Lars Wirzenius: July, 2004


Saturday, July 31, 2004

Personal life: Five year celebration

I threw a birthday party today. Actually, that's not quite so simple. Five years ago I celebrated my 30th birthday with a really large party at my parents's in Kotka, about 120 kilometers from Helsinki where I live. About sixty people came to the party and it was quite a success. One of the success stories is that Joanna and Mikko, two friends of mine, met properly for the very first time. So properly, in fact, that they fell for each other. They are now married. Yet another charming consequence of my parties.

Today's party was in memory of that really good party five years ago and in celebration of all the things that has happened to us three during these years. It was my 35th birthday party and Joanna's and Mikko's five year anniversary. They took care of the food, I arranged alcohol. There was way too much food and quite too much alcohol, but everyone behaved very well. I think I'll be able to call this party also a success, though I don't know if any people fell in love.

Now I'll have to figure out some to do with all the booze that I have left, given that I figured I'd go back to being a teetotaller after tonight. I'll probably have to invite people more often.

(I'm not officially 35 until September, though. Don't congratulate me now. I just like to have the party in the summer.)

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Personal life: Cut feelings out of my brain, please

I seem to be bad at dealing with worry and sorrow. There was a bit of bad news related to a person with whom I share a quarter of my genes and now my stomach is all upset and I'm having trouble going to sleep, being afraid of having nightmares.

Four years ago, when a relative died, I tried to drown my feelings by working a lot. After a few ninety hour work weeks, I was burned out and the muscles in my back were seriously hurt. I'll have to develop better methods for dealing. Luckily, I'm pretty much unstressed right now, having had four weeks of vacation.


Monday, July 26, 2004

Random thought: Necessary computer books

While browsing my hard disk, I found a draft for a page that introduces necessary books for programmers. The idea was to make a list of superb books on topics that any competent general programmer should know. I won't quote the whole text as it is too sketchy, but here's the list of books I and friends came up with:

Note that these are topics that every programmer should know. There are, of course, superb books on more specialized topics, such as graphics or Internet protocols, but not everyone needs those topics.

Some justifications may be in order. The first book, SICP, covers the sort of basic and semi-advanced things about abstractions that a programmer needs to understand, as they are used every day.

The compiler book is necessary because pretty much every project requires some amount of parsing. Everyone needs to understand parsing. On the other hand, after one understands how a compiler works internally, including the code generator and the optimizer, it becomes much easier to deal with compilers.

The Pearls book is necessary because it opens up one's mind to think in new ways and to apply common sense to programming problems.

Peopleware is necessary for anyone who has to deal with a programming team. It is particularly necessary for managers, but even programmers need it, if only to understand that work doesn't have to suck.

The final book is necessary because everyone either uses an operating system or writes one, and so they need to understand them. Being able to make one's own operating system is not necessary, but understanding how they work in general terms is.

These books are somewhat old by now, but that's OK. The things they cover don't become obsolete anytime soon, even if there are new developments. That is a sign of good writing: it stays useful for a long time.

We may have forgotten about some books and topics. I'm sure I'll be told about them in short order.

Rant: Referer spam

My Referer log is full of spam links. I assume this is because some sites automatically publish Referers, so spammers use them to create more links to themselves, thus boosting their status in web search results. Can't blame them for being lazy and uninnovative, but they're still a bloody nuisance.

(I know "referrer" is the right spelling, but if HTTP is going to spell it wrong, so should I, when I refer to to their thing.)

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Personal life: Ropecon bored me

Ropecon is over for this year. Ropecon is the huge yearly Finnish role playing, larp, strategy gaming, card playing, and whatever gaming convention. I've pretty much stopped playing rope playing games, but most of my friends not only play them, all kinds of them, but they are heavily involved in organizing Ropecon. That means, for example, that our IRC channel is pretty much silent and finding anyone to talk to or watching movies with is harder than usual.

In the past three years, I've also been at Ropecon, with my camera, taking pictures (see 2002 and 2003), but this year I was much too exhausted from work and didn't want to bother about arranging a photo studio, so I didn't. A friend did that instead. I did go there, for about three hours, to help Lynoure with her sales table. Not having anything else to do, Ropecon was quite boring for me. The program is not interesting to me, and all my friends are busy keeping the con running.

It was uninteresting enough for me that that alone might inspire me to arrange the studio again next year.

Everyone else seems to have had a nice time, however, which is good.

Random thought: Epidemiology

It strikes me that discussions of computer viruses, worms, and computer security in general might benefit from the analysis and inputs of epidemiologists. They have a mindset and analysis tools for tracking and dealing with problems that affect large numbers of independent hosts and that spread quickly. Some of that should be helpful for computer troubles as well.

