fighting the lack of good ideas

programming again

It’s been years, but I am working on some new (small) programming projects again.

First out will be an open-source app that’s a simplified (and slimmed-down) tool akin to Yahoo! Pipes.

One of the things I had forgotten was just how hard it is to write code that doesn’t stink. Here’s hoping the first release of this one won’t completely smell 🙂

irony at olf2013 – the olpc and sugar

I played with the OLPC for a little bit at the Fedora table at OLF this past weekend.

The Sugar desktop environment works on the metaphor of circles. It took me a few minutes to figure them out, but as soon as I was pointed at the right button (a dot, of all things), I was off and running.

The irony? Several years ago I had a paper published in the ACM‘s Ubiquity entitled, “Why Do Current Graphical User Interfaces Not Work Naturally & How They Can Be Fixed?“.

It’s nice to see some thoughts I once had published on ergonomics turn out to be practical in the Real World™ 🙂

#moosefs @smartfile – distributed, redundant file management (#olf2013 talk)

As promised, some follow-up to OLF.

Chris from SmartFile gave a great talk at OLF this year on MooseFS and how SmartFile leverages it to handle their rapidly-growing storage infrastructure.

Specifically, he compared it to Ceph and GlusterFS.

In short, MooseFS provides better configurability than either Ceph or GlusterFS, runs with lower overhead, and provides more flexibility for their environment.

One of the other cool things Chris said was they adopted the BackBlaze StoragePod design for their “green monster” storage units. Nice to see open source being leveraged not just in software, but hardware, too 🙂

I found out about a super cool company a few days ago – CivChoice.

The basic gist is that you create an account with CivChoice, put money into it (which is a one-way street: it’s a “donation” to CivChoice), and from there you divvy it out to the charities of your choice.

You get a single receipt for tax purposes, rather than a dozen small ones from around the country.

And you can use it to quasi-anonymize donations in a workplace donation program – instead of Personnel or Accounting knowing (or choosing) where you donate via paycheck deductions, it all goes to CivChoice, and then you direct it from there.

deadline by mira grant

I read Feed (review) a few weeks ago, and just finished the 2d installment in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy, Deadline. The frenetic pace of book 1 was upped a level in book 2 (along with some more language).

Mira is a fantastic author, and I cannot wait to read Blackout (it’s on my library queue).

“You know why corporate espionage keeps happening, no matter how bad they make the penalties for getting caught? … People stop caring. Once you reach the point where you’re working with more people than can comfortably go for drinks together, folks stop giving as much of a shit.”

“There’s always been something nasty waiting around the corner to kill us, but … [t]his constant ‘stay inside and let yourself be protected’ mentality has gotten more people killed than all the accidental exposures in the world. It’s like we’re addicted to being afraid.”

“It never pays to insult computers that are smart enough to form sentences. Not when they’re in control of the locks, and especially not when they have the capacity to boil you in bleach”

krakatoa: the day the world exploded, august 27 1883 by simon winchester

I have been interested in volcanoes for a long time. I first wrote about them for a college essay in 1999, but my attraction to them began far earlier. Most likely it was triggered by hearing from my mom that her wedding day was the first time she’d ever really had allergies – just 6 days after Mt St Helens exploded, the cloud o’ crud had wafted its way across the North American Continent, and helped trigger lots of folks’ allergies, including my mom’s.

I used to have a bumper sticker on my car that read, “Save The Volcanoes!”

It was quite the conversation starter. (And short satirical essay fodder.)

My dad thought it would be brilliant to dump most of our trash into KÄ«lauea or Mauna Loa – what better place to incinerate garbage than a pool of liquid rock? (Side benefit: no need to use fuel to burn it, just to transport it!)

I remember Pinatubo exploding in 1991. It ejected about 2.4 cubic miles of crud into the atmosphere. That was 10x more than Mt St Helens burped.

But only half of what Krakatau did in 1883. Krakatoa (the spelling forever etched in world memory, through the typo of a Times of London editor) chucked about 6 cubic miles. It is claimed that it is the loudest sound ever recorded in modern history, and the air-borne pressure wave of the explosion was measured around the world on barographs, as many as 7 times.

(Tambora in 1815 was even bigger (estimated at up to 38 cubic miles), but it was in a relatively unknown (to “modern man”) part of the world, and certainly did not capture the attention of the world they way Krakatoa did 68 years later after the advent of near-instant global communication (the telegraph) and pop culture’s attention to “science”.)

It was this eruption that helped set the stage for a variety of modern scientific fields of inquiry and practice, including a better understanding of geology, meteorology (the beginnings of figuring out the jet stream), and plate tectonics (though not formally accepted globally until after WWII).

Simon Winchester did a masterful job in his book, Krakatoa: the Day the World Exploded, August 27 1883. It is one of the few books I have read as an adult in which my reading was slowed due to vocabulary. Winchester’s writing showcases his vast vocabulary, his scientific bent, his Oxford education, and his deep interest in his topic. But he manages to use an extensive lexicon without ever appearing to talk down to his audience – an exceptional gift. He also writes in a very precise manner: every word he uses feels like he meant for it to be there because it truly describes what he wants to say the best.

I take a few minor issues with his worldview, because I do believe in a literal Creation Week 6000-12000 years ago, but excepting his ongoing references to millions and billions of years, I could find nothing in the book to complain about.

Krakatoa provides a deep history of the Indonesian region, both geologically and politically (starting, on the latter, with the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (or Dutch East India Company)) takeover of Portuguese influence in the region) and spans far and wide through a variety of then-unrelated sciences which presciently foreshadowed modern geologic, biologic, meteorologic – even astronomic – advances.

If you are at all intrigued by history, geology, volcanoes, or disaster, you should read Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded.

I can’t wait to read several of his other works.

atlas of the year 1000 by john man

It was with great excitement I reserved Atlas of the Year 1000 from my local library.

John Man’s work did not disappoint (excluding the humorous typo of “a a” when only the single article use was intended).

Starting with the Americas, then working Eastward to Europe, the Islamic region, and Asia before moving back west but south to Africa and then finally to Oceania, Atlas of the Year 1000 provides a fantastic glimpse of the state of the world a millennium ago ± 50 years.

From the Introduction on the significance of the year 1000:

[B]y pure coincidence, the year 1000, or thereabouts, marked the first time in human history that it was possible to pass an object, or a message, right around the world. This had, of course, been almost possible for a long time. Although no culture knew what the world looked like, and few had any idea of its size, almost every habitable region had been peopled for thousands of years, and almost every culture had a neighbour or two. Messages and artefacts had been passed between neighbours, across continents and between continents. Such messages – pottery styles, agricultural techniques, new technologies, religions – are the stuff of cultural diffusion.

I highly recommend the book to anyone who is looking for what avenue of historical inquiry they wish to follow next, or to be reminded that nothing happens in isolation – as isolated as some of these cultures were from each other, there were myriad other cultures operating at the same time around the world.