Category Archives: Livejournal Imports

Imports from livejournal

Rumours of my death are (largely) unfounded

The rumours of my death are largely unfounded.  I’ve just been either busy working or trying to relax while not on a computer since this is as much of a “break” as I get.

I have, though, done various updates to twitter and identi.ca if you have some obsessive need to know what I’ve been doing.  It hasn’t been that exciting, though.  Basically boils down to the following relatively short list

  • Went cross-country skiing a couple of times.  With the very wintry weather we’ve had thus far this winter, it’s been something good to be able to get outside and do as it hasn’t exactly been ideal biking weather
  • FUDCon F11 was held in Cambridge at MIT.  Since it was in E51 and I knew where things were, I spent a fair bit of time running around.  I had some good conversations, but didn’t give any presentations and didn’t really get any hacking done with the hackfest
  • The SDM 09s have started and I helped some with their first design challenge.  Was fun to watch and they seem a good bunch
  • Have been trying to read a fair bit and so made good progress on my book backlog.  Still hoping to finish that before classes start back up
  • Some poking and prodding in the hopes of getting Fedora 11 alpha out the door in a semi-decent shape
  • More work on the new initramfs tooling, although it’s making slower progress than I’d really like
  • Getting extra sleep

Winter cycling, NC cycling and a year-end wrap-up

Some people think that the winter is a significant off-season for cyclists especially in New England with the snow and cold. But that's about as far from the truth as you can get as it's important to keep up aerobic fitness during the winter in preparation for the hard efforts of spring and summer. I try to get outside as frequently as I can but this winter I'm forcing myself to get on the trainer sometimes as well if the weather is really bad out (like, for example, today when we're getting like eight inches of snow).

In those cases, I'm realizing that NetFlix is a very good thing and especially the instant watch functionality coupled with a TiVo. Some movies are better than others for riding to and I don't yet have it down to a science. But action movies seem pretty good generally – today's selection was The Fugitive which was a pretty good choice.

Another thing that's helpful is going somewhere warmer for a week. We spent last week at my parents' house in western NC and I took my bike along. Unfortunately there weren't enough great weather days but there were one or two. And I noticed a few things while there and riding

  • While maybe not significantly more vertical gain on a given ride, you are more often going up or down as there is signicosmtlu less flat present
  • Everything is further apart distance wise even if car place to place times aren't significantly different than around here.
  • A dog chasing you can make you ride very fast :)
  • My base training plan seems to at least be somewhat working. I went out with the A group of hickory velo club on Saturday and had no problems keeping ip through the hills and fast straights even though I haven't ridden hard or fast in two months now
  • Defeet is based in western NC and I rode with the founders of the company; very nice and cool people. Shane – thanks for letting me suck your wheel much of the ride :)
  • Not many cyclists on the roads in Hickory but cars give a much wider berth; they fully go into the other lane instead of eying to see how little space they can give you

As far as overall cycling for the year, I didn't do nearly as good of a job of tracking as I did last year and I also had some frustration with my Garmin Edge 305 dying until I found the trick to stop it from doing so, but it looks like I did about 2500 miles on my Redline 9-2-5 and 3500 or so miles on my Merlin. Given how busy the year was, getting 6000 miles is a pretty big accomplishment in my view.

Anyway that's what I've got for today. I'm off until next Monday and then back to work and also going to be helping out with the initiation rites for the SDM 09s :). Classes don't start back until the first of February although I'm going to do a couple of IAP offerings I think. And I still owe a fall semester wrap up post soon. But for now, Happy New Years and if you make resolutions, best of luck with them.

Holiday relaxation

Given just how busy my year has been, I decided that I'd make a very real effort over the holidays to take it easy and relax.  While most of Red Hat is on vacation for a little over a week, I took a couple of extra days to make a solid two weeks. 

For the first part, Kara and I headed down to my parents' for Christmas.  Since flight prices were out of control when we started looking, we decided that we were going to drive down (… flight prices eventually reached more reasonable levels).  This came with a few advantages — one, we can go places in Hickory and two, I could bring my bike without paying exorbitant fees :-)   So on Monday morning, we dug out from the weekend's snow storm and got on the road.  We planned to head west across New York and then get on I-81 to get a somewhat prettier drive and avoid some of the worst traffic.  Unfortunately, the directions we got from google left out an important point for where two roads diverged leading us to go a fair bit out of our way.  We got back on track, though, and then, just outside of Scranton, PA, we got to drive through an unexpected ice or sleet storm and see a couple of cars off the side of the road.  After most of the day on the road, not what you really want to see.  But we kept onwards and stopped for the night after finally reaching Virginia.  Tuesday, we woke up early and hit the road to make it to my parents' house by about lunch time. 