Friday, July 23, 2004

System administration: Victory over the printer

Scott James Remnant advised me on cleaning the print head and someone else that it may have to be done many times. After more than ten times, the printer would finally print. Happy now.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

System administration: Printer trouble

I hate printers. My Epson Stylus Photo 890 decided that it did not like the fact that I hadn't used it for many months. It refuses to print all colors consistently and some of the nozzles in the print head seem to be blocked. I'll have to figure out a way to clean it. On the other hand, I'm beginning to think that my life would be massively better if I didn't have a printer at all and used on-line printing services or found a friend who would print things for me. Possibly that same friend could edit my pictures so that colors are corrected and the right amount of sharpening is applied and so on. In my dreams...

Personal life: Charming consequences of parties

Richard and Lynoure, two dear friends of mine, got married today. They are the second couple who blames me for getting together. Richard originally came to Finland because I recruited him for Wapit. When he came here for the job interview, in January 2000, and I threw a party to help Richard meet some Finnish people. Lynoure was at the party and they started to talk and, well, four and half years later we have marriage. Maybe I should throw parties more often.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

System administration: Laptop optical drive broke

The optical drive (DVD-ROM and CD-RW) in my laptop broke down a couple of weeks ago, well after warranty had ended. I've been looking for a replacement drive, and they don't seem to be available, at least not in any of the online stores I know of. Today, I finally took the ultimate step and called the store that had sold me the laptop. The result: it is possible to buy a new optical drive, at prices that start at well over 200 euros, plus I'd also have to pay for getting it installed. The laptop does not have a "bay" that would make it easy to switch the drive. Instead, the entire laptop needs to be dismantled for the drives to be swapped. I don't want to pay that much. I'll have to live without an optical drive, therefore, and use a desktop or server machine for my CD and DVD needs. Bugger.

I could buy an external, USB drive, but that would be extra baggage to carry. I don't think it's worth it.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Quote: Washing

R.K. Mulholland about his visit to Dexcon:

At the con, I handed out Aubrey's Guide to Con Hygiene along with a bar of Mr. Personality soap, made by La Moon. There were some mixed feelings about this from the con-goers, but then again most radical ideas were met with confusion and fear. Integration. Women's rights. In time, I'm sure washing will be accepted by the con-goers. I just hope it's in my lifetime.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Personal life: Stakes and Buffy equals goodness

Watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer with friends, while eating several quite good stakes (even if I say so myself), is possibly the best way of avoiding to do anything useful I've found this year. Have to do this again and again.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

System administration: Wireless network at home

I now have a wireless network at home. Whee.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend gave me a Lucent Wavepoint-II access point for free, and this prompted me to buy a wireless LAN PCMCIA card for my laptop. After some investigation, it seemed that cards based on the Prism54 chipset were a good choice, and I bought a 3com OfficeConnect Wireless 11g PC Card. It has a driver in the Linux 2.6.5 kernel, which is free and everything, except it requires an external file containing the firmware for the card. The Linux driver loads the file to the card upon insertion into the PCMCIA slot. The firmware file is available from and needs to be copied to /usr/lib/hotplug/firmware/isl3890. I also needed to add iface eth1 inet dhcp to my /etc/network/interfaces file. After this, with Debian unstable, hotplug and other things take care of everything automatically.

Well, almost. It turned out that the access point I got was formerly used in encrypted mode and there seemed to be no easy way to reset this behavior. Luckily, after a few days of intermittent tweaking and cursing, liiwi offered to swap his access point for mine. He's a professional sysadmin and knows how to get hardware to do his bidding, unlike me. The new access point worked like a charm the first time I plugged it into the correct Ethernet socket.

The wireless network is only 802.11b, or 11 Mbit/s, since the access point is old. It is, however, quite fast enough except for large file transfers within my home, and for those the 100 Mbit/s cable is also tardy. The PCMCIA card is 802.11g, or 54 Mbit/s, however, so if I decide to upgrade one day, I'll only need a new access point.

Having a wireless network is fun, although I must admit it isn't all that useful, as long as I stay in my chair. However, even sitting in this chair, as I am now, having one fewer cable to worry about it nice. Friends with laptops who visit me in the future will also have Internet access more easily in the future.

In fact, I'm going to keep the access point open for access for everyone in my neighborhood (properly firewalled, of course). Now that I have a wireless card, I find myself wishing for open access points in cafes and elsewhere so that I can surf or check e-mail. There are lots of hotspots in Helsinki, but they seem to be mostly commercial, costing 15 euros per day or so, whereas I'd only need a few minutes or perhaps an hour, and paying 15 euros for that is excessively costly.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Debian: Diplomats or ombudsmen

I'm beginning to think that Debian has grown too large and too old. We try to go in too many directions at once. We have too many opinions of what is the right thing to do. We are too large for us to know and respect each other as persons rather than Debian making aliens, Some of us have been annoying or nagging or prodding or flaming each other for too many years and that history pops up every time there is friction.

