Monday, July 30, 2007

10 Questions for the Dalai Lama (movie review)

This travelogue climaxes with yet another on-camera stress test of His Holiness regarding ongoing cultural genocide, the Middle East, his plans after death.

Per usual, he performs marvelously, living up to his reputation for remaining good humored even in the face of an incredibly brutal schedule of interviews and ceremonies. Left to his own devices, he'd rather just study and get some much deserved R&R.

The film does break some new ground, especially around the Internet's emerging role in the political sphere. The film alleges various companies are dumbing down their services in an effort to curry favor with myopic and unstable elements within the Chinese leadership.

Mom and I saw this together at The Bagdad and both got homesick for Bhutan, another Tantric culture, although geographically more fertile than Tibet proper, or Ladakh for that matter.

Friday, July 27, 2007

OSCON 9 (conclusion)

The final day was perhaps the most inspiring. Nat is stepping down after eleven long years of chairing O'Reilly's OSCON committee and gave a wonderful three part talk we might entitle "it's too easy to be mean (so try to aim higher)."

Even better than the precept, was his demo of how to do it, taking our respective open source communities one at a time, as if the twisted offspring of your average mom & pop: Perl will change when it has to, love it for what it is; Python is so serious, needs to go to college to discover slacking off; Ruby is youthfully defiant, and so on. In every case, he played a great Dr. Phil.

Beyond that, we had a lot of rousing calls to continue opening, not closing. Searching has become too proprietary (Wikia is fighting back), as well as access to data. Hardware is just beginning to open up.

In one of the breakouts, Robert Lefkowitz made some of the most cogent arguments I'd seen in awhile, about how software is the new trivium of Century XXI, rhetoric being like programming, making it part of the new literacy. He cited Guido's CP4E at this point, other champions, such as Adele Goldberg and Alan Kay.

Lefkowitz mines old books on rhetoric for terms to recycle, to help clarify a muddy meme pool (information technologists have made a mess of their priest craft).

This connects to his interest in word-meaning trajectories, a field he's tagged as "semasiology" (another example of recycling a word). Larry Wall and his wife were in a row in front of me, loving the ride. Anna and Alex were off to my left.

Geeks are always bellyaching that English has this built-in ambiguity between "free" as in "free beer" and "free" as in "freedom," and all because it doesn't have a suitable word deriving from the Latin root "liber." But it does: "liberal," as in "liberal arts."

Anyway, I'm seeing a lot of my Quaker values reflected in the "OSCON community" (synecdoche). Apropos, I just noticed a current thread on Quaker-P about Quaker Meetings in Second Life. Second Life's Philip Rosedale kicked off today's keynotes.

When mom called from Miami, enroute back from Bolivia, speaking of inter-cultural tensions at her peace conference there, I said: "you should have been at OSCON; they were projecting pictures of Gandhi and everything; it was like a peace-maker's paradise here."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

OSCON 9: Keynotes (continued)

Ben Fry delivered an ultra competent and intriguing set of slides, animations, demos. Lots of allusions to Elastic Interval Geometry, math through programming, bridging CS to the humanities (art students did some of the best work in this exhibit). He wasn't touting Python, but a competing new language called Process.

Robin Hanson is teaching that although we know we're biased, that doesn't keep us from being biased, leading to warped results that are counter-productive, even speaking purely selfishly. It's like the comic strip Dilbert with the pointy haired boss.

The guy speaks "economist" a rhetoric (namespace) spun more by Nietzsche (Twilight of the Idols) than it probably realizes. The "will to truth" is often just a mask, whereas the "will to power" more nakedly describes more biased behaviors (even the ones that backfire). Anthropologists take note.

Bill Hilf is "our man in the inside" helping to create the DNA and synapses of open source within Microsoft, a big company. MSFT has overcome most of its paranoia regarding open source and by now includes an internal culture that understands and feels comfortable with our many liberal ethnicities.

Getting the DLR committed to the community took much less time than getting Rotor injected years ago (an early .NET). The guy quotes Mark Twain, disses politicians, priests and pundits, touts programmers. Kwel.

Although Bill was glad we weren't politicians, the next guy was one, a pro: founder of Pirate Party, Rick Falkvinge. Policing to protect copyrights on digital properties violates centuries old principles of postal secret, carrier independence, other democratic principles around privacy. Lots of applause.

