Lars Wirzenius: August, 2006


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Debian Inquirer: A Royal Mess: Debian Fights Queen

Queen Elizabeth II and the Debian project threaten religious warfare!

D-Inq has today uncovered a conflict between the Debian Project and the queen of England and other places. The row is over the King James Version of the Bible.

"It's all mine! Mine! Mine!" the monarch told D-Inq in an exclusive interview. "Keep yer dirty fingers off it or I'll sick the SAS on you."

In the UK, the monarch owns the copyright for the KJV Bible, but the Debian project wishes to distribute it freely.

The SAS, UK's elite fighting force and the Queen's personal mob, is already gearing up. Instead of their usual arsenal of guns and bombs, they're opting to use a new kind of weapon, the DD Attitude Readjustment Tool, or DART.

The Debian Project is undaunted. "We've seen worse, this is a pedestrian transport in a big grassy place in comparison" says a Debian flame war veteran, Steve, 22, from Portland, Oregon. "The SAS is nothing compared to a vigorous discussion about firmware freeness. It's not even as bad as someone spoiling the next episode of B5."

Things might get more difficult, though. There are rumors that MI5 has already infiltrated Debian's discussion forums. Worried analysts imply that some of the recent, divisive developments within the project are the result of agent provocateurs.

"The new Python policy is one", says Lars W, an analyst who wishes to remain nameless. "No sensible person would have done things like that", he continues.

While both sides ramp up their fighting forces, local constabulary in many English towns has already started to confiscate and deport machines running Debian to Libya. Time will tell when they will return.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Random thought: Thoughts, random

These thoughts are somewhat more random than usual.

I have an urge to start a business. This is going to require reduction in my Debian commitments. To begin with, I'll unsubscribe from -devel and -project, and probably -vote. I hope I won't need to drop any packages. Who knows, not reading the might even re-motivate me on doing Debian stuff. I might even start taking the new Python policy seriously and disregard that it seems to make everyone stupid.

Tallinn, Estonia, is pretty. Or at least the Old Town is, I haven't visited anything else. The two Italian cats I met in Tallinn were very pretty, too.

Coming up with names for programs and companies is quite difficult at times. I want something that Google can easily find; I don't want to repeat the SeX mistake again.

My photography hobby is rather dormant. It's so dormant, I can't even justify buying a new camera. This doesn't motivate me to work on Lodju, my photo organizer, unfortunately. It'd be cool to find someone who would really like to work on it. There's a few basic decisions I've made that prevent me from jumping on the F-Spot bandwagon.

It's raining. It's finally raining. This summer is finally complete. Just in time for autumn.

"Getting Things Done" might actually work for me. It feels weird, though, to seriously read self-help books where the author keeps reminding the reader on every second page about his twenty years of management consulting experience. If it had been a web page, I'd have closed the tab.

I need to seriously think about having more fun. All work and no play makes liw a raving, raging, violent lunatic.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Random thought: Save Caps Lock!

I like the Caps Lock key. My fingers automatically turn it on whenever I need to type more than three consecutive upper case characters. For example, when I type C code, and need to define a new FILE variable, hey, there was Caps Lock. Or a NULL constant. Or, heck, EWOULDBLOCK.

I touch type. I spent a lot of time and energy in the 80s to learn to touch type. Using Caps Lock is fully automatic, to me, and it is quite a helpful key.

(This log entry is part of the "Save Caps Lock" campaign brought to you by the International Society of Caps Lock Fanciers. No upper case characters were hurt in the production of this entry.)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Debian Inquirer: List silence causes concern about evil Cabal plot

The Debian developers may have been pacified!

This is the startling conclusion of our resident traffic analyst, Lars W. The main Debian discussion forums have been almost completely silent for several days already.

The debian-devel mailing list has only had a handful of posts the past few days. The #debian-devel IRC channel is either silent, or has people asking if the list server is down.

Speculation for the uncharacteristic silence runs rampant. The current most likely theory is about a secret experiment by The Cabal to treat all Debian contributors Clockwork Orange style and are now unable to express their true feelings.

When asked to comment, the Debian Project Leader had this to say: "I have no comment to muck raking guttersnipes like yourself, show some respect for people trying to improve the world!"

The other main theory is that almost all contributors have finally gotten a life and are on vacation. Experts agree that this is not a likely scenario.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Random thought: TDD doesn't eliminate debugging

Martin, I know about TDD, thanks. It is great for preventing all the kinds of bugs you expect to make (or make again), and can write test cases for. Been using it for years. It's part of what I meant when I said "every now and then a bug slips through, and then I'm screwed". It doesn't, however, help, when something really unexpected happens.

