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User Journal

Journal Journal: INS Absurdity 1

My three daughters were born in China, so this story of gross incompetence and arrogance strikes close to home:

Sandi Sheldon and her husband traveled to China to adopt their daughter Hannah. After finalizing the adoption, her husband was hospitalized, and then died of complications related to his diabetes. This is a horrible situation, to be sure, but is made even worse by the fact that the US consulate in Guangzhou is now refusing to issue her daughter an entry visa for the US. The consulate insists that she must submit new visa paperwork, and says that they cannot make any guarantees that the visa for her new daughter (which was already approved once) will actually be approved again.

More details available here.

The family is asking for assistance in the matter - a call to Sandi's representatives in the House and Senate. Many times, in situations like this, the only thing that results in any real activity to resolve the issue is pressure from an elected official. If your a US citizen, and you have the time to read up on the story, please take a few minutes more to contact Sandi's representatives and your own representatives to let them know you expect to see this issue resolved quickly.


Journal Journal: Technical books for Vanuatu

Via the Geek Etiquette blog, I came across a link to a request for donations of "gently pre-loved technical books" to help the he local IT users group of Vanuatu build a lending library. The island nation of Vanuatu is, as the request states, "a bloody long way from anywhere", and technical books are hard to find.

Over the past few months, I've been eying my shelves, and thinking that it was time to cull the herd anyways. I usually end up taking a box or two down to the local library; in that case, one or two books may make it onto the shelves, while the rest end up occupying space until the next used-book sale fund raiser. While I don't begrudge the library my modest contribution, this time around I think I'll ship my "pre-loved" technical books off to someone who will really appreciate them.

Update: More detailed information can be found on the Technical Books For Vanuatu wiki page at Infotrope.


Journal Journal: Timster's Law

The Laws of Slashdot #21 - proposal of Timster's Law:

In every argument about the iPod, someone will eventually resort to bringing up a product that is not available, either because it was discontinued or hasn't been released.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - which one are you? 3

I was thinking about non-technical interview questions for software developers this morning, and came up with the above. I'll freely admit that, in and of itself, it's a useless question. So someone says, "I'm a tinker!" - great. Why would you say that you're a tinker, a tailor, a soldier, or a spy? How would you map these arbitrary labels onto software development? What does your choice say about your thought processes, development persona and perceptions?

Is a tinker a one-shot, McGyver-type developer, or the mecahnic that can patch together a solution to just about any problem? Is a tailor someone who crafts elegant, personalized solutions, or someone who takes off-the-shelf components and cuts them to fit? When you think of soldier, do you think of someone doing their job and following orders, or a scout sent to search out the enemy and find a path for others to follow? Is a spy someone who examines competing products, or who researches upcoming technologies that might impact your development team?

What are you - tinker, tailor, soldier, or spy?

Are there any other interview questions of this sort that you've encountered or that you like to ask when you're on the other side of the table?

The Internet

Journal Journal: 82 Blogs and Nothing Is On 1

After adding yet another bookmark to my "Once a Day" reading list, I realized that my daily online reading list was getting long. Adding it up, there are 82 sites a day that I hit regularly to check out for news on various topics.

Eighty-two sites.

Granted, about half of those sites are webcomic-related. Others are sites that I may check on a daily basis, but which generally don't have daily updates. Still... that's an awful lot of information to peruse throughout the course of the day. Especially when you consider that a lot of the blogs I read are aggregators (reddit, /., overlawyered, groklaw, etc.) that inevitably lead me off into the hinterlands of the web where I find yet more interesting blogs to monitor...

So, here's my question: how much online reading do you do each day? Am I a typical web-geek, bopping from blog to blog during the course of the day, or am I a budding info-junkie?

Linux Business

Journal Journal: "Today I are a kernel hacker!"

