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User Journal

Journal Journal: Installing Linux - My Experience 1

Well, I finally got around to trying Linux out on a spare laptop. You'll have to bear with me because I don't have the exact specs to hand, but it's a Toshiba Celeron D with 512MB of RAM and an ATI card (Mobility 7000 series?).

Distro #1: Mandriva One 2010

Mandriva failed to boot from the LiveCD. Great start everyone, round of applause. We'll gloss over that and press on.

Distro #2: Ubuntu 9.10

Attempt 1 involved the disc failing to burn 100% correctly and Ubuntu cycling from the loading screen, to the terminal, to a black screen with gobbledygook at the top, back to the loading screen again. I admit this part isn't Linux's fault, so I'll skip to attempt 2, which is when it starts to get a little more interesting.

Attempt 2 got me a bootable install of Ubuntu. The install time was pretty long but once done I started plugging away and seeing how easy it is.

My first impression was that Ubuntu is dog-fucking-slow on a machine with that spec. Considering I'd just done away with a more than passable install of XP I was unimpressed. From looks alone I wouldn't put anything between them (though it was nice to get away from Fisher-Price land) but, from the speed of it, I would have expected a user interface that operated more like Vista/7 than XP and it does not deliver that on any front. Window movement and alt-tabbing was jerky and tiresome, and I honestly could only give it half an hour before I started looking into other distros. In that time I failed utterly to get the chess program to render in OpenGL because there were two dependencies missing. Not sure why you'd distribute a program and then not bother actually installing everything it needs to run properly. Oh, and the laptop ran so hot it shut itself down about 20 minutes in, but that's probably the laptop.

Status: Abandoned for something faster.

Distro #3: Xubuntu 9.10

Having read some reviews praising XFCE's speed over Gnome and KDE, I decided that would be the route I went. Installed again and far more smoothly than Ubuntu install did, working first and picking up everything except the graphics card. Actually, that's worthy of a rant - when I did install the drivers, I started getting random black windows and notification boxes. This probably means they were right not to download them in the first place if it did work out my card, but the pissing thing didn't bother to tell me that, so I wasted half an hour installing and uninstalling the drivers for no reason, and it's hard to work Synaptic when the window keeps blacking out.


Oh, and the other fun thing - apparently my dial-up modem isn't free enough, so it initially refused to install drivers for that too. I would like to point out that most users don't give two fucking hoots about ideology, They just want things to work. So, why not install the drivers anyway and then tell me afterwards that I'm a capitalist pig? Cheers.

Other than that, I won't say that I was blown away, or even enthused, but I was surprised at how far Linux has come. Installing programs is getting close to easy, though sometimes the descriptions are a little naff, and it took me a good chunk of an hour to work out how to copy graphics files for OpenTTD from one folder to another thanks to some permissions based shit on the destination folder that I couldn't change without dropping to the terminal. I eventually copied each file one by one in the terminal using sudo. I'm sure there's an easier way than that, but I got frustrated enough that I'd had it. Installing from Synaptic rather than hunting down an installer made a nice change but I can't help but feel that repositories aren't something that Linux can keep going if, in the long run, Linux becomes more popular.

XFCE is a good replacement for Gnome and doesn't suck up processor and graphics power like a hoover, though creating desktop shortcuts is a bit odd, and took a little bit of poking before I realised you can't just drag icons from one place to another.

I think I came away from the experience thinking that there were too many little things that Windows 7 makes really bloody easy that just take one step too many in Linux. Copying files, creating shortcuts, installing games, all worked but required just a little bit more fucking about than I'd like. That's not to say I'm wiping the laptop again, on the contrary - I'll be trying a few things out. I just don't see it as a full-time replacement.

Nethack rocks, though.

User Journal

Journal Journal: This is how we roll 8

Recent phone conversation:

Director: Hey, so... we're making some staff adjustments
Me: ...ok
D: Yeah, we're releasing some of the people in the Fubar team.
(The Fubar team is working on a set of services that my project depends on)
M: Oh. What people?
D: Well, [names], and some of the testers as well.
M: That's a good 3/4 of the development team
D: Yeah, I know. Sorry
M: Well, we need to go back to the project plan and adjust our deliverable dates.
D: Um, thing is... the dates can't be changed. The business sponsor doesn't want any of them moved.
M: How am I supposed to deliver on the agreed dates then? I can't even meet the SLA, the production support staff is gone too. The dev team was going to provide the 180-day warranty support until the Service folks could get re-staffed.
D: Yeah well, we'll figure something out I guess.
M: Right.