Our final gifted speaker, Steve Yegge of Google, gave an off the cuff lecture on branding that ranked with the best of the best, even with the slides gone kablooey. He thinks "open source" is a problem brand, but I'm not so sure. It's meant to be "backroom boring" so as not to compete with our sexier and/or flashier flagships, such as Python and Apache. Let's keep public attention focused on our illustrious track record, our heritage, not on our various brands of legalese (yawn).

So it's OK if generic discussions of open source send you to sleep. We don't necessarily want that many people fixating on licenses as ends in themselves, endlessly bickering and concocting new ones. A few is sufficient. Otherwise, the field gets too committified and log-jammed. Let's not waste too much talent.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

OSCON 9: Keynotes

Nathan Torkington is opening the conference by discussing how open source ethics are spilling over into the fight for transparency and openness in other areas: democracy in places like Guatemala and Florida, open hardware, our own bodies...

Then he introduced "Chairman Tim" (O'Reilly) who is giving a talk on The O'Reilly Radar.

I ran into Guido in the foyer. He showed up last night in time for some low key hobnobbing. Today he gets a field trip to Google's vast new (already functioning) data center in The Dalles. I'm going to a farewell lunch for a staffer at my office.

He and I both know Russ Nelson, also here, and whom I was recently asking after on Quaker-P (an elist).

Does Congress need a version control system? "Free as in freedom" is embodied in the tools. He's talking about how we change culture by changing its tools, OpenID and Ubuntu's Launchpad being cases in point.

There's a race between "closers" and "openers" in many arenas (political and otherwise), with tools making a real difference as to who wins, recalling Bucky's "design science" precepts: let's focus on tools that make tools; don't change people, change their environment.

Open source success factors: free as in beer, redistributable, designed for extensibility, network effects, platform. Web 2.0: systems that harness network effects to get better the more people use them.

Nat is back, pointing us to a broker for charities, suggesting we beat the total raised by the recent Rails conference.

Now James Reinders of Intel is on stage, the same guy I tuned in yesterday in the Ubuntu conference. His subject, as before, is parallelism. Intel is releasing Threading Building Blocks as an open source project. Clever: Reinders, posing as a director of marketing, starts selling TBB for $299, so this open source geek (Dirk Hohndel , also Intel) comes up on stage and interrupts, no suit, saying how Intel wants to be a part of the open source revolution.

TBB is actually open source as of this week, web site live as of yesterday, although there's still a commercial version (you're buying support).

On this same issue of parallelism and concurrency, our next speaker is Simon Peyton Jones, of Microsoft Research (Cambridge). This is the guy who led the Haskell tutorial on Monday. Instead of locking, let's make blocks atomic, an idea borrowed from the data base people. A transactional memory enforces all or nothing commits, with blocking (retries) and choice.

Now Tim O'Reilly is interviewing Mark Shuttleworth about Ubuntu. The genius of open source is in smoothing collaboration, coordinating developers.

The Q&A focused on the meaning of free in the age of network effects, the possible impact of cheap laptops. The freedom to easily get your data back out of a system was mentioned several times as key.

ciao V!

Monday, July 23, 2007

BOF: Open Source in Education

In a Birds of a Feather, we listen to each other, chatting about a given topic. Various teachers and curriculum writers are talking about their experiences using and/or teaching open source tools and/or languages. Michael Brewer is hosting this session.

The focus here is on college level computer science. Colorado State uses all open source. Elsewhere it's a function of the teacher, whether students boot Windows or Linux.

Alex Martelli is here with his family. Anna is making good comments about teaching group programming skills, sparking discussion about the social skills geeks need, as well as technical skills.

Some guy is making a long, passionate speech about the need for standards, backed by professional organizations.

We finished with some discussion of course management and collaboration tools, such as Moodle and Banner.

A Taste of Haskell

Getting my money's worth on the TriMet day pass, I used my lunch break to train and drive home in order to swap laptops, give Sarah a pee break. Tara phoned from the road, already north of Olympia.

A Taste of Haskell
is happening right next to a presentation on the X01 interface, Sugar, which I'm really curious about. So I sample both. The Haskell talk is packed, so I start along the wall, moving to a desk at the break. There's no floor outlet here, and battery power is low [no wait, here's a crew now, adding a new power strip; I have power]. Our trainer, Simon Peyton-Jones, is one of the leading lights of the entire Haskell effort.