The very first patch I ever submitted to an open source project was in August of 1998. It was a patch to Apache to allow execution of extensionless CGI executables under Windows. It was initially accepted, but then backed out rather quickly because it was horribly broken... but it was accepted, if ever so briefly. It was a really kind of cool.

The overall experience was a good one for me, despite the eventual rejection of the patch. It was obviously enough of an encouragement to keep me going. In the intervening years, I've had submitted patches to a bunch of different projects, with varying degrees of success. Most of them have been relatively minor; but I've tried to (and in most cases, succeeded in) making improvements to things like buildroot, CDT, cygwin, Eclipse, e2fsprogs, and even (once) glibc. Some were minor, some were more significant. All were, effectively, fueled by that first good patch submission experience with the Apache folks.

It's always a nice thing to see a patch accepted, particularly if it means that the problem it addresses will go away in the next release :-) On the other hand, up until this point, I'd never had the chance for a real patch thrill. You know what I mean, right?

Yep - the big kahoona.

The linux kernel .

OK, so the patch I submitted really isn't a kernel patch. It's a patch to the kernel build files.

OK, OK - it's not even a patch to the kernel build files. It's a patch to the kernel configuration utility build files. An itty-bitty little one, at that. Hardly worth noticing, really. Fixes a corner case that only one person in a million will ever encounter.

Except Andrew Morton has picked it up for his -mm tree.

I'm older and wiser than I was in 1998. I like to think that I've learned from my past mistakes. I tested this patch in more ways than one, so I'm fairly sure it won't break things at all, let alone horribly. Still, you can never be sure. Even if it does get backed out for some weird reason... I'll still know that I was good enough to identify the problem, come up with a fix, put together a patch and explain that patch well enough to get it into the pipeline for someone to look at.

Yah, I realize I'm not a real kernel hacker. I work with guys who are, and I know I'm not even in the ballpark on this one compared to some of the things they deal with every day. But I'm a step closer than I was yesterday, and who knows what I'll be doing in a couple of years?

Maybe by then, I really will be able to say "I am a kernel hacker." Now that would be kind of cool.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Irregular conjugations 2

I was just reading through this story, and while I'm normally not a grammar Nazi, I felt the overwhelming need to explain the following over and over again as I read the comments about the article. Rather than make two dozen individual posts, I decided to vent my annoyance here...

  • The past tense of pay is paid, not "payed".
  • The past tends of spend is spent, not "spended".

There is a standard ./ objection to grammar corrections that goes something like "Hey, you know, not all /. posters are native English speakers!" Before you raise this argument, please go and read the comments attached to the article. The majority of the posts that used the incorrect past tense of these verbs came from individuals that are otherwise quite capable in their use of the English language (including English idioms). It baffles me how someone can properly spell "compliance" and yet not know the proper past tense for simple verbs that are used in everyday conversation.

I'll stop now. If I don't, I'll be back to lambasting people for using "rediculous" instead of "ridiculous"...

User Journal

Journal Journal: Yahoo's Law Of Financial Scalability 2

I'm departing from my usual criteria for recording a /. "rule" here. While reading an article talking about Key Advantages of Open Source Software, I came across this thread. There was discussion within that thread of a concept which was interesting enough that, even though there was no explict mention of a "law", I felt really should be recorded as one. So, with that, I submit...

The Laws of Slashdot #17: Yahoo's Law of Financial Scalability :

Oracle may scale well technologically, but it doesn't scale financially.

Or, as the original poster put it:

I guess cost does matter as you scale up.

User Journal

Journal Journal: My guilty little literary secret 2

I've been reading SF for as long as I can remember. Since early childhood, certainly. My dad is a big SF fan, and I grew up reading Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Simak, collections of Nebula Award winners and other short stories anthologies. I've always enjoyed good SF, whatever the genre. The only thing I've steered clear of was... well, you know... those titles. The "property" books. The ones based on some TV show, or some movie, or meant to tie into the Amazing Launch (TM) of some Game Company's (C) Big New Thing (C)(TM)(Patent Pending).