Fast forward two weeks to last Friday:

M: Hey Director, I just noticed a bunch of postings on the Placement intranet site. For the Fubar team. Why aren't they posted to the external site?
D: Oh... well, we posted internally so the old team would be able to apply for them first.
M: Oh, well that's cool... waitaminute, these are [contract positions] with no benefits and lower rates!
D: Yeah well, that's the only way we could keep them.
M: [expletives and so on]
D: I understand, but there's nothing I can do about it. On the other hand we get to still meet those dates and not lose our funding!
M: [more expletives, etc]
D: OK, so we'll talk later. Thanks!

Corporate America. You gotta love it.


Journal Journal: RIP Mario Benedetti (1920-2009)

Mario Benedetti died yesterday in Montevideo. He was one of the giants of Spanish-language literature, and he will be missed by millions of people who loved his poetry, stories and novels.

I had the privilege of meeting Benedetti at PUC Santiago in 1989 during a cultural event, where he gave a talk on historical fiction in South American literature. I have most of his work in my bookshelf, many of them read more than once. One of my most prized possessions is an original hardcover vellum-bound edition of his Proust essays from the 1950s. Printed on rice paper! I just realized it probably jumped in value overnight :)

Benedetti's life is a curious parallel to my family's in that he was forced to leave Uruguay and settle in Argentina, effectively going from one "dirty war" to another. My grandfather did the same thing, moving from Argentina to Chile - to another sort of dirty war in which his sons were not directly or indirectly involved and therefore safe from prosecution. Benedetti was eventually chased from Argentina and ended up living in Cuba, Peru and Spain (which he probably hated for reasons other than being in exile) for a long time. I'm glad he was able to return to his country later, once Bordaberry and Bollentini and all the other idiot Italianito Carlists were removed from power.

If you've never read Benedetti, I recommend La Tregua (The Truce) as a good starting point. In the original Spanish of course, although it's not hard to find English translations. That book was made into a movie that was actually nominated for an Oscar (best foreign film, I think).

Rest in peace, Mario.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Good job, Slashdot (Part 2!) 1

So, I wonder what they did this time to force Opera to only be able to open Slashdot as an RSS feed?

It was doing the same for IE8 for a little while - but that seems to be fixed. Jeez, it's like I can't read this site for 10 minutes nowadays without them trying to ruin the way I read it.

The Media

Journal Journal: Everybody Cries. Opera, deadlines and Python. 4

I guess by now everyone and their mom have seen the Paul Potts audition video on YouTube, where he sings Nessun Dorma. The recent news about Susan Boyle reminded me of something I found rather interesting about Potts.

To paraphrase Michael Stipes, everybody cries.

I've noticed when I talk to people about Potts, they almost invariably say they cried or felt intense emotion when they saw the video. An ad was even made in Germany reflecting this phenomenon (I suppose it can be called that way).

So why? Why the emotion? Is it the fact that the scrawny underdog is hitting it big despite everyone's expectations that he would simply embarrass himself? Is it the music? A combination of the two? Not to take away from Puccini, but I personally prefer Verdi and Wagner, especially Aida and Lohengrin.

Another observation. Any person with at least rudimentary classical bel canto knowledge can tell that while Potts is a decent lyrical tenor, he's far from being even close to people like Fisichella, Sobinov or Pavarotti. Certainly well below the capabilities of, say, Placido Domingo. And yet, when I listen to his CD (yes, I bought it), I am more moved by his rendition of Dorma and Con te partiro than when I hear them from Carreras or Bocelli. It's because his voice sounds a little less controlled and a bit less trained that he's able to inject charm into what he's singing. There is NO CHARM whatsoever in Pavarotti signing Otello. It's just damn good. But it's not charming.

I had never considered opera from a charm perspective certainly (most certainly not Germanic opera), but I suppose Potts can pull that off. On the other hand, I'd need to hear him do La Traviata or maybe a comic opera like Bastien und Bastienne or something like that - not just the odd piece - to really put that concept to the test.

Well. In other news, I'm just plain fucking buried in work. I love it (just love it) when companies feeling the recession think they can let go a quarter of their staff for a given project and still expect to make the same deadlines. It's just fucking insane. Anybody else having that kind of fun out there? I'm taking it pian piano, as the Italians say.

Oh, and an excellent article on the IronPython In Action tome by Foord and Christian Muirhead, which came out recently. Courtesy of Jim Hugunin. Highly recommended if you're using that language at all.

