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Name: Martin Pool
Member since: 2000-02-14 07:44:38
Last Login: 2007-07-09 01:30:11

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Homepage: http://sourcefrog.net/mbp/


I like source and frogs. I live in Canberra, and work at Hewlett-Packard on Linux appliance system software.

Latest craze: distcc, a fast, free, simple distributed C/C++ compiler.

Stallman is right, though, we aren't talking about freedom enough. Do people really spend their weekends helping annoying new people install free software because it has a more efficient development methodology? Of course not. If it were only about efficiency, hobbyists would volunteer to replace the old ballasts in companies' fluorescent lights.
-- Don Marti, LinuxWorld On-Line


When I first moved to Dallas, I worked for an Interconnect who had the contract to build a telephone switchroom for ACRCO headquarters in Plano. It was 20'X30' and had six four-ton A/Cs pouring cold air into it. The power for the A/C units and the tel switches came from a transformer room. The room was marked "High Voltage - DANGER" and "only electrical line technicians allowed in this area". The door was double locked, with one of the locks being a hex-key type. The one time I had to go in there I was escorted by the site electrical contractor. The hum was louder than you would imagine, and the air stank of ozone and hot oil. If I had not had to be there, I would never have gone in. I could feel the raw power on either side of the service aisle. It frightened me more than anything that I might ever do, unless I find myself looking into an open reactor pool and seeing the pretty blue light. Bottom line - I KNEW I was in danger - the very air throbbed with it. It's not the kind of place you go into to search for ANYTHING you lost. I was working poor back then, and I believe that if I had lost my wallet in that room that day with every cent I had in it, I would have had to leave it behind. I cannot stress enough how frightening that room was. It was not like walking around in a room that just happened to have some big grey metal boxes in it - it was like navigating the pit of Hell. I cannot imagine why anyone with even three of their senses functioning would go in such a place. -- Tommy, holysmoke.org


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dmullen asks of Aaron Swartz:

What, precisely, is so awful about TAOUP? Personally, I consider it to be one of the best books ever written on programming in general, let alone Unix programming. I found useful information and advice on every page.

I think TAOUP is a pretty nice book, and I will probably buy a copy when it comes out, and recommend it to my friends.

However, I don't think it is perfect, or above criticism. It might be in my top 20 books on programming but I don't think it would make my "top few".

What's wrong? Here are some complaints I prepared earlier.

I guess overall it seems to focus too heavily on "things the author thinks are interesting/funny". (I think that's a failure of later versions of the Hacker's Dictionary too.) Don't get me wrong: I'm all for authorial voice, and I know it's impossible to suppress completely. But in TAOUP's current draft, I think it is too obtrusive.

For example, a fair number of the examples are taken from esr's own projects, such as fetchmail. But I don't know anybody aside from esr, who would say fetchmail is a really prime example of Unix design! Why not pick an example that really is broadly recognized as brilliant?

Has esr been lazy in just using examples from his own home directory? Or is he suggesting that his own designs are sublime and perfect examples of Unix? The kernel hackers who make special mention that that esr's CML2 system was *not* merged might disagree. Either way it's a bit irritating.

One thing that sprang to mind is that rusty's "iprint" (apt-get install iprint) is probably more Unixy than esr's "ascii". (iprint's smaller :-)

Now certainly looking at the design of your own programs is easier, but if you're aiming to be the definitive work and explicitly comparing yourself to Knuth then I think you are obliged to go further afield. (Does The Art of Computer Programming deal mostly with code from TeX? No.)

Similarly, his discussion of the history of Unix, or of Unix compared to other operating systems, seems really skewed to his personal views. You can see his position on the open source/free software kerfuffle intruding. Of course history is shaped by the historian, but I think he does it more than is really needed or helpful.

Most of the problems seem like they could be fixed by more editing and constructive criticism before it's released. I wouldn't be surprised if a second edition, if there is one, is better. (Perhaps esr's trying for early-and-often in books?) Now it is perhaps a bit unfair to criticize it for this when it's not in print yet, but the web page gives the impression that it is nearly a final draft.

The tone and level is a bit uneven too. Sometimes it is very jokey and sometimes moderately formal. Some examples are a bit labored and some parts that I think ought to have examples are missing.

TAOUP does deal with a topic that has not been fully explored before, which makes a nice change from the two shelves of "C++.NET in 24 Hours for Complete Morons" at my local bookstore. It's not quite the only one there: The Practice of Programming, Patterns of Software, Code Complete, and Unix Network Programming approach different parts of the topic. If TAOUP irritates Swartz enough that he's motivated to try to do better then I think that's a good thing.

I have started keeping my own blog on sourcefrog.net.

There's nothing wrong with Advogato, but I am getting a little interested in photography and wanted to be able to paste in photos, which is not possible here. (For good reasons, of course -- who wants to see the goatse guy in their diary?) And the absence of trolls is kind of relaxing.

Hackish news is that I am in between projects but still with the same employer, and looking at doing any of several interesting things. I went to try on a new suit today -- shock horror.

distcc is doing remarkably well. Tridge reminded me the other day that he originally said he didn't think it would work, but he was decent enough to not to discourage me completely. So my advice for young hackers is to listen to your elders, but perhaps go ahead and prove them wrong!

Speaking of blogs, I really like the idea of