Incoherence

June 14th, 2005 § Comments Off on Incoherence § permalink

I still can’t understand why the guy who sold me my current computer put a two-dollar mouse on a machine that was worthy almost six hundred times than when I bought it.

Numbers

June 13th, 2005 § 3 comments § permalink

Once it was a square; then it became simply a multiple. Now, it’s a cube; soon it will be perfect.

Superman, Superman…

June 12th, 2005 § Comments Off on Superman, Superman… § permalink

Recently I bought a Superman DVD collection, which was being offered for a good price in a Brazilian online store. I never read many of the comics — I’m more and more sure I don’t like comics at all — but I always liked the movies. Excepting the fourth, of course, which is utter garbage.

Even featuring such old and pitiful special effects, with plots that would shame any writer today, I still like the movies. Maybe because I first watched them when I was very young and loved the whole concept. Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor is quite nice, by the way.

It had been so long since I had last seen the movies that I didn’t remember much of them. Except for some key scenes whose details still lingered in my mind, and the basic story of each movie, I had forgot most of the dialog and plot development. I didn’t even remember that Marlon “oh, the horror, the horror” Brando appeared so much in the first movie. Also, nothing about the “I came to uphold justice, order, and the American way of live” line.

It’s funny to think today about the values endorsed by the movie. I was reminded of the lines spoken by Bill in Kill Bill: Volume 2 about Superman and Clark Kent. When Bill is talking to Kiddo about the superhero mythology, he says the Clark Kent is how Superman sees us: weak, unsure of ourselves, cowards. His words contrast vividly with one of the few Superman comics I ever read, “Peace on Earth”, in which the Man of Steel tries to easy famine on Earth for one day, Christmas day, and fails miserably, not only because of mankind’s greed and arrogance, but also because of his own limitations. Interesting visions of the same character.

I won’t risk myself by going deeper into this subject, and that’s not the point of this entry anyway. After Niven’s Men of Steel, Woman of Kleenex essay, I confess I never saw the Kryptonian in the same light again.

So I should not have been surprised when the following dialog took place when we were watching the movie:

“This is a 1978 movie, isn’t it? Look at Lois Lane’s dress. Decent, cute, a family thing, huh?”

“I guess so.”

“So, what’s is that about the protuberance you can see on Superman’s red undies all the time?”

“…”

“And what was that about the pink color? Also, Lois Lane isn’t the only subject on which Superman is using his X-ray vision, don’t you think?”

“…”

“And he’s a bit of a sadist too. I mean, who would drop his lover from such heights just for the sake of scaring her but a sadist? He was smiling when he did that!”

“I’ll pass commenting on that…”

Mobility

June 10th, 2005 § Comments Off on Mobility § permalink

As my (nano-)company grows, so do my needs for data mobility. I often need to manage my server, read and send e-mails, and fix problems in pages and Web applications when I’m away from my office or from my home.

Since I’m not yet read to buy a notebook (various reasons for that including price, size, security and transportation), I opted for a smaller solution: a handheld and an Internet-enabled cell phone.

Since I already owned a Tungsten E, which doesn’t include Bluetooth, I had to choose a cell phone with IrDA support to be able to connect the Palm to the Internet through it when I’m on the road. I first thought about buying a Siemens CX65, which looked nice, but ended buying a Nokia 6600, which I found for an excellent price.

The 6600 is much better than the CX65, of course. Since it’s a smartphone, running Symbian, it’s able to do many of the things my Palm does. But I found redundancy is interesting when I’m not willing to carry both devices to a given place. Also, some applications work better in the Palm while others are better in the 6600. For example, PuTTY, my favorite SSH client, is available for the 6600 but not for the Palm.

(By the way, nothing as cool as getting phoned by a client, logging into the server via the cell phone itself while you’re talking to him, solving his problem, and notifying him of the solution immediately. All that while you are in route to a meeting.)

The result of this combination, surprisingly, is a good mix of flexibility and mobility. The devices are small, and easy to carry. Although they use enough power to require daily recharges (both use memory cards, which seem to drain colossal amounts of power), I had never had a problem with one of they dying on me in the midst of the day.