Perhaps what Debian needs is a group of active diplomats or ombudsmen to handle conflicts between groups within the project. I've pretty much lost faith that the culture of aggression on Debian mailing lists will go away on itself.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Review: Romeo + Juliet

Tragic love stories can be as enchanting as romantic comedies, except they need to be told with supreme taste. Baz Luhrmann has such taste.

William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, directed by Luhrmann, tells the classic story using Shakespeare's words for the dialogue, but using a modern setting: a modern city with skyscrapers, cars, guns, and so on. This works quite well, although I did require subtitles so I could follow the story better, medieval poetic English not being familiar to me.

The film's story follows the play's completely, as far as I can tell. Romeo and Juliet is, of course, a classic, and therefore I haven't read it. The story is corny and unrealistic, yet it manages to move me. I may have trouble sleeping tonight.

Signs of Luhrmann's later masterpiece, Moulin Rouge, are already visible in this 1996 film. The irreverent combination of the ancient and the modern, the rock video like of photography, the brilliant use of music. Luhrmann's style is different from mainstream English language movies, and that is enough to make it refreshing. The superb execution is, however, what takes the movie to a masterly level.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Random thought: One droidy is three minutes

On the IRC channel where most of my friends hang out, there is one person, called Droidy, who is well known to be very quick at finding good information on the web. In many cases it is useful to compare the speed of various information finding methods, and thus I have proposed the following definition:

droidy = the average time it takes for Droidy to respond with the first useful URL

After careful measurements from IRC logs from the past year (helpfully provided by Zds), I have determined that one droidy is 3.0 minutes.

In the future we will be able to say things like "I can find that out, give me a couple of droidys". Very efficient communication.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Personal life: I was molested by a bookstore (again)

The Academic Bookstore in Helsinki is having a sale. Again. It seems that it is impossible for me to walk in downtown Helsinki and not be lured into the bookstore and spend huge amounts of money. I feel molested. If I hadn't used all my money on books, I'd hire a lawer and sue them for taking advantage of people without willpower.

Perhaps I should start a society for victims of bookstore molestation.

On a related note, Marylka, who recently moved from Finland to Japan, notes that properly filled bookshelves are important: they make an apartment look and feel like home. I couldn't agree more.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Debian: My GR 2004-004 vote

I have just sent in my vote for Debian's current General Resolution vote on "Sarge Release Schedule in view of GR 2004-003". On request from Antti-Juhani Kaijanaho, here's my vote and my reasons:

[ 2 ] Choice 1: Postpone changes until September 2004
[ 2 ] Choice 2: Postpone changes until Sarge releases
[ 2 ] Choice 3: Add apology to Social Contract
[ 4 ] Choice 4: Revert to old wording of SC
[ 2 ] Choice 5: "Transition Guide" foundation document
[ 1 ] Choice 6: Reaffirm the current SC
[ 3 ] Choice 7: Further discussion

I feel, fairly strongly, that compromising on the freedom in order to get sarge released is not a good thing. Even if it enranges everyone, I feel that it is better to do the right thing with regard to freedom and release sarge without the bits that we cannot call free according to our guidelines. Thus, #6 is my first choice.

However, I can live with postponing the move of the non-free bits to suitable places until after sarge has released, if most other developers think that is the way to go. By my reading of the ballot, and about three thousand messages on the -devel and -vote mailing lists the past couple of days, #1, #2, #3, and #5 achieve this in different ways. I don't have a preference between them, they're all good enough for me. Thus, they are all ranked as my second choice.

This leaves options #4 (undoing the previous General Resolution) and #7 (further discussion). I strongly feel that #4 is the wrong thing to do. I voted for the change the previous General Resolution made. Thus, I place #4 below "further discussion".

These choices are mine. I have tried to balance ideological purity and practicality. Other people will have chosen differently, of course. The discussions leading to and during this vote have formed a very hot flame war, and, have, I think, harmed the project more than they have helped. Hopefully, after this is over, we can soonish go back to work on Debian, even if we have disagreements. That is something Debian as a project needs to learn: how to cope with unresolvable disagreements between its participants.

I haven't done much for Debian myself in the past year or so. Mostly this has been due to being greatly overworked and stressed out. I am now on my vacation and I think I'm ready to start doing light hacking on my packages (of which I'm upstream as well), but I'm not able to promise any schedules.