And finally, I'd like to report that my recent migration from CentOS to Debian is going quite well. Having smoke tested everything on my personal stuff, we moved some of our colo boxes to it as well a couple of weeks ago and so far so good. And not completely unrelated to that, I'm seeing some new reqs for Django developers out there. Not many, but a few. Fascinating considering the recession and all. Nothing I'd go for at this point given my workload (and the rates are a little sucky), but every time I see things like that I tend to pat myself on the back for getting into the Python stack and not letting myself depend solely on the Microsoft one. Don't get me wrong, C#/ASP/WCF/MSSQL/Server 2008 is still the breadwinner by far, and I prefer it as a platform, but it's nice to have a handy side air bag sometimes. No PHP though!

Peace out.


Journal Journal: ASP.NET MVC 1.0 RC Available

From scottgu's blog on MSDN, word that the MVC framework is nearing RTM, with the latest release candidate now up for download. I'm gonna take a look later tonight.

The irony of this (for me, at least) is that one of the first things I did with .NET 1.1 back in the day was to write a crude MVC framework, which I later expanded and tweaked to the point where it actually got to be quite good, if I might say so myself. The problem is that it relied on a specialized ISAPI mapping library. So before this of course you could do MVC on ASP.NET, but it's nice to have a pre-built controller model, and have everything integrate into the VS2008 environment.

MVC is no panacea, but it does help a lot in many situations. It will be nice to have something on .NET that approaches some of the Python MVC controllers, like CherryPy, or the Really Simple One (TM) built into web.py (which I still think is the best one, assuming the app is rather trivial).

And hey, it's funny to see that scott uses the same color scheme in Visual Studio I use in vim. The man has taste!

The Courts

Journal Journal: This must be stopped 6

This is a perfect example of why gun-control laws in Europe are so excellent and should be adopted by the US.

Oh wait....

(not to belittle deaths, obviously. It's a tragedy when innocent people are killed like this, regardless of method or motive)


Journal Journal: The Python History Blog 8

Guido van Rossum and Greg Stein have set up a new blog that provides extremely interesting details on the early years of Python. Great quote on the origin of the name:

So, rather than over-analyzing the naming problem, I decided to under-analyze it. I picked the first thing that came to mind, which happened to be Monty Python's Flying Circus, one of my favorite comedy troupes. The reference felt suitably irreverent for what was essentially a "skunkworks project". The word "Python" was also catchy, a bit edgy, and at the same time, it fit in the tradition of naming languages after famous people, like Pascal, Ada, and Eiffel. The Monty Python team may not be famous for their advancement of science or technology, but they are certainly a geek favorite. It also fit in with a tradition in the CWI Amoeba group to name programs after TV shows.

Highly recommended.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Cold

It is, here. Damn it's cold. San Francisco was cold last week, but not that much.

Although I don't miss Santiago in the winters, not my a mile.

Caracas maybe... and Mexico City.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Economic Crisis: Offshore Hurting Too 2

Just in time for this comment I made yesterday, I received an email a few hours ago from one of the tech leads at the company I work with as a consultant. Of the entire application portfolio for the VP whose groups I work with, they will be releasing 57 people (or offshore resources as they call them) at two locations in India.

This adjustment in staffing (more management speak) directly affects six to eight different projects/applications across four groups in the division. And this is just one division under one VP. I am involved with two of those. Technically I am an onshore resource as well, at least from their staffing perspective, although I'm not in India, I don't work through Tata, Infosys or IBM, and I don't cost $20/hr.

These are mostly developers, with a small number of QA/testing positions and a few analysts. It also includes about two thirds of the tier-1 production support staff for the entire division. Yay.

Of course what I have not seen is an adjustment on the project schedules that were agreed upon last month, with the assumption that all these resources would be available. Or the SLAs for that matter, which assume there are people 24/7 available to respond to problems. Dollars to doughnuts they will probably change very little, or not at all. The business stakeholders (the people who actually pay for, use and own these applications) will be told that everything's A-OK, as usual.

Over the course of these project(s) you inevitably tend to get to know these people. They get married, have children, get sick, their parents or grandparents die, etc. You talk to them on the phone every day. You exchange emails. I know some of them personally, as they've been flown out for meetings and knowledge transfer sessions and whatnot. Some are good developers, some are not. But they're all human beings, and now they're out of work, just like so many people in the US, Europe and elsewhere.