The biggest problem with such portable devices, in my opinion, is that inputting text quickly is still hard. It’s the only way in which the reduced size of the devices is a hindrance, rather than a blessing.

In the cell phone, you are limited to the predictive input system available to it. Nokia’s T9 is good (not as good as Motorola’s I-TAP, though) and as the 6600 runs a real OS, copying, pasting, and general editing is relatively easy. The 6600 is also bigger than a normal cell phone which allows me to use both hands to input data. But there’s always the occasional problem with applications that don’t follow the system’s conventions and switching between two languages, as I often do, it’s still a pain.

On the Palm side, handwriting recognition is the best option, and, with a little practice, you can write as fast as you would do when writing with pen and paper. But when you need to edit bigger documents, handwriting is not fast enough. I’m now thinking about buying a foldable keyboard for the Palm, although that will mean I’ll need to carry yet another device.

With both the Palm and the 6600, I can do almost everything I can do in the office: send and receive e-mails, browse (internet-banking, news, RSS, etc), edit documents (text documents, spreadsheets, and presentations), keep a to-do list and a calendar, remotely access my server, read e-books, do instant messaging, control my finances, and so on. I can even use the Palm as a multimedia and platform, listening to music and audio books, and watching videos.

Unfortunately, GPRS connection speeds are still very slow—less than 56kpbs most the time—and the price is still a bit high. As far as I know, none of the cell phone companies in my city offers an unlimited access plan.

But the market is clearly evolving, and this kind of combination is becoming very common from what I’m seeing here.

A couple weeks ago, I listened to an ad by a cell phone company offering a service that listens to a song through your cell phone, and returns a text message identifying the song. A couple years ago, I heard that was being offered in Europe, and it’s interesting to see it finally being offered here. It’s means our market is maturing, which is also corroborated by the number of advanced cell phones being now sold here, including smartphones and GSM/EDGE-enabled phones, with better connection speeds.

A growing market for smartphones may reduced the market for handhelds, and Palm seems to be preparing itself for that eventuality with offerings like the Treo. The cell phone screens keep growing better, programs are being developed, and, with a bit more effort, the problem of inputting data quickly can be solved. Nokia seems to be working feverishly on the problem, as demonstrated by the various input systems of its new phone models.

All in all, despite the limitations, the Palm and 6600 combination is literally saving my life, allowing me to keep informed about my company situation at all times, and allowing me to solve problems anytime, anywhere. If the technology gets a little better, I may even dump my office desktop.

Disasters

June 9th, 2005 § Comments Off on Disasters § permalink

Some people make of clumsiness a entire art form. A co-worker told me the following true story about another co-worker:

The guy was in a meeting, with lots of Important People™ seated around him. Sometime in the middle of the meeting, his time to speak came. He began to talk, and, soon, warming to the topic, started to gesticulate as well.

Up and down, up and down his arms goes, until his right arm hits a coffee cup near him. The cup takes flight and lands a couple feet from where he is, blazing a trail of hot coffee across the table. Miraculously, not a single drop of coffee lands on any person in the path of the cup.

Utterly humiliated — and a bit desperate too — the guy attempts to fix the situation by apologizing to the people around him. Unfortunately to him, he hits another cup with his left arm.

We are still laughing about this. And, after he calmed down, he laughed too.

Why Ubuntu and not Debian?

June 8th, 2005 § 2 comments § permalink

My dear friend Metal took issue with my choice of Ubuntu as my new primary desktop in the comments of the post I wrote about the switch.

The matter of forks is older than open source itself, and I won’t go into the merits of the question here and now. It’s enough to say that I believe forks are essential to the open source process, and beneficial in most cases.

That said, why should I use Ubuntu, which is a fork, and not Debian, the primary trunk? Just saying I believe in forks in no reason enough for the choice.

I presented two reasons in my previous post:

First, Ubuntu is easier to install than Debian. Not only that, but it also recognized my hardware much better than any other distro I tried. It presented me with clear choices, made choices for me when they were obvious, and didn’t bother me asking how many buttons my mouse has.

Second, Ubuntu is much more polished than Debian. A lot of effort was clearly spent to make it comfortable to end users, and it shows.

Obviously, considering the relative positions of the Debian Foundation and Canonical, that is hardly a surprise. The latter has much more resources available than the former (from what we can gather from news and press releases, at least), and can use them to work in ways not readily accessible to Debian developers.

