Busy, Busy, Busy

After months of spending all of my time at work on specs and schedules (both writing and reviewing), I finally got to work on some actual production code a couple of weeks ago. It was next-release kind of stuff, no urgency beyond the usual for a startup, but it was still code which would (eventually) be in the product. Like a dam bursting, though, my transition to coding very quickly led to my involvement in fighting some fires for the current release. As a result I worked from 9:00am Thursday straight through to 4:30am Friday, then again from 9:00am Friday straight through to 5:00am Saturday. Then I took it easy, only putting in a further six hours each on Saturday and Sunday. I haven’t felt motivated to abuse my body and brain that way for the sake of work in a long time. In a way I feel miserable, but there’s also something very gratifying about it. Maybe it’s just knowing that I still can handle that kind of intensity.

We’re still being really secretive, so I can’t say exactly what it is that I managed to achieve with all of that effort. I’ll just have to settle for saying that I managed to improve performance in a single subsystem by 4-24x (depending on what kinds of requests it’s handling) and that it is no longer the bottleneck that it was previously. The effect on overall performance hasn’t been all that great because – as always happens – another bottleneck immediately appeared behind the first, but it was still a very satisfactory result.

Half-Way There

A while back I predicted that someone would come out with a removable storage device offering somewhere around 50GB on CD-sized media some time this year. We’re not quite there yet, but Plasmon has apparently demonstrated a working 30GB UDO (Ultra Density Optical) drive. It’s only March; we can still make it.


It looks like the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak is getting pretty serious in Ontario, where they’ve declared a provincial emergency. Eek. I found out about this by reading the New Zealand Herald online, where it was on the front page. A little digging showed that the Boston Globe also had a story (from the Washington Post), but it was buried in the back of the A section. You’d think such news would have greater relevance in Boston than Wellington, wouldn’t you?

Cool Commute

On the way in to work today, I saw some sort of hawk (probably a red-tail) glide across the road and catch some sort of small animal. I love working outside the concrete jungle.

Spring is Sprung

The birds have returned, the snow platypus has melted, and the little “gifts” left on our lawn by the neighbors’ dog have thawed, but none of those are the true sign of spring. The way I really know it’s spring is that this morning I was able to back out of the garage the easy way, using the guest parking spot, because it wasn’t blocked by a snowbank any more. Yay!

Worth a Shot

One of my desktop machines at home is Shuttle SV24 named Precious. It’s a wonderful little computer, but it has video built in, and the graphics chipset (S3 ProSavage PN133 “Twister”) is not very common. Windows has absolutely no problem whatsoever with it, but getting it to work with XFree86 has always been extra-painful. None of the drivers that claim to work with XFree86 version 4.x actually worked for me. One of them even managed to lock up my system so hard I had to remove power to reset it, and when it came back up the root filesystem was corrupted beyond repair. I can’t even imagine how a mere video-card driver managed that particular trick, but I swear it did. So I’ve been stuck using XFree86 version 3, which also means I’m stuck using Debian “stable” (which is ancient) because if I try to use “testing” or “unstable” apt-get keeps trying to upgrade XFree86 for me. It’s all very annoying, really.

Recently I discovered KNOPPIX, which is a Linux distribution that runs directly from CD and auto-detects/auto-configures a lot of hardware quite well. I’ve tried it on a few different machines, and every time it came up all the way from zero to a GUI desktop with a browser and everything without a single click to configure anything. That’s way better than any version of either Linux or Windows has done for me in the past, and I find it very impressive.

So I decided to give KNOPPIX a real test, and try it on my troublesome SV24. Well, it thought it worked. Everything booted fine, none of the X-related processes died, but my screen was blank with a few blue dots. A little experimentation with xwininfo revealed that the system thought it knew where the various windows were, I could even move them around and stuff if I clicked and dragged in the right places, but I had to do it blind because they weren’t actually visible. Maybe there’s some minor tweaking I could do to make it work correctly, but I’d have to say KNOPPIX’s automatic configuration was no match for my freaky hardware.

War Humor

Updated Monty Python skit.

Recently someone asked about what the French thought “serious consequences” meant in the UN resolution, if not the possibility of war. I just couldn’t resist quoting (imagine a very thick/fake French accent):

“Now go away, or I shall taunt you a second time”

My Team

I’ve been noticing that the latest polls seem to show a sharp upswing in support for the war in Iraq, most recently with sound-looking polls in the UK (where support was only 19% a couple of weeks ago) and Australia showing majorities in favor of the war. Why is that? My personal opinion is that it’s the same phenomenon by which every Super Bowl winner or NBA champion (Premier League, Super 12, whatever) seems to have many more fans – long-time fans, even – than anyone had previously expected. People want to identify with the winner, even if that identification blatantly contradicts everything they’d thought and said earlier. The hawks are perceived to have won – not the war, but the political battle over whether to wage war – so all of a sudden everybody was on their side all along.

Personally, I think that’s pathetic. I’m not so much opposed to war, not even to war in Iraq, as to this particular war – at this time, for these reasons, in this manner. I still stand by my reasons. There’s no way back now, I know that, and I fully support our troops in moving forward, but I’m not going to rewrite history and claim that I was just playing devil’s advocate. Whatever happens in Iraq this year, or next, in 2020 or 2050 we’ll look back on it as a turning point downward for the US. We’re like a certain big corporation I used to work at, which could never see beyond the next quarterly report and over time lost what had been a large technical lead over its competitors. Sometimes you have to look at the long term too.

Swords Have Two Edges

The following was the lead-in to an article about Chirac, but I doubt that I’m the only one who thought it could just as easily be about Bush.

So there you are, leader of a nation. Things aren’t going well internally; there’s strife and the streets aren’t safe. The economy is stagnant and fragile and unemployment is high and rising. The people are grumbling and your future is on the line. And you don’t know what to do about the problem, because all the solutions are politically impossible even for you.

Your primary goal is to stay in power, and so you need to find something which will still the protests. Answer, right out of the history books: Wrap yourself in the flag, and go pick a fight with someone externally. If domestic affairs are a disaster, distract everyone with foreign policy. People naturally tend to rally during times of external crisis, and will defer their complaints about the domestic crisis.

Thought for the Day

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, proliferation of nuclear/biological/chemical weapons supplies and equipment and expertise via illicit trade became more – not less – of a problem. After the collapse of Iraq…?

All those who supported this war at least partly because they thought it would be a quick affair, easily concluded before we move on to the next one, are fools or worse. We have committed to a course no less costly, and no more effective, than a robust inspection system would have been. Inspections will, in fact, be more necessary after the war than ever, and harder to conduct after important information sources have been blown up.