Living Life and Writing About It

Life and Stories

Yikes, I’ve let too much time slip past since my last entry again! Seems like when I’m doing things worth writing about I get too busy to write. And when I have time to write it’s because I’m not out doing anything worth writing about. Didn’t Sartre say something along those lines? (one quick Google search later):

For the most trivial event to become an adventure, all you have to do is start telling about it. This is what deceives people: a man is always a teller of stories, he lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others, he sees everything which happens to him through these stories; and he tries to live his life as if it were a story he was telling. But you have to choose: live or tell…While you live, nothing happens…but when you tell about life, everything changes.
–Jean-Paul Sartre ,Nausea, 1938

That about sums it up. When I’m busy living, there’s nothing new here on my home page. One has to wonder what Sartre would have thought of weblogs.


Having spent some time hacking on mod_virgule, I’d have to agree with Raph’s comment about scalability issues. I don’t see any reason the trust metric algorithms themselves couldn’t be scaled up to a site the size of Slashdot if needed. Any slowness on Advogato is just due to file I/O from the particular XML setup. And now that mod_virgule is seeing active development again, I’m sure any performance issues with the XML will be addressed before long.


I’ve been spending the weekends lately playing with some new lenses I picked up on eBay. After a bit of practice, I’ve managed to get some decent shots of a variety of birds. One of these days I’m going to get around to putting some photo galleries up here on my web site. My latest toys are a set of extension tubes for macrophotography. With spring on the way, I’ll probably be out trying to get some interesting shots of insects and the like. Getting the extension tubes proved to be my one bad experience in more than a year of buying and selling on eBay. I was a little hesitant to bid at first due to some negative comments the seller had (speaking of trust metrics – eBay badly needs a real trust metric system!). Anyway, I bid and won the tubes, sent a check (which was immediately deposited), and then heard nothing for weeks. I emailed the guy to find out what the hold up was and got an email saying the item had “just been shipped priority mail”. After another week I started getting various random excuse ranging from family problems to lost passwords. Eventually, he stopped replying to my email altogether. Then the guy’s eBay account was mysteriously closed. I contacted some other people who had bought stuff from him and discovered they too had paid but not received anything.

At this point I contacted eBay and they recommended filing a mail fraud complaint. They also provided the phone number the seller had given for his eBay account. I called the number only to find it belonged to a relative of the seller. They gave me another number and told me in somewhat more colorful language that they had nothing to do with the guy and didn’t think very highly of him. So I called the number they gave me, talked to someone who claimed to be the daughter of the seller, and was promised that I would be contacted shortly. I explained that this was my last effort and that if nothing happened, I would probably follow eBay’s recommendation of pursuing a fraud complaint. Four days later a package arrived with my extension tubes. In the future I’ll probably follow my instinct more closely and hopefully avoid sellers like this one.

A Mammal Returns to the C

The last couple of days I’ve been working intently on some C code. This is a nice change from meetings and the other stuff I’ve been doing lately. It’s also an interesting change from Perl which I’ve been doing so much of in the last few months. After writing so much Perl code, C is almost like returning to assembly language.

I vaguely remember reading on Advogato recently that someone had a mod_virgule patch that renders <proj> tags. If anyone remembers who did it or has a copy of the patch, maybe they could email it to me? (thanks, I’ve received both the <proj> and <project> patches now!)

Crazy Connector Revealed

I finally got my cable assembly for the Kyocera LCD panel working. I was a little worried that it wouldn’t work at all – I’m no expert when it comes to the use of a soldering iron and there are 27mhz signals going through my completely unshielded mess of wiring and a cheap perf-board. But it actually does work! I was so impressed I got Randy to snap a few pictures of it. If you’re bored, have a look:

Above are twol pics of the perf-board that connects the two ribbon cables. The blue 50 pin cable goes to a mezzanine LCD controller in the Ziatech box. The grey 31 pin cable goes to the Kyocera LCD panel. The little black pot at the center of the perf-board adjusts the LCD contrast.

