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mimes on sticks

Sara's come down with my cold, now that I'm almost over it. Thursday night we both went straight home. We tried watching the beginning of "The Prestige". The beginning introduces a bunch of characters all at once, with scenes that are wildly out of chronological order, coming from at least 4 different points in the story. The dialog's a little hard to follow at points too. So it wasn't the best thing to watch over dinner. Sara said she was too tired after about 20 minutes. I ended up watching the rest on my own, finishing it last night after we got home from Top of the Park.

Top of the Park last night featured "Strange Fruit", an Australian group that doing a sort of mime show to music on top of tall swaying polls. It was visually very striking, though I don't know how long it would stay interesting. The choice of name seems a little odd, since the first thing it makes me think of is the Billy Holiday song.

We also saw a bluegrass band and the first set of two by Bugs Beddow before we left.

summer continued

Weather was good for Top of the Park saturday night, and we enjoyed Nomo, though I with my cold I wasn't feeling too energetic.

So Sunday I stayed home and did some reading and a bit of house cleaning.

I've been doing something like full days at work this week, but not really concentrating very well. I manage to get a few things done each day, but feel like I waste more time than I use.

Tuesday night we saw Jeremy Kittel, an Ann Arbor fiddle champion who's since gotten a music degree at U.M. and moved to New York. It's sort of funny to see someone growing up on stage like that.

And tonight we met there again for a while, watched the second band with Dave for a little while, then caught the 9pm bus home.

Our weekly social event at work is Wednesday morning donuts. The main problem with it since I've been there is that the donuts have been terrible. The bagels, too. I don't get it--every street corner here seems to have some chain that churns vast quantities of perfectly fine bagels, so how hard can it be? How can you manage to be in the business of selling bagels and yet not manage to produce something that tastes even approximately like one? Anyway. We changed suppliers last week. Everything's much better now. I no longer stand by the baked goods saying "am I really so hungry that I must eat one of these? Which would be the least disgusting?"

I had a good talk with Chuck over lunch today about the delegations work I've been having one of our interns do. He seemed really interested, and had some good suggestions. It'll be interesting to see where that goes.

summer cold

Wednesday night I hacked up an attempt at a git-diff that stat's multiple files in parallel. It's a definite improvement--down to 3 and a half seconds for "git diff" on a linux kernel tree, from 12 seconds or so. But that's still long enough to be annoying. I haven't tried to figure out where the time's going.

A cold crept up on me over the last couple days, and now I'm feeling a little slow. I worked a little over a half day today and managed to get a few things done. After work I stopped by the "bike fest" on Main. The south end had a ramp set up with some guys taking turns shooting into the air and doing fancy tricks. The north end had a bike with a blender attached where kids were lined up to make their own smoothies. In between there was an obstacle course, a track stand contest, and tents for miscellaneous local organizations and bike shops. There were a lot of people, and a lot of bikes, out. Looked like a success. I didn't get as far as the "green fair" on the north end up main. Usually it seems to be about cars, for some reason.

This was also the first night of Top of the Park. And maybe something else was going on downtown too--it seemed unusually busy. But I wasn't feeling up for anything more, so I just caught the next bus home. I'm hoping I'll be feeling better tommorow, as there's an excellent band ("nomo") playing at Top of the Park tommorow night, which includes a trumpet player who used to live upstairs from us.

movies, stat latency

It's all Jon Johansen's fault. Without him, I wouldn't be able to watch the DVD's I borrow from the library. Now I get home and expect to be entertained every night. Just in the last week:

  • L'enfer: Watch a guy slowly go nuts. I think I prefer a plot that's not one long straight line.
  • Fierce Creatures: It has some pretty funny ideas, but just not nearly enough. In places where "Noises Off" would have a surprising event every second, "Fierce Creatures" would have a bunch of people running around looking frantic.
  • Earth Girls are Easy: OK, this was more fun, though honestly I'm not sure I'll remember it a week from now.

I should read more. In fact, our book group meets tomorrow to discuss "Flow My Tears", and I only read it once fairly quickly a couple weeks ago. I should give it another look before tomorrow night's meeting.

Sara and Paul went birdwatching Saturday morning. I couldn't see getting up before 7am just to look at some birds. But I guess it was quite the morning for it--when I met them for breakfast afterwards they were full of stories of baby swans, vultures, bird nests, and more.

The version control system we use for kernel work, "git", has a problem when running on an NFS filesystem--it detects when files change by calling stat() on them and looking for differences in modification time, size, inode number, etc. That means it can skip having to examine the data of unchanged files, but it still requires stat'ing every file in your working directory--and the linux kernel source has over 20,000 of them. The average ping time to my NFS server is about .2 milliseconds, so a round-trip to the server to request stat information will take at least that long. That means the whole tree will take at least 20000*.0004 = 4 seconds. In practice it ends up being over 10 seconds. A lot of git operations require this, so the delay gets really annoying. On a local filesystem, by contrast, the time is less than a quarter-second, once you've done it once (and the operating systems has cached all that stat data in memory).

NFS does some caching too, but to make sure that it notices file changes made by other clients it has to go back to the server every now and then. And you can tell it to do that less frequently, but then it becomes annoying when you use two clients at once and have to wait for changes made on one to be noticed on the other.

One possible fix is to make the server give out delegations more aggressively--a delegation allows the server to tell the client when a file changes, instead of making the client ask all the time. Thanks in part to a bright intern that's been learning his way around the server code, I think I'll have some help with that.

