back from holiday

We flew down to Tempe Christmas Eve Eve, flew back to Ann Arbor New Years Eve. Both flights were non-stop and boring as all get-out. The ride to the airport on the way there took almost an hour (as opposed to the usual half-hour) thanks to snow and traffic, but we had nothing to check and still got to the gate about 80 minutes after the shuttle was scheduled to pick us up. The flight left late, but was otherwise normal.

It was a relatively cold winter in Arizona, unfortunately--only the last couple days were really comfortable, and we noticed one day that it was actually colder than Ann Arbor (I guess Michigan had a brief warm spell).

We saw a bunch of Sara's old friends, including Melissa, Shelly, Omo, Bill C., and Faye. Sara's dad brought us along to his band rehearsal one day. The bass player was playing 99% half-notes on open strings, and petting the household cat with her fretting hand much of the time.

Sara's parents have half-adopted some feral cats, which they had fixed, and now feed. Apparently they eat the roof-rats. It's cute to walk out the door at night and see them on the bench next to the front door, all in a heap and staring at you.

Tempe's light-rail system had its grand opening Saturday, the 27th, and we spent some time at the festivities at the Mill and 3rd station. The trains were stuffed with people trying them out (free through the 31st), so we waited till the 31st to try it out--when we used it to get to the airport. So that (or the bus system) may be how we end up getting back and forth from PHX in the future.

Wrapping up, Monsieur Jean

For a while I've been a fan of Dupuy and Berberian's series of comics following the life of a character named Monsieur Jean, but I always wondered whether it was a personal reaction that not everyone would share, especially if they were outside the character's 30-something male demographic. But I was surprised to find how much the other folks at my book group on Thursday liked it. So maybe everyone should give it a try; specifically:

  • Get a Life: english translations in the first three albums, and
  • Maybe Later: an odd sort of making-of story covering the time of the writing of the third album.

We're off to Tempe Tuesday, and trying to get shopping done and a lot of loose ends tied up.

austin, dc

It wasn't really a big decision, but I guess it must of struck me sometime last year that it'd be interesting to try using Amtrak for more of my travel. So I've ended up using it for most of my trips this year.

I took the texas flyer to sc08, spent a week in Austin, and then took the same train back. As usual, the routine is that you take a few hours trip to chicago, change there, then take an overnight train. Unlike the routes that, say, go over the rockies, the train down to Texas isn't especially interesting. Mainly, you see a lot of cattle. It's a trip up the food chain--watch the fields of feed in the midwest, then the cattle in Texas, then visit the barbeque places in Austin.

Then we took the Capitol Limited for a thanksgiving-weekend visit with my parents in Maryland.

I've had fun riding the trains, and I think there's some routes everyone should try once--in addition to the trips through the mountains, the Coast Starlight up the west coast is great. But I don't think they're going to survive as my default mode. It's not the delays (which I can account for), the time required (I can get work done on the train), or the occasional bizarre Amtrak employees (most of them are fine)--it's my inability to get reliable sleep in coach that dooms the whole effort. If there were some routine, drugs, or whatever, that could reliably get me at least 5 or 6 hours of sleep every night, I'd be happy. As it is, sometimes I sleep OK, sometimes (as on the DC trip), hardly at all, and when that happens I lose a day to the recovery.

So for now I'm calling it a fun experiment but I'm probably back to riding once every few years, and flying the rest of the time. Unless sleeping cars suddenly get a lot cheaper.

The DC trip was nice--we got to see some friends from high school and college that I hadn't seen in a while, in addition to the family.

When we came back to Ann Arbor, there was snow on the ground. Winter has come. I wish I could hibernate.

Best birthday present ever

I wasn't sure whether to stay up for the election results, so I consulted facebook, like any good nerd should in 2008, and my sister piped up to say of course I should; "Well, you should at least make it til midnight. What better birthday present?"

There's a brewpub downtown, by the way, the Arbor Brewing Company, which has fine beer (or so I'm told; no connoisseur myself, all I can say is that it tastes like beer), and which also sells its beer in bottles at local stores. A friend got a six-pack at the neighborhood convenience store. And something happened that's happened, oh, maybe half the time we've had bottled ABC beer--it was so impossibly fizzy that it would overflow and make a big mess if you didn't pour very carefully, and it foamed up in your mouth when you tried to drink it, in a way that made it more or less impossible to appreciate. Anyone know what sort of flaw in their process causes this?

Anyway, the solution, I have found, is to pour it out into a separate jar a few hours beforehand, store it in the fridge, and then drink it after the foam's subsided.