Above is the whole setup. The Black box is the Ziatech STD100 unit, the tiny green board on far right is an inverter that provides 1200vac for the LCD backlight, and that little board to the left of the LCD panel is the touch-screen controller.

The whole setup from a different angle. To give you an idea of the scale, the LCD panel is 7.2″ diagonal.

And that’s me messing with the hardware.

Turtles, Perl Monks, and Fidonet

Susan and I spent the afternoon at Fair Park the other day and shot a lot of photos of turtles. Susan got creative and scanned one of the pictures and wrote a short essay about turtles.

Someone on Advogato mentioned a new Perl site called Perl Monks. They have a much more elaborate trust/skill metric system than Advogato. I’m an Initiate (everyone starts out at this level and gains points through peer recognition over time). There are ten levels with amusing titles like acolyte, friar, pontiff, and eventually saint.

I got several replies from other old fidonet folks after my last news item, so there do appear to be others out there who remember the good ol’ days.

I ran across an interesting news story on Yahoo. Seems some French scientists have successfully used gene therapy to restore normal functioning of the immune system in two boys suffering from SCID (the disorder forces them to live in a sealed environment because they have no resistance to infection). The doctors made the gene modification by extracting bone marrow, inserting the missing genes, and then replacing the bone marrow in the body. Pretty cool.

Three Reptiles and a Gato

The weather has improved a bit here in TX. Now that the spring rains seem to have stopped, Susan and I have been able to resume our habitual late-night walks. The neighborhood wildlife count for last nights walk: three reptiles. A sleeping green anole in a tree, a mediterranean gecko out for a nocturnal snack, and a small rough earth snake that had been lying on the sidewalk to catch the last of the evening heat and must have gone to sleep. We woke it up and it slithered away into the grass.

Meanwhile, online, Advogato was host to a lengthy debate that started out being about what sort of community certification metrics were best and ended up being a flame war about politically correct labels for the certification levels. I posted my two cents on the certiciation issue. The end result? It looks like Advogato will stick with the existing certification system for now. And I got two more certifications – one Journeyor and one apprentice – apparently from people who read my article. Duff, one of the users who gave me a cert posted his reasons in his diary. This was kind of cool as it’s the first time I’ve actually known what motivated someone to certify me. (thanks duff!). My own certification system is that I only give certifications to people I know well (there aren’t any on advogato yet), people who have a well known reputation (like alan or miquel), and people who certify me, if there is enough information on their advogato page to make an educated guess at their level (like flaggz or kelly).

I noticed that ALSA 0.5.7 is out today. This should have the MIDI patches as well as a few other bug fixes. It will probably be late next week before I get a chance to try it out.

Loaner Cars and Vorbis

I got my car back from the service center today – along with the repair bill. :-(

Oh well, at least it’s nice to be driving a standard again. The only loaner cars they had were automatics which I find downright frightening to drive. They’re always shifting up and down when you don’t want them to and when you really want them to downshift, say to avoid getting smashed by a big truck as you get on the highway, all you can do is stomp on the gas and hope the lousy automatic transmission feels like down shifting. And sometimes on the highway, you’ll accelerate a little during a lane change and for no apparent reason the transmission kicks into first or second gear and slams you against the seat like it wants to beat the Millennium Falcon’s record at the Kessel run. I couldn’t deal with that much lack of control for long with going nuts.

There’s a great interview with Christopher Montgomery on Advogato today. (if you’re reading the syndicated version of my diary on Advogato rather than the original, you’ve probably already seen it, of course). Christopher is working on a GNU licensed audio codec that will be completely unencumbered by patents and other IP problems. It’s called vorbis. I find this good news to be somewhat amusing because I’ve read countless posts on Slashdot from people claiming video and audio codec projects were too complicated to be created as free software – that only large corporations with money for R & D and patent lawyers could tackle projects of that scale.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my many years of programing it’s that nothing is really as hard as it seems. Not knowing how to do a thing makes it seem hard and knowing how makes it seem easy. I’ve found it’s helpful to start each new project with the assumption that no matter how hard it seems, if you just knew how to do it, it would be really easy. And like they say, it’s not what you know, it’s how fast you can find out.