For example, who would have expected beforehand to write a test case for the Pentium floating point bug? Not just a test case of whether floating point arithmetic works at all, but a test case specifically for the small number of special cases in which the original Pentium failed.

It's for the unexpected cases where you really need your debugging skills. That's what the book is good for.

Debian Inquirer: Etch release delayed by one year

The release of Etch, the next full release of Debian, will be delayed by a year. Sources close to the release managers revealed the change in the release plan to the D-Inq. before it is announced publically.

The source, who calls himself (or is it herself? we're not telling) with the covert nickname "twin", told the D-Inq: "I'm, like, close to the are ems, y'know. I, like, live in Europe and listen to ABBA. Andreas calls himself ABBA on IRC, see."

The reason for the delay: the co-incidental occurence of two mystical omens. First, this year is Debian's thirteenth year, and thirteen is always a bad omen. Says twin: "It's, like, bad luck and all."

Second, the number of release critical bugs is now 666. "That's, like, the number of yeast, or something", reveals our source.

Apparantely the release managers could have dealt with either omen alone, but not with both of them at the same time.

Once again, D-Inq. has the scoop! And we verify the reliablity of our sources!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Review: Debugging by David J. Agans

I hate debugging. I strongly prefer writing code that works to finding problems in code later. Because I hate it, I've never been good at it. I've never spent the effort to figure out a good, systematic way to find a bug. Instead, I've developed ways of avoiding them. In the long run, this isn't the smartest strategy: every now and then a bug slips through, and then I'm screwed. Worse, sometimes I need to debug other people's code.

David J. Agans's book Debugging is a gem. It crystallizes an approach to debugging that feels very good to me. In summary:

None of these should come as a surprise to anyone experienced in programming, of course, but I've never seen them presented together, or so well. Agans's genius is not that he's come up with a new debugging method, but in presenting the obvious aspects of the debugging process in a clear, logical manner. Also, he has funny war stories.

The book is written in a fairly chatty manner, with many jokes. The style, or the jokes, don't get in the way, and they may help remember particular points better.

It's a fairly short book, at about 170 pages. I like that: I dislike the modern tendency of making computer books so thick and heavy that future civilizations will assume we used them for bricks.

It's only been a few days since I read the book. It's already made me a better programmer. Highly recommended.

Debian: Installation videos

In the "for those with free time looking for ways to spend it" department...

I think it would be cool if someone were to prepare a short video of how an etch installation happens, in time for the release. Should be easy enough for someone who understands how videos are made (I don't).

Another, related idea I've had is a video showing how Debian installation has developed over the years. Take the oldest Debian CD you can find, install it, and repeat for every newer release.

Random thought: Seminar: Linux 15 years

There's going to be a small seminar on September 4 at the University of Helsinki CS department to celebrate Linux's 15th birthday. See the official page for more information; in Finnish only, I'm afraid. I'll be talking about the early days.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Random thought: Quick! Press 3, click mouse button, press A, press 4, keep mouse button pressed...

I am in a murderous mood. Every time I see movement, my right index finger twitches. My head keeps jerking left, right, up, down. My ankle hurts because I almost twisted it, turning suddenly around when I heard a noise from outside.

Today, instead of doing a bit of work that I left undone on Friday, and going to the gym, and making a nice meal, I ate leftovers and played Quake 2. Finished it, in fact. I probably died a hundred times, but eventually I got the bastard. Now I'm frustrated.

I don't actually feel anything from the first paragraph. My ankle got hurt because I was trying to catch a bottle that fell off the table. However, I do feel frustrated.

As I told before, some time ago I started looking at modern computer games, or rather, modern first person shooters, in single-player mode. I had a friend demo me a representative selection, and then got myself an authentic copy of Quake 2. I've now finished it, and I'm not entirely happy about the experience.

The actual playing was OK while it lasted. The game is highly playable, the controls are easy, they quickly feel natural, and the game reacts to them very well. The only thing I never really got the hang of was jumping, but that was rarely necessary. The place with the three stones sliding around in water was quite annoying.

Playing Quake 2 consists mainly of two things: shooting everything that moves, and solving small puzzles. The puzzles are mostly of the kind where you need to run around in buildings and twisty little corridors, all alike, and find a button to press. Not highly challenging, but if you miss one, you may have to run around the place an extra time or two, and that takes time, and gets quite boring.

The shooting was also a bit of a puzzle, at times, since in order to not get shot yourself, you can't just stand in one place. In the ideal case, you can figure out a way to deal with the opponents from a safe place, throwing grenades around a corner or something like that.