Since we got here, it's been a pretty straight-forward and relaxed time.  We've eaten a lot, I've gotten out for a bike ride each day, we've played some board games, and we've read a bit.  I really have little room at all to complain.  We also got a visit from the incomparable
 today and are catching up with more people the rest of our time here.  Hopefully I'll also continue to get out for some more nice rides.  If the weather could be like today (sunny, low 60s), I would have no complaints at all :-)

Then, once we get back home, it's going to be more relaxing although also trying to do some things around the house like cleaning out some of the cruft that has accumulated in the basement, etc.  And I'll probably eventually get to catching up with my email, although right now, I'm happily ignoring anything that's not directly to me.  And even that is only being looked at infrequently. 

And now, I think I'm going to read a little bit more and then head to bed.

dracut — Cross distribution initramfs infrastructure

As davej was alluding to, we've started trying to make progress on a new initramfs infrastructure that can be used across distributions instead of just being done for a single distribution. Thus far, the code is fairly early and proof-of-concept-y, but I can successfully boot root partitions, root on LVM or root on encrypted LVM. The next step is to clean up the build side so that I can switch to using it with my laptop. I wanted to go ahead and get the code out first, though.

The majority of the ideas behind the code are that we want to use the same tools and utilities that exist on the booted system (so regular bash, regular udev, no nash, no statically linked nonsense, no klibc) and also that we want to not have the initramfs as a slow-down. The latter means that we run pretty much everything off of udev rules right now so that as soon as the devices are available, we mount and switch into the rootfs.

So go ahead 'git clone git://fedorapeople.org/~katzj/dracut.git' and read the README, HACKING and TODO files. Also sent to lkml to get the mailing list started. More hands more than welcome…

Semester nearly over

At this point, the semester is almost entirely over. While I still have one day of each class left, pretty much every assignment is done and turned in. Only have to finish up the principles assignment for System Architecture and that's mostly a matter of sitting down and throwing some together from the notes that I've got from the semester.

Overall, it's been a good semester. The workload ended up being a bit higher than I expected, but it was probably what I should have thought. I knew that System Architecture was going to be time-consuming, but it was still more so than I thought. Similarly, Project Management ended up requiring more time both for the homeworks and the project than I really expected from the outset.

Those along with working to get all of the Fedora 10 bits working on the OLPC meant that it was just a very busy semester. But, now it's actually the time when I get nearly two monhs to relax and “just” work. Well, and I also am hoping to try to get some progress underway for my thesis so that I don't have to do it all while juggling classes also. It should still be a good sort of break, though. And then, it's on to the spring semester. Which I still need to figure out what I'm going to take — suggestions welcome :-)

How much can be packed into a weekend?

Busy, busy weekend. One thing which helped to make it more doable is that I finally started feeling better on Thursday of this week. Two weeks is the longest I haven't felt while in a long time. I still have a little bit of a cough, but I'm no longer feeling run down and the cough is far less bad. But getting back to the weekend…

Friday was spent with quite a bit of work being done for school (although Fedora 10 was done, so not much there). Last opportunity set for system architecture is due on Wednesday, so we tried to make some headway on that. Then, I headed home and worked for a while longer. Eventually, Kara and I headed to dinner and then it was a pretty slow evening.

Yesterday morning, woke up to a very cold morning — was just over 20° F and windy. I bundled up and headed down to go out on the Quad ride. It was a cold morning, but there was still a healthy number of people all things considered. Most turned around from Concord Center, but I had one person to continue on with me to get in a good 3 hours of base miles. With the new gloves (Pearl Izumi amphibs), I was able to keep warm except for my toes.

After the ride, came home, grabbed some lunch and then got some work done. Then, headed to poker night with some SDM folks. I had a great time and it was good to see everyone who made it out. Need to be sure that we also arrange some sort of end of semester thing, perhaps for after the last System Architecture class in a couple of weeks. I suspect even more people can be convinced to go for that once there's not a lot of work waiting to be done. Kara and I headed out from there a bit early to meet up with some friends of ours for a bit. Finally headed home about midnight and crashed.

This morning, woke up again to the cold and went out for another healthy set of base miles. Only about ten people, although more continued on for more than 20 miles. Got in about 3 hours again and still only had problems with my feet. After the ride, headed down to MIT for some time in the MIT wind tunnel — one of the perks of being on the MIT team is that we get to have a little bit of time in the wind tunnel to see the impacts of position, etc. It was a pretty cool experience and we made some slight tweaks to my position to improve aerodynamics.