But that’s what it matters, and Debian is aware of it. I talk more about that in a while.

The first complaint Metal made is that Ubuntu isn’t giving anything back to the Debian community. I disagree. Ubuntu is giving Debian something it was losing: users. That’s more important for a distro than anything else, even code. Even if Ubuntu just repackaged Debian with more eye candy, I would see that as a valid effort from this point of view.

But Ubuntu is much more than simply Debian repackaged. As far as I know, and from what I’ve seen since I started using Linux, Ubuntu is the first coherent effort to create a Linux distro that is good enough for end users without losing the focus on open source and quality. Debian has quality and focus, but is not suitable for end users. Ubuntu solves this problem elegantly, in a way not even Mandriva, Linspire, and Suse — all notoriously for their focus on usability — were able to do. I’ve used them, and a few days with Ubuntu were enough to see that.

Of course, that’s not exactly the sense in which Metal said Ubuntu is not giving anything back. But, even when code is taken in account, the situation is not that bad.

I don’t know if and how Debian and all its forks exchange code, but I believe we are not far from seeing more integration is this area. That can be perceived in the decisions taken by the new Debian’s Project Leader. The goal of a more specific focus where supported platforms are concerned and the possibility of a quicker release cycle show that Debian is learning the lesson. After all, nobody wants to use a distro where all packages are lagging two or three years behind in relation to their more recent versions. And don’t even start talking about testing and unstable. They don’t get security updates, and I don’t want to spend my copious free time worrying about conflicts and changes in configurations that stop services from running.

Metal’s second complaint is that Ubuntu is not compatible with Debian. Again, I believe that can be seen from two different angles.

First, compatibility is a gradual process. The changes introduced by Ubuntu were interesting and necessary enough to make incompatibility, to the extent needed, acceptable. In a certain way, Debian is the distro that needs to adapt itself. Ubuntu is much more pleasant that Debian, and that a case when a fork can teach a thing or two to the primary project. After all, a fork would exist if the primary trunk was good enough.

On the other hand, I don’t care for compatibility. Ubuntu and Mandriva are equally incompatible. On Debian, the Apache configuration is located at /etc/apache. On Mandriva, it’s located in /etc/httpd. Other similar variations are quite common, and it affects everything I write for those distros. That’s why things like ./configure exists. Even if Ubuntu is a direct fork of Debian, it’s not required to follow in Debian’s steps.

To all pratical purposes, at home I’m a typical end user, and I want the latest and the greatest. Ubuntu gives me that. If Debian can do the same, even better — I will have more choice, which is what open source is all about. But, for now, Debian will remain confined to my servers until something better comes along. And that will only happen if we drop the zealot talk and start seeing each others efforts as something that adds to the community, even if those efforts are forks.

At the end of the day, when everything has been done and said, a Linux distro for end users should try to please a single public: grandparents of common users. If this public can use a distro, with no more and no less pain than a typical Windows session provides, Linux at the desktop will be real. From what I can see, Ubuntu is much closer to that than any other distro. And no amount of ideology will change that.

From employee to employer

June 8th, 2005 § 2 comments § permalink

Starting your own company is a trick business, pun intended. So many things you never thought about before become pressing worries, and you hardly know what to do first, both where the organization of your business is concerned and the day-to-day care of the company. Switching from the mindset of an engineer to the mindset of a manager is a really big challenge.

In the last months, I’ve been trying to adapt myself to such a situation, slowly planting the seeds of my own company. I never had such a busy time in my life. Sometimes I feel like a juggler trying to balance to many balls. From account management to project management, everything is somewhat new.

But, in spite of such difficulties, I’m liking the experience. I certainly need to pay attention to the small problems that arise daily, dealing with them as quickly as feasible, prioritizing everything in the best possible way so that I can avoid getting swamped by demands, but there is also the freedom to talk your own management decisions, experimenting with new ways to handle old problems. It’s a continuous learning experience since the practice of administrating a company, in terms of the problems that you have to solve, is qualitatively different from the practice of system analysis.

