early, that doesn't help.

connectathon day 1

Thanks to our procrastination on hotel reservations, we got rooms on the super-secret 18th floor. The main difference, as far as I can tell, is that you get the New York Times instead of the USA Today that the peons on floor 17th or below have to settle for. Oh, OK, and they have a breakfast buffet that's actually pretty nice.

I spent most of the day fixing my own stupid ACL bugs in preparation for ACL testing. It was reasonably productive.

We ate dinner with Redhat people at Gordon Biersch, an overly noisy and crowded brewpub chain which some of the others have a mysterious fondness for.

I have found it, flight

Monday and Tuesday night Sara and I watched another indian musical, "I Have Found It" ("Kandukondain Kandukondain"). Sara didn't seem to think much of it, but I thought it was actually really great. Some of the dance sequences were ridiculous, and the worship of the female star (Aishwarya Rai) is a bit much, but I liked the music--it seemed more classical than some, with an emphasis on these lovely, highly ornamented, vocals. The movie had a good sense of humor and kept me pleasantly disoriented.

Today I went in to work for a couple hours, then rode to the airport with Fred and Andy for our flight to San Jose. It was boring, boring, boring, but it got me here. Tommorow Connectathon starts, and there's tons of work to do.

debugging, git docs, cold fingers

I'm a great fan of the git version control system. It needs more documentation, so I've been trying to help. Actually their real problem isn't so much lack of documentation--almost everything is documented somewhere. But existing documentation isn't really organized to give a clear path from newbie to proficient user. So my latest project has been to put together a comprehensive user manual. It's an interesting challenge to figure out how to organize stuff into logical sections in a way that's readable from start to finish without requiring forward references, while also being usable for the more likely case of someone skipping ahead to find what they need for the job at hand.

The current attempt is really rough, with some parts not proofread and other parts just cut-and-pasted from existing documentation with minimal editing. But it's starting to get there, and hopefully I'll be able to get more people to pitch in soon.

Anyway, so when I wasn't being social that's what I spent a lot of my time on over the weekend. I also tried to debug a subtle problem that causes NFSv4 to fail when run with encryption turned on. With some help from git I found a change to the crypto code that appears to have triggered the problem, but it's not code I understand very well yet. I also managed to find a simple test that reliably triggers the problem. These problems are always tricky, though, because one of my main debugging tools (wireshark) is hobbled by the encryption.

I rode into work this morning with temperatures in the teens. It wasn't too bad--my one problem as usual is that I can't find mittens that reliably keep my fingers protected in this cold. At every red light I drop the handlebars and make my hands into fists inside the mittens.

My toes and forehead were suffering a little too. Maybe I should stop by Bivouac on my way home for some mitten and balaklava shopping.

Daruma Otoshi

While visiting my family in Japan, one of their friends gave me a Daruma Otoshi toy, which is made of up of stacked wooden cylindrical blocks with a hole through the middle of each and a head on top. When lined up correctly, the handle of a hammer passes through the whole stack, for convenient storage. To play, you take the handle out and attempt to knock the bottom cylinder out while leaving the rest of the stack standing. Supposedly you should be able to repeat this, removing all of the blocks and leaving only the head standing. I've yet to see anyone do this succesfully.

Several of us made an attempt again last night, though, when we had some friends over after juggling. The plan was to watch a movie ("the Beat my Heart Skipped"), but we never quite got around to it.


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