Haskell's module and package system is quite similar to Python's...

Jet lag + Haskell source code = a rising tide of unconsciousness. The learning curve is pretty steep.

Community Night

Lots of talent out there tonight. Is it American Idol or what, that the performances have gone up a notch?

Cathy, Luci, Katie -- stunning. Joe, great cajun version of Ladle Rat Rotten Hut.

I've enjoyed getting reacquainted with a few Friends at this session. You think you already know someone then, wave of magic wand, they're someone else entirely, yet still the same.

Compared notes on some deep books over tray meals, like Narnia, plus shared some Blue October, DyxyChyx with Jane

My other Connecting the Dots went to Miriam.

First Day morn I was especially pleased to reconnect with Ron Marson, president of topscience. We chatted some more about Project Earthala, my projected Quaker community with Aimeé Conner its first queen (we're still democratic though).

"dwelling machine rendering"
(by Andrew Owens)

Ron's curriculum writing is used in places as far away as Zimbabwe (a link to "the other Ron" Braithwaite). If I run in to any Kusasa people at the ongoing Ubuntu conference, I'll be sure to mention Ron's "uses simple everyday stuff" approach (which includes lots of computers by this time, at least in the South African context).

Tara skips town today, which is a good thing given how I'm mired in conferences (OSCON too) and she has HP#3 in voice format on her iPod -- a summer project to make it through HP#7 in sequence (HP = Harry Potter, the subject of her Central Friends' community night skit).

Friday, July 20, 2007

Annual Session

NPYM has convened its annual Meeting for Business at Reed College, one of several groups sharing that exquisite east side college campus this summer. Mom did a quick check in with familiar and new Friends, pre her next international adventure, beginning soon.

I'm still in the midst of teaching Pythonic Math via Saturday Academy of course, so I've purchased meals in a pattern around that. Given mom's and Tara's schedules are likewise unique, our registration was like an old IBM punch card, lots of holes in a peculiar pattern.

Quakers like operating at a low detailed level like that (which can drive others crazy), are an assembly language type religion, I suppose one might say. An entirely new software application tends to get written for each NPYM convergence, this time being no exception. It looked to be in Microsoft Access (mine was in FoxPro).

I used to think that was wasteful, but we live in an age of one-offs, more like what happens in the art world around paintings (including the limited editions, poster versions and so on).

Given BCFM sponsors its children, I'd deducted that as expected support from my total, but the algorithm interpreted that as "in addition" to the built-in child deduction, ergo I must be getting a refund, which made little sense, as I'd paid nothing yet. Once we fixed that problem, I wrote a DWA check in the amount of some $128, to cover our costs (check 11730).

a son of sixteen with his mom

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Coming of Age

Monday, July 16, 2007

Family Guy

Actually it's American Dad we're watching at the moment, Tara and I, v1s2. Weird stuff, often funny though.

So I made it back, on a big SAS jet out of C39 from Copenhagen. Something of a zoo, but with a lot of the animals wanting to stay, on the airline's tab. SAS, in partnership with some others, manages to not waste a single seat. It's quite the jigsaw puzzle.

Anyway, I needed to be home, and the WLSI got me here, to Seattle, thence to a small plane called a Brasilia for the last hop to PDX, with beautiful views of Mt. Rainer, St. Helens (post eruption, tiny new cone), Crown Point in the Columbia Gorge (Kathy was cute too, SkyWest out of Utah right?).

Derek chauffeured both mom and Tara out to meet me. The bag transferred uneventfully, though we were briefly rejoined through SeaTac customs.

I watched most of Blades of Glory (a skippy start -- I like the "down camera" view, ice there too), The Last Mimzy (very multicultural -- Close Encounters meets Little Buddha plus some other stuff), an episode of the American version of The Office. I'm quite bad with the games (especially mini-golf).

Oh, and Number 23. Jim Carrey does an interesting blend of comedy and "life of the [twisted] mind" films. This movie is quite explicit about its genre, close ups of the underground comic book covers (detective, film noir -- alluded to in Roger Rabbit, a gateway to ToonTown).