In a certain way, it’s the same difference between humanities and math careers. You are not dealing with precise quantities that can be measured repeatedly according to your need, but with dynamic variables that oscillate between factors whose balance is delicate at the best.

There’s also a certain irony when you stop been an employee and become an employer. I’m sure complaints are part of the employee experience in every part of the world, and in every occupation and time period. Sometimes we are right to complain, sometimes not. Of course, the times we are not right to complain are often ignored because of other valid concerns. When your side in this equation changes, you realize how hard is to keep both sides satisfied. A company has as many needs as its employers, and keeping everybody happy is a balancing act.

On the other side, it’s possible to see how many simple decisions a company could take to make the lives of its employers easier, with a good return on the investment. Since I’m already hiring my first employers, I’m trying to create a different style of work that will benefit both my company and its employees. The plan is to prove that, sometimes, which goes against conventional business wisdom is the best path. So far, it’s working well for everybody. Let’s see what the future will bring.

Damn you Murphy…

June 7th, 2005 § Comments Off on Damn you Murphy… § permalink

So it happened that I installed Ubuntu and forgot the installation CD on the drive. It happened as well that my sister-in-law, who was here today, needed to use the computer. It also happened that I was not home and that the installation CD automatically booted when the computer was turned on — as it should.

Now, take that fact that my sister-in-law can’t read a word of English and that the first option in the partitioning stage is meant to use the entire hard disk as the Ubuntu partition, and you can figure out what happened then.

This entry is brought to you via a Live CD, which is the only operating system now working at home. A good night for you, or a good morning, or whatever is the time in your timezone. Thanks.

Crazy answers to crazy questions

June 6th, 2005 § Comments Off on Crazy answers to crazy questions § permalink

Who was Caim’s wife?
Obviously, one of his sisters. Or did you believe he was capable of assexual reproduction, children sprouting from his head or something like it? Before you ask, incest and genetic drifting are mutually exclusive concepts.
Is God able to create a stone so heavy He can’t lift it?
Of course. Do you remember the person that was both Man and God? There were lots of stones he couldn’t lift, each of them created by God.
Who created God?
Hello there, you temporally-bound snail.
What did exist before God created the universe?
Only God. Not even nothing existed, since nothingness is a physical function. Zero-point enery and all that.
What is hell?
Hell is the perception of the absency of God. Fire and brimstone are only collateral effects.

Ubuntu

June 5th, 2005 § 4 comments § permalink

Sometime ago, I wrote about my first experiences with Debian.In the post, I said I had loved the distro, but that I didn’t plan to use it for anything else but serves since its long update cycles resulted in lots of old packages missing the features I needed in development or desktop systems.

Time passed, and Ubuntu appeared, a Debian fork with the state purposed of building a distro featuring the best of both worlds. Debian’s famous stability and easy of maintenance would be preserved, but Ubuntu would have shorted update cycles, resulting in a more modern distro, more like Mandrake and Linspire.

I decided to play with Ubuntu as soon as possible when I first heard about it, but I only managed to do it this week. One hour using it through the Live CD and I was done with Mandrake as my primary operating system. I installed it today, and I was very impressed with the whole process.

So far, I’m liking it. When you need to install a new package, Debian’s easy of use is quite evident. And the system feels a lot more polished, which was one of the things I liked about Mandrake. From installation to post-install configuration, everything works well.

In fact, the only problem I had with Ubuntu so far was related to my video card, whose advanced features were not supported by default. Nothing that couldn’t be solved with a quick look at the Wiki.Importing my old data into the system was a pretty simple process, with only a few complications here and there (Evolution, for example, imported my old e-mails but refused to import the accounts, which had to be recreated manually.)

I’d say Ubuntu is the first distro that proves that desktop Linux is a reality. None of the new distros hide so well what’s inside for users who know nothing about Unix systems. The few errors I experienced today, for example, would be equally baffling for Windows users in a similar position.

Some people criticized Ubuton for its use of sudo. I think that’s something Ubuntu got really right. Considering the profile of common users, the solution used keeps the system safe without sacrifing usability. It makes Ubuntu as flexible and easy to use as Windows systems when you need to change configurations and install new applications. By the way, Ubuntu wizards and control panels are really good.

Now, I have only one question: how the heck is Ubuntu pronounced?

Where am I?

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