So last night I ate dinner, sat around a bit with the web and the radio and a little beer (carefully decanted the night before), heard McCain give a gracious concession speech, then right about midnight when the date flipped over to my birthday (the 5th), got to hear my choice give his victory speech. Just the birthday present I wanted.

Sara also gave me a couple excellent presents tonight, including a nifty cheap-o keychain digital camera with which I expect to take wonderfully bad pictures, my personal specialty.

watching, reading, listening

I'm sure I must have done lots of stuff in the last month. But it's too late, now--I've forgotten most of it.

I saw "Girl Cut in Two" Wednesday. It's the second Claude Chabrol film I've seen (the other was "La Ceremonie"), and I haven't liked either of them. The characters were unsympathetic and I didn't understand their motivations. The plot needed the main character to be absurdly naive and easily manipulated, so she was. Her lovers needed to be insanely jealous, so they were. Nobody seem to care whether it makes sense or not. I feel the same way about Hitchcock, who people seem to compare Chabrol to frequently--or anyway that's what I found when I looked around for reviews afterwards, in hopes someone should explain to me why I should have liked the thing.

Sara and I watched "Through a Scanner Darkly" the other week. It captures that drug-addled paranoid world better than any other Dick adaption either of us could remember seeing.

My bedtime reading for the last month has mainly been "Vingt Ans Après", which is a good time. And for listening comprehension I was delighted to stumble across librivox's french-language collection. The quality's a little uneven, but it's good enough.

I upgraded my laptop to "Intrepid Ibex", and it works, mostly.

I've developed an unhealthy obsession with the presidential polls. Oh well--it'll all be over in three days, barring recounts.

Back home, bureaucratic frustration

I kept some notes on the kernel summit and the plumbers conference, but my resolve to write it all up here has failed me. Fortunately, seems to have gone to almost everything that I did.

So, random other highlights from the Portland trip:

Sara arrived Thursday, and Sunday I visited Nat and Cheyenne again, this time with her along. Correction to a previous post: they appear to have two cats, not just one. It was slightly chaotic in a way that Sara especially got a kick out of. Dinner was yummy. The people and the animals were all fun.

Saturday night Doug and Nandini took us out to a good Tapas place. There was an hour wait, so we sat upstairs and had cocktails. After a minor free-table-notification screwup, they comped us the cocktails and a desert. (Language question: is that a correct usage of the verb "to comp"?)

That afternoon we had lunch with a favorite Reed professor: Sara's calculus teacher and my undergraduate research advisor. He pointed out that he's both my academic father and uncle, since he and Mel were both Shimura students.

The night Sara arrived we met at an alumni gathering at the Green Dragon. One woman there had once worked for Bell labs, on a project to achieve some extreme level of government certification for an old unix-based windowing system. In her retirement she's making ministerial stoles. Another guy had recently retired from doing backend computer stuff for TriMet--which has probably the most advanced internet presence of any public transport system.

Friday night we met Andreas G. and a couple other Linux guys at India House. Sara and I last ate there probably 14 years ago, and it's not far from our old apartment building, which we also walked by earlier in the day. The food was good, and the conversation fun.

What have I forgotten? Oh, Sunday lunch we went to some crazy birthday-party-oriented Japanese all-you-can-eat place at the top of Pioneer Place, thanks to an old fellow math major, now an actuary, and his wife. He tried to teach us some odd Malay sayings.

We took the new "aerial tram" ("cable car" would be more descriptive) up to OHSU and back.

I guess it was a busy trip!

Portland smells funny, with or without the rain. There's tons of people, and a few of them are unpleasant. We heard a little about school funding problems and racist street kids.

But there just seems to be a surprising number of people investing their time in fun stuff--from the cyclists (tons of cycle commuters everywhere, and much more disciplined than you see in Ann Arbor) to the Linux folks, to the jugglers. And it's neat to see my old friends going off in such different directions and still seeming to find a niche there.

And they have grocery stores there, something I took for granted before I moved to Ann Arbor.

So Portland's position at the top of my favorite-city list seems secure for now.


The last couple days I've just been trying to catch up with my sleep and my inbox.

Even more mundane: this morning I tried to order a new laptop keyboard--my right-arrow key's been getting flaky lately. I couldn't figure out how to order parts from Dell's website, so I clicked on an "online chat" button in frustration. That brought me some guy who was a little too scripted but nevertheless managed to get a quote into my mailbox in a reasonable amount of time. Now, what was I supposed to *do* with this quote? I tried replying to the email. No luck. I tried calling back and leaving a message. No luck there either. Finally I called someone else, who eventually took my credit card and (I hope) placed my order.