And a part of a Chinese romance, featuring an older couple, the woman making it a secret behind some lie, connecting her to pet cemetery memes (dead cat). This one was interrupted by the jet needing to land or something like that.

Anyway, you can tell it was a long flight, over Thule, Great Slave Lake, places like that.

Tara liked the Concentric Dolls, fancy small version (blue theme), nine within one. Somewhat disturbing Lithuanian humor: Concentric Sponge Bobs.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Glass Ship

I enjoyed a last breakfast with Open End staffers, sharing some sense of satisfaction that Europython had been a success, though we hope for more volunteer support next year (even child care?).

Arising from our conversation came this idea of a map giving visual expression to the "linguistic distance" between European languages. For example, a Swedish speaker is likely to understand Norwegian and vice versa, but Finnish is another matter altogether, perhaps as distant as Lithuanian. Maybe such a map exists?

Faced with another day for tourism, I chose the "glass ship" as my objective, thanks to Alexia, who discovered it on the web. I pasted the coordinates into Google Earth and hours later was ogling the real deal. More weddings in progress.

Travel in Europe has become so easy these days. ATMs give me money, the hotel gives me free wireless Internet. What more could I need? There's no sense of "roughing it" in Vilnius. The World Livingry Service Industry (WLSI) is a reality here.

One thing though: Google Earth is significantly out of date, was missing this whole bridge across my good friend the Neris:

bridge under construction

bridge now complete
In the evening, I donned my best clothes, like I wore for my talk, and sauntered over to a restaurant with outdoor seating. As the clear skies turned from twilight to darkness, with street lights coming on towards the end, I enjoyed spicy soup, spaghetti with sea food and wine sauce, and a couple Submarine brand beers.

Having left my change in my other pants, I didn't have quite the right amount for a tip (we tend to leave ~20% in our family, in honor of Carla, Dawn's waitressing sister). Rather than asking the waitress to break a twenty Litu, I left a dollar bill with the coins, hoping she'd appreciate the exotic iconography, which she probably doesn't see every day.

Back in my hotel room, Tara and Alexia both started chatting with me via Gmail, plus with each other. Then Tara figured out how to use Google Talk to make it a three-way conference, complete with smilies.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Slow Food Nation

Coming from the USA, one feature of Lithuanian culture that strikes me is how many people are relatively close to their ideal body weight. The women tend to be slender, the men chunkier but not so much because of fat, more from playing soccer or from construction jobs. Fewer beer bellies, practically no morbid obesity.

Although I did spy one McDonald's in the center of town, posing as a classy restaurant, for the most part people seem to eat smaller and less fatty portions more slowly. On sunny days, the nearby skateboard park is packed with athletic young boys showing off their maneuvers.

Case in point: the Italian restaurant we invaded last night, as a party of twenty or so geeks, took over an hour to serve up the second dish, so long in fact that Jacob asked for Laura's to be struck from the bill, so late had it become, and so exhausting had been the battle with ctypes or whatever during the PyPy sprint -- she was just too sleepy to tuck in when the food finally arrived (I too almost went face down in my spaghetti, jet lagged that I still am, having spent a pleasant day walking many miles around the city with Mike, a summer intern at Microsoft). But the restaurant management considered this the normal rate of service and refused to comply.

I bet the USA based health insurance companies are chomping at the bit to get a piece of this action, as so many USA homelanders have become uninsurable, are ticking time bombs, given all their mega-burgers, big gulp sodas and big ass fries.

Here, the insurance companies could rack up those premiums, handsomely reward shareholders and top management, build more skyscrapers full of expensive computers, while gobbling up other investments, the way their "reverse Robin Hood" business model (design pattern) is supposed to work. Homelanders have become a liability by this time -- unprofitable basket cases maybe the government should now handle.

fat guy (me) at the "KGB museum"

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Concluding EuroPython

I didn't sense much unease regarding Python 3000 this time, following Guido's keynote.

This isn't a complete overhaul, like the transition from Zope 2 to Zope 3, or Perl 5 to Perl 6.

Quick summary: the old xrange will become the new range, raw_input the new input, all strings will be unicode by default, all classes new style, and where it makes sense to return an iterable instead of a list, that's what'll happen. Print becomes a function.

Python 2.6 will have plenty of back ported bridging features.