I thought I'd share this. People here on Slashdot tend to be generally hostile towards the whole notion of outsourcing, and I don't necessarily blame them. It's a very visceral issue. But we do often forget that these people we have a vague dislike of are ultimately just like us. It's not their fault that the companies that employ us want to make three cents a share more per year to keep investors happy and they do that by eliminating a thousand US jobs.


Journal Journal: IronPython 2.0 is out

Announcement here.

I had the pleasure of going back and forth with a few of the members of the team on a few issues I found during testing, which were promptly fixed. Their bug triage work on CodePlex is also extremely good. This is a well-organized team, a far cry from the original 2-man operation.

So this brings the number of stable, production-able implementations of everybody's favorite programming language to 3 (CPython, Jython and IronPython).

The only problem I have with IronPython is that it's still painfully slow compared to mainstream CPython on Windows, but I hear baseline perf is going to be the main focus of the next point release. Let's hope so. While they support compiling multiple files into a single assembly now, that's not a good solution, because it would obviate the need for using IronPython over C# or VB.NET (well, unless all you know is Python).

Oh, and IronPython now works with ctypes... wow!


Journal Journal: ScrewTurn: Great wiki system for ASP.NET/Server 2003

I just had to share this.

Having had the experience of setting up and operating a MediaWiki site, I am very impressed with ScrewTurn. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles, but it works extremely well. It's open source and s extremely well-designed (which is always reassuring). I've been testing it internally at one of our client sites and so far it's been nothing but goodness.

All of the other attempts at wiki software I've seen for ASP.NET have been a huge disappointment, but ScrewTurn simply rocks.

There's nothing wrong with MediaWiki of course, and if you already have the Linux infrastructure to host it then it probably makes more sense to use it instead. But if you have mostly Windows Server boxes and you need a good wiki, then I definitely recommend this one. Very nice.


Journal Journal: Obama Landslide? 2

Since election night I've noticed that many stories about Barack Obama tend to characterize his victory as a "landslide". I saw one just now on ABC News.

I'm truly happy Obama won. I'm truly happy McCain lost. While I consider myself a moderate conservative, the US needed change badly at this point in history, and I believe the election provided that.

But calling it a landslide is disingenuous to say the least. According to WP, Obama nailed 52.9% of the popular vote, while McCain got 45.7%. That's not a landslide by any measure, in any election.

Now if people are referring to the electoral vote (365 vs 173), sure, that's sort of a landslide, but it's still disingenuous, because essentially the same group of people that are calling it a landslide were the ones bemoaning how broken the electoral system is in 2000 and 2004 when Bush won by way of Florida and Ohio.

I don't know why, I just hate people who do that sort of thing. The same people who claimed that the 2004 election was "stolen" by the Republican party were strangely silent when the democrats kicked ass in the 2006 mid-terms. Apparently the GOP forgot to steal that one? And the same people who claimed Bush was going to do something evil to re-elect himself (remember the stories about troops being brought in to the US, the pending attack on Iran, the martial law, etc) were also strangely silent on 5 November.

I guess I just hate conspiracy theorists and agitator nuts. If you have to say something, make sure it has some backing in reality. Otherwise, please shut the fuck up.


Journal Journal: It Sounds Like... Joe Satriani Files Suit Against Coldplay 7

I'm sure some Slashdot users are fans of Joe Satriani (at least maybe those that are closer to my age). I'm sure a few more are also Coldplay fans. Well, it turns out Joe has filed a lawsuit claiming Chris Martin & Co. lifted the riff from Satriani's If I Could Fly piece from 2004 and made it into their Vival La Vida hit.

There's a comparison up on YouTube and indeed, the opening riff from Satriani does match the Coldplay song. But I don't think Coldplay was ripping anything or anyone off.

Many musicians (especially mainstream ones) inevitably tend to do things like these. They have influences, they listened to the same artists when they were coming up the ladder, etc. Sure, Kraftwerk didn't sound like anyone else, and neither did Nine Inch Nails or any of those edgy groundbreaking acts. But Coldplay is the result of pop/rock evolution. It's inevitable that they will sound like someone else at some point.

Joe Satriani's music is part of the soundtrack to some of the best moments in my life. I hate it when my heroes do things like these. Is he not selling enough records now or what? I buy them all. C'mon Joe, that just sucks.


Journal Journal: It's time for 3000! 1

A message in the python-committers marks the beginning of the new Python era: The 3.0 branch has been tagged in SVN and ready for a tarball drop. Installers and packages should be ready soon as well.


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