Which is where my guilty secret comes in.

A while back, I picked up a book by Sandy Mitchell, "For the Emperor". Looked like a good ol' book, really. Military SF, which was cool - just what I was in the mood for. It was even in the normal SF section, with the real authors, not stuck at the end of the shelves in the regular "property" series ghetto.

Then I realized I was holding a Warhammer 40K book. One of those books.

I put it back with its brethren. It must have been misfiled, right? It was in with the real books, after all. Instead, I picked up something else that day. But, for whatever reason, I kept on seeing that title whenever I was in the bookstore over the next couple of weeks, and, well, one thing led to another, and, um...

... I bought it.

I figured even if it had cruddy writing, cardboard characters and a lousy plot, it would still be more enjoyable than doing something like real work. Right?

OK, so I admit it - I was a snob. I was embarassed to buy it. I wanted to stop and explain to the cashier that this wasn't something I'd normally buy, but to do that, I would have had to make eye contact, so I didn't. I mean, here I am, I go to the bookstore, I come out with an armload of graphic novels, comic strip collections and SF/Fantasy without batting an eye - I like it, I know it's good stuff, even if I get an odd look from the older cashier every once in a while (particularly when buying a couple of graphic novels with an embedded systems book and a theology text. That raises eyebrows in an amusing way.)

That's not the point of this, though. Buying a book - even one of "those" books? That's not my guilty secret.

My guilty secret is that I liked it. It was a good book. Well, no. That's not quite right. It was a freakin' great book. Oh, not in the sense of "The Fool's War" or "A Deepness in the Sky" or anything else like that. It wasn't an earth-shaking, mind-altering experience. It was just a well-written, entertaining military SF book. Decent plot, great characters, interesting scenario.

So I went out looking for, and found another book by Mitchell - "Caves of Ice". Antother novel about Commisar Caiphas Cain, the protagonist from "For the Emperor". Bought it, read it in one sitting. Started looking for other novels by Mitchell - Warhammer 40K or otherwise. He was a pretty good writer, after all - not his fault that he was writing those kind of books. He still spun out a pretty good story.

My problem at this point, see, was that I was starting to browse the bookstore shelves where they kept those books. I was just looking for something else by Mitchell, really. No interest at all in any of the other junk down there - I mean, I got lucky with Mitchell, but how likely is it that I... would find... something... else...

What I found was the omnibus collection of three books by Dan Abnet, titled "Eisenhorn". Also set in the Warhammer 40K universe, they tell a good part of the story of Gregor Eisenhorn, Imperial Inquisitor, servant of the Eternal Emperor of Terra. These books weren't as good as Mitchell's; if anything, they were better. After reading "Eisenhorn", I went out and picked up a couple of other Abnet books - "Ravenor" and "Ravenor Returned", stories about Gregor Eisenhorn's protege, the Inquisitor Gideon Ravenor. Each book is better than the last, with deeeper characterization and more intricate plotting, so Abnet is obviously improving as a writer. He's managing to turn out some awesome tales.

"Ravenor Returned" is the second of a trilogy, so it looks like I'm going to have to fill in the time waiting for the third book with some additional reading. By "additional reading", of course, I mean more Warhammer 40K books. I'm absolutely hooked. I'll probably start with Abnet's series about the Tannith First and Only. After I get through those, well, there are a number of other authors writing stories set in the same universe. Maybe I'll stick with tales of the Inqusition, or branch out and read some of the stories about the the Deathwatch capters of the Adeptus Astartes, or pick up one of the novels about the Adeptus Mechanicus. There are quite a few options available, and I'm feeling lucky - I'm batting a thousand so far, after all. I still suspect that there are some real stinkers in the bunch - there always are - but at least for now, Sturgeon's law seems to be temporarily held in abeyance, and I'm really, really, really enjoying the reading.

It's nice to be able to make eye contact with the cashiers at the bookstore again, too.

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