Conference organizers were disappointed with how little help they got this year, meaning the conference fell short of their hopes and dreams. We had an excellent threshing session that will likely lead to greater participation next year.

The venue will be the same: Vilnius. Next year's Europython will hopefully attract more conferees from Eastern Europe and Russia.

We're doing more lightning talks at the moment.

OK, I managed to squeeze in a quick demo of hypertoons. What was really impressive however was the demo of gSculpt by Geoffrey French. Michael Hawker of Mikeware is also a man of many talents. He and I plan to do some sightseeing tomorrow.

I've invited Open End conference organizers to dinner tomorrow night, as a small token of my thanks for including me in these proceedings.

Monday, July 09, 2007

EuroPython Day 1

So we're off to a running start. The additional wireless access points appear to be working. Aistė (POV) and the Open End team have been putting in a lot of overtime, and their efforts are paying off.

Feeling my jet lag, I was starting to stumble back to my hotel yesterday when I spotted Guido in the lobby, sitting with other geeks. He waved me over and I ended up joining in a lengthy conversation that persisted well past midnight (even after Guido himself had gone to bed).

Some old James Bond movie, Sean Connery era, was playing on the flatscreen in the hotel lobby.

Guido yet hadn't heard of the Python Bridge in Amsterdam, which I showed him in my slides. Using his knowledge of Amsterdam's geography, he was able to spot it from above, using Google Maps on my new Ubuntu laptop.

This morning I chaired the track in Zeta (all the rooms have greek letter names), introducing the speakers -- except the first guy never showed, meaning Christian Theune got some extra time to share about persisting objects in the ZODB. He was modeling how application developers might want to save state between processes using the infrastructure, completely independently of any Zope application.

Gustavo Niemeyer of Canonical talked about Storm, a system for talking to more traditional relational databases in the tradition of SQLObjects and SQLAlchemy. Questions focused on why these latter two systems weren't "good enough."

Now I'm listening to Max Ischenko from Kiev, discussing his experience rebuilding what had been a PHP website in Pylons, a web development library. He likes Mako for templating, which supports Unicode quite well (important for internationalization). TurboGears will probably move from CherryPy to Pylons in the next release. Babel will be a new i18n library. WSGI will be important.

Jeroen Vloothuis is introducing KSS, Kinetic Style Sheets, a way to implement AJAX with a lot less JavaScript. The events to trigger a JavaScript library get defined in a CSS-like file. KSS has been integrated into Plone.

Graham Stratton is discussing FormEncode, a module for validating HTML forms from within Python.

After lunch: my own talk, followed by an excellent presentation on optimizing MySQL by David Axmark, a cofounder of the company.

Saturday, July 07, 2007


:: vilnius pix ::

Yikes, my Blogger control panel is in Lithuanian! Today is a Saturday and hardly anyone was strolling in the rain early this morning. I took a first few pix with my waterproof camera (my wind breaker proved less than waterproof).

Yesterday, July 6, the day of my arrival, Balts commemorated the crowning of King Mindaugas in 1253.

The main street next to the hotel is torn up for replumbing. The hotel itself, Centrum Ratonda, is quite satisfactory, with wireless in the room and an ample breakfast buffet (included).

Laura, the main conference organizer, flies in from Sweden late tonight. I volunteered to help stuff bags and do other conference stuff. My hosts were very kind to fly me here.

All my puzzle pieces rejoined on this end minus the white 3-ring binder which I kindly (OK, unintentionally) left next to 31A for Lufthansa management, or the dumpster as the case may be.

The Vilnius lost and found women kindly sent a query in teletype language to Frankfurt, using some virtual TTY running on Windows (no one really uses teletypes anymore right? -- but the old language games persist).

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Hot Spot

I'm at an I-5 rest stop in Washington State. That there's a Wifi Hotspot is pretty cool, but if I want to access anything outside of WA's Dept of Transportation's websites I need to fork over at least $6.75.

I guess that way taxpayers don't have to pay for me to dial in to my Google Maps.

Of course it's my own dang fault the plastic sheet from my binder blew away or whatever it did. I hope my hand drawn map works as well. I saved an image file just in case it doesn't.

We drove by way of Hwy 30 to Rainer, bridge to Longview, hoping to avoid bottlenecks. So far so good. The new Dell Ubuntu laptop is working flawlessly.