The "eventually" part: she seemed to have some overly long script which I guess was meant to sell me up. No, I've already maxed out the memory and didn't want to upgrade it. No, I don't want to explain why my "antivirus" isn't up-to-date. No, I really don't want to explain what I'm using this laptop for. I eventually realized that it didn't matter much how I answered, so I started throwing out stuff like "it's complicated" and "I don't know", which seemed to serve the purpose of advancing us to the next step whether my answers made sense or not.

All I wanted to do was buy a fifteen-dollar part, people! How complicated do we have to make this?


The Linux Plumbers Conference started Wednesday. The morning storage track had someone from Oracle presenting a bunch of problems, mostly to do with asynchronous IO interfaces--e.g., how can we quickly open a few thousand files, possibly read the 1st block, and close them all? Each open necessarily takes some time (because the disk will generally have to seek a few times to find the file), but they can gain by doing a bunch of opens in parallel. (They've typically got a big array of disks so there's lots of disk-heads that can be seeking at once.) For some reason they'd rule out threading their application as a way to get parallelism--I wanted to ask why, but didn't get a chance. It clearly wasn't that they were unwilling to rewrite their applications. Other options were adding a open system call that takes a list of files, or implementing something like syslets.

And similarly she wanted more parallelism submitting IO's. Linus suggested using sys_readahead, which tells the kernel to start reading the given range into the page cache. You can run sys_readahead for a bunch of IO ranges, then go back and do reads for the same ranges to get the data. Since sys_readahead hasn't been used much, its implementation may not be perfect, but it could probably be fixed. One objection to that approach was that under memory pressure the stuff you read into the page cache might not last to the read.

Somebody else did a talk on filesystem benchmarks based on startup of a gnome application.

I went to Zach Brown's CRFS talk in the afternoon. He's making some interesting tradeoffs, in the understandable desire not to bite off too much at first. They seemed like sensible choices to me, but others were more skeptical. Then I tried to do a little work until Linus's git tutorial. It was sort of interesting to see how Linus chose to present that, and I learned an odd thing or two, but it was mostly old hat.

Afterwards Trond invited a couple of us to have dinner with the speaker at Higgins restaurant. Which was very nice.


The second day of the kernel summit went fine, though there weren't any big decisions or surprising talks or anything.

The party that night was both the closing party for the kernel summit and the opening reception for the Linux Plumbers Conference. It was at "Aura", just across from Powells. There were acrobats. What more could a person ask for?

excess t-shirts, odd euphoria

I like to fly with just carry-on luggage. (And I mean, real carry-on--just a medium backpack and a small handbag, no big rolling suitcase.) So I count my clothes very carefully. One of the factors that enters into that calculation, therefore, is the t-shirts that they give out to conference attendees.

Thus my calculations are thrown off when, as today, they give out two t-shirts instead of one. If the same thing happens at the Linux Plumbers Conference (which starts tomorrow), then I'll end up with 2 more t-shirts than I needed. Disaster!

The summit was in a nice, light room on the third floor of PSU's student union, with big windows and a balcony overlooking the park blocks. Listening to the talks and looking out the window at the greenery I felt mildly euphoric all afternoon.

Dinner that night was at the Aquariva restaurant, south of downtown on the river, with lots of glass and a patio to show off their view of the river. The moon was low over the trees on the other bank, and strangely orange.

I'm still operating with a substantial sleep deficit, so I took the first opportunity to come back to the hotel.

Breakfast, books, flying puck

My hotel/flight package seemed to include some unexpected breakfast credit, so I had a nice omelet in the hotel restaurant downstairs Sunday morning, then set out for Powells, and spent the bulk of the day browsing at the main store and the nearby technical store.

They have a pretty good collection of old computers at the technical book store, which I didn't remember from before. It included, for example, my first computer, the TI-99/4A.

Eventually hunger forced me out. I got a sandwich at a mall food court, ate it sitting on the steps in Pioneer square, then walked back to my hotel, where I read my newly acquired copy of "Vingt Ans Après" and napped a little till it was time to go to the first social event of the kernel summit, just across the river at the Doug Fir lounge.

I wasn't terribly hungry, didn't want to drink while still slightly jet-lagged, and didn't feel particularly outgoing, so I stood around a while at a bit of a loss until David W. suggested a game of air hockey.

Unfortunately the air hockey table wasn't great. The puck was quite light, and we almost spent more time chasing after it than playing.

But we played a long time. The next morning my right arm ached.


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