Mostly, though, you just shoot.

Aim and click. Aim and click. Move about a bit. Aim and click. Aim and click. Move about. Aim and click. Continue until the thing blows up.

The computerized opponents do get smarter, and a bit harder to kill, as the game progresses. The final big bad guy is really hard to kill, took me a dozen attempts. That turned out to be surprisingly unsatisfying.

There is a storyline in the game, but it was pretty much irrelevant. There are several stages, and at each stage you need to do certain tasks, and as a result, you can go to the next task, or the next stage. All the tasks are "shoot everything" and "press a few buttons in the right order". Oh, sometimes you have to collect some items, too, and take them to places.

Now that I've finished the game, I wonder if it was all worth it. I spent quite a number of hours on the game, and what I mainly got out of it was some adrenaline boosts, and those weren't enjoyable. They're addictive, even highly so, and every time I had to stop playing (to do work, or sleep), it required a lot of willpower. I wanted to continue, even if it wasn't fun. I hate being addicted.

I can't deny having had a bit of fun. The feeling of being able to do things, to run tirelessly for hours, to overcome obstacles, to vanquish my foe, all that is fun, and gives a certain satisfaction.

That satisfaction is feeble and fleeting. As soon as I re-focus my eyes, get up from the couch, and look outside, I realize that it was all for nothing. I haven't really accomplished anything.

I'm a hacker. My life revolves around doing things with my brain, and having them affect the real world. I make software that other people use, and their lives get better, even if only a little. Every time I fix a bug in Debian, I improve the world. Heck, even just finding a new bug from piuparts log files gives me a nice, warm feeling in my stomach.

I realize people don't play games to improve the world, and that's all right. I don't watch movies or read fiction to improve the world, myself. Computer games are a form of entertainment, and as long as they're fun, and you're enjoying yourself, they're fine. If playing makes you happy, be happy, and I'll be happy for you. I am not judging you in any way, I'm expressing my own feelings.

I can't seem to get enjoyment from computer games, or at least I didn't get it from Quake 2. I got an adrenaline addiction, and a high frustration level. I do get distraction, something to take my mind off things, but I can get that from, say, romantic comedies, without any side effects.

Thus I conclude that I am better off not playing first person shooter games. I suspect that no computer game is going to be particularly good for me.

For many years now, I've played a bit of tetris, or Mahjongg, or a solitaire card game, when I wanted a bit of distraction. Those never were satisfying, either. While I did get distracted, somewhat, for a while, they didn't really work for that, either. Watching Lord Arthur and Miss Mabel get each other works much better. If I solve solitaire, nothing has changed; if I watch An Ideal Husband the nth time, at least I've felt something beautiful.

A surrogate emotion is better than an adrenaline addiction.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Debian Inquirer: BTS almost out of bug numbers, sources reveal

Debian development expected to halt!

In a shocking revelation our reporter exposes a conspiracy to cover up the biggest risk to Debian development, ever!

#debian-devel, the secret hangout of Debian movers and shakers, today casually discussed the possibility of the Debian bug tracking system running out of new bug numbers. This was the first hint of the impeding doom.

When word leaked to our investigative reporter, he quickly dug into the case. Despite public protestations and secret threats, the truth was soon outed!

Debian users will soon be unable to report new bugs. The bug tracking system uses a limited, fixed size integer for doing calculations on bug numbers, and the project is soon reaching its limits.

With no new bugs to fix, Debian development can't continue.

"We're already at six digits, there's only three more to go", says Lars Wirzenius, the Inquirer's resident technological expert.

One wonders where the official annoucement is. Once again the Debian Inquirer delivers the scoop!

Debian Inquirer: First post!

Welcome to the Debian Inquirer!

This is the inaugural issue of the new, independent news outlet for Debian people. We are so independent that we don't even have a *.debian.* URL! We're here to give you the low-down of Debian's powers that be, to reveal scandals, to expose coverups, to boldly publish what no-one has dared publish before!

All with the best possible taste, of course. We're no sleazebags.

We're also not corporate shills, stiff-necked, stiff-upper-lipped boring spin doctors like some other Debian news sites we could mention, but won't, since we were brought up properly.

Starting now, you can come back here for your dose of real, uncensored Debian news.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Debian: LowThresholdNmu at 102

The LowThresholdNmu wiki page is now up to 102 people. It's been mentioned a few times on debian-devel lately, which probably explains the sudden quick growth rate. It was dormant for a long time before that.

LowThresholdNmu is about keeping a list of maintainers who don't mind ifyou make a non-maintainer upload immediately, without the two weeks of minimal delay mandated by the Debian Developer's Reference.