Another approach is to teach git to do those stat's in parallel, instead of sending all 20-thousand-some requests sequentially. That was my project for Sunday, but I didn't end up getting any further than finding the spot in the code that I'd need to modify to make it work. Maybe next weekend. This is sort of a hobby project, so I'm mostly ignoring it during the week.

home for a day

I was woke up earlier than usual with a stomach on fire, sent email saying I'd be home sick for the day, then tried to nap for the rest of the morning. A few hours later, I was fine. Maybe I ate something bad. So I did a little work from home in the afternoon, but had trouble concentrating.

Last night we watched the last half-hour or so of "Lage Raho Munna Bai", a movie that turned out to be much better than its ludicrous premise might suggest. Tonight we watched "Funny Face", which I expected to be good but wasn't. It had Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn in it, and that's about all you could say for it--they both did better elsewhere. I guess it did have its moments. The portrayal of hip intellectual life in Paris is bizarre.

I have a ton of work to get done tommorrow. Hopefully I'll be feeling in better mental shape.

rainy weekend

Sara noticed recently that the Peonies in the Arb were in bloom, so we'd planned a picnic in the peony garden. But the weather didn't cooperate. Instead we juggled on the Diag for a while, then made a dash indoors to the nearby chemistry building atrium, then had some food at pizza house, then finally (the rain having mostly subsided) walked around the peony garden for a while.

Pizza House is popular and ever-growing--word has it it's now the largest restaurant in ann arbor--but I'm not completely sure why. The food is usually OK, but nothing special. The prices are mostly reasonable, but it's not really cheap either. They seem to be in a state of permanent confusion--this time they told us there was nobody upstairs, when a later phone call revealed that some of our friends had already been seated there--then they got two out of seven orders wrong, and there were a few other minor hassles. I'm also annoyed that they consistently refuse to advertise their drink prices--if you want something, you either just order and hope, or ask someone (who usually has to go back to the kitchen to get the answer).

At least they didn't serve any glass in our food, which is what happened (with this same group of friends) a few years ago. I have no idea why we still go there.

Anyway, the peonies were nice. Afterwards we watched "noises off", which was more fun than I expected, though it's a bit frantic and I was a too tired to really keep up with every twist.

Sunday I had dinner at a former citi student's house with a couple other citi people.

Sara and I have also been watching "Lage raho munna bhai", a comedy about a gangster driven to become a follower of ghandi by love of a radio personality. It's actually a lot better than I expected.

Today I took care of my laundry and a few other chores in the morning. But it ended up stretching into the afternoon, and here I am at work late in the day, writing about my weekend. So I'm just writing off today as vacation. The current job offers more vacation than I use, so it's been piling up anyway.

doctors and students

Peter's student Jiaying defended Tuesday morning; total audience: four committee members and me. Her talk was actually pretty good, but they have this odd rule about the questioning occurring between only the committee and the student which meant I probably missed the interesting part. I should have protested.

I juggled a little on the diag after work.

The last couple nights, Sara and I watched the first two episodes of the "new" (except, there's a newer one now maybe?) Doctor Who. I never watched the original, really, but to me this seemed to have a lot of the same flavor--despite the new effects technology, it still feels like most of the aliens have socks on their heads, and the second episode depended on a countdown to build suspense. They weren't really funny enough to make it worthwhile to me.

Today I spent some more time with our interns, getting one started on a new project, and trying out their distcc setup. It was fun.

long weekend

I had all sorts of plans for my weekend, but none really materialized. Instead I read some Wodehouse--"Jeeves and the Tie that Binds"--and some Pinkwater--"The Education of Robert Nifkin", and "Alan Mendelsohn, Boy from Mars". OK, the latter I didn't need to reread. I liked "Robert Nifkin", though. It reminds me of what I miss living in Ann Arbor. I miss the sense that I have wandering around some big cities, that there could always be something strange and wonderful around the next corner.

I made a library trip yesterday and got a couple Fred Astaire movies. Last night we watched "The Gay Divorcée". It has basically the same actors playing the same parts as in "Top Hat", but maybe not as much dancing. Oh well. We got a kick out of it anyway.

Toronto to Ann Arbor

Friday morning I hung out at the B&B and did some work while Sara went to a few final sessions, then we met Janet at the train station for our noon train to Windsor. The train ride went fine. And they had power and network--what else could a travelling geek need? The wireless service actually wasn't too bad, if maybe a little pricey.

Janet's husband met us at the Windsor station and dropped us off at home.

music garden, linux café

In a further departure from my usual refusal to plan anything while on vacation, I did a little looking around with Google and my guidebook in the morning after the usual breakfast routine.

I was delighted to find out about the "music garden". It's just a few blocks south of the B&B, was designed in part by Yo-Yo Ma, and consists of six little subareas, one for each part of the first Bach Cello suites. So I loaded the suite off my laptop onto my music player and headed there first. I spent enough time there to walk through the six gardens twice, and listen to each piece three times or so. They've found a way to trick me into looking at gardens! Usually my patience for them is more limited.

I'd also noticed the existence of a "Linux Café" well North of there, so I'd decided to go camp out there for lunch. It was a funky little coffeeshop, with a counter in front and tables full of people at laptops off to the side. Most of them seemed to actually be running Windows or OS X, but there was a guy showing off a prototype from the "One Laptop per Child" program to another patron. Neat-o. I listened in for a while and ask some questions. I ended up getting to play with it for half an hour or so.

The OLPC machine is small, light, and totally adorable. Unfortunately, it's also nearly unusable for someone with adult-sized hands--the keyboard is definitely meant for kids. The user interface is OK when running a single program, but very sluggish when switching tasks. That and the fact that it's a completely novel interface makes it a little confusing to work with. But it's a really impressive bit of technology.

I walked back to the convention center to meet Sara for dinner. We had a hard time figuring out where to eat, but eventually ended up some place a couple blocks from there that was a little overprice, but good, and fast--important because Sara had another meeting to go to after dinner.

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