Now trying to catch up on some things to get a head start on the short week beginning tomorrow. Into the final stretch of the semester for real now. And then, I'm halfway done with SDM. Hard to believe — time flies when you're having fun.

The end of the semester comes early it seems

For some reason, the end of this semester seems to be coming early this time around. Although the end of classes isn't until the middle of December, it seems that pretty much everything is due before Thanksgiving. Which, coupled with trying to get Fedora 10 out the door is going to make the next few weeks a pile of pain.

So if the updates from me seem sparse, that's why. And then of course, to make things even more fun, I came down with something the end of last week which I haven't quite managed to completely shake. Although at this point, it might just be my usual congestion for this time of year.

Party like it’s 1999

I'm somewhat excited about the new gnome-shell stuff that has been blogged about a few times by various people since the GNOME summit a few weeks ago. And so when Owen posted that there was some initial code available, I had to check it out, even if it was pretty retro GNOME 0.9 at the moment. There was, though, one important piece missing…

Wanda!
Wanda!
(Click the link for the movie)

Not what I intended to work on today. But it was fun and gave me a chance to try out writing a tiny bit of code using both Javascript and Clutter, neither of which I'd used before. The takeaway is that it's really simple to do simple things with what is being worked on. Still not sure about anything more complicated at this point

Working around graphical glitches on the XO

Thanks to a pointer from warren, I've just pushed a workaround to the spins-kickstart repo to help some of the graphical glitches that have been seen on on the OLPC. This includes the blacked out buttons and also the cut-off text. Unfortunately, this probably won't make the Fedora 10 Preview release next week, although it will be in the final release. If you'd like to test it yourself, you can edit /etc/X11/xorg.conf and add a line

Option “MigrationHeuristic” “greedy”

below the EXA line.

Systems Thinking Conference

At the end of last week was the SDM Systems Thinking Conference, the new incarnation of what used to be the SDM alumni conference. As with last year's version, a number of alumni were present but there was also a wider range of people present. And comparing to one day of last year's conference, this year's definitely seemed better.

While most of the talks were generally good, there were a few that really stuck out.

Peter Senge's talk on how sustainability can improve profitability got things off to a really good start. He started out with a bit of an overview of his views on organizational learning, one of which is around understanding complexity. His major premise for the talk was that a lack of the systems thinking needed to understand complexity is the fundamental cause of basically all sustainability problems. A couple of things that he said really jumped out at me. One of the biggest was when he asked what the purpose of a business was — most of the audience responded with “make money” or “profit”. But the thing is that profit isn't the purpose of the business… “profit for a company is like oxygen for a person; yes, you need it but you don't exist to breathe”. A second thing that really resonated was that to really improve sustainability, you need to make the shift from trying to be “less bad” to thinking about being “really good”. And it's really true in many/most areas (see Arjan's discussion of five-second Linux boot for a similar case)

He also had a number of cases illustrating his ideas which were pretty compelling. And he also used system dynamics a few times to make his point which was a nice touch :)

Oli de Weck teaches the System Project Management course but his talk on applying Darwinian principles to System Design ended up being an interesting and somewhat divergent talk from the areas we discuss in class. The most important take-away is that changeability is something which, while considered, is not considered enough when designing a system. Per the quote from Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is more adaptable to change”. And when you start looking into it, this is just as true with systems as is it is with the evolution of species. Thus, there are changes need from some of the more “traditional” systems engineering which presumes that all of these sorts of things are set in stone. Instead, he proposes something called strategic engineering to help deal with the uncertainty which is actually present for most projects. This lets you pick along the axes of robustness and rigidity to help get better outcomes.

The final speaker on the second day of the conference was Dharmesh Shah speaking on applying agile software techniques to startups. The material being presented was good. But even better was the actual presentation of the material. Dharmesh clearly has a lot of passion for what he was talking about and he manages to pull off the blend of humor and information very well. Also, even though he had slides, I was glad that his slides were very sparse and very much not the bulk of the talk.

The other talks were pretty interesting too. There was a talk from Paul Murray at Herman Miller (yes, the Aeron people) about how they've made it a goal to reduce their environmental impact and what they've done and what impacts that has had. Valerie Casey from IDEO also spoke on sustainability and was giving an overview of the Designer's Accord is looking to accomplish. There was a talk that was better than I expected about how eClinicalWorks has managed to get a significant penetration into physician offices with their software by using very non-traditional methods for selling software. And there was a talk from a Microsoft guy about their Software+Services pitch, but this was very abstract and without any real details other than the impression that Microsoft is going to be very seriously going after the Cloud.

All in all, quite good. Plus, there was free food (always a plus) and a lot of cool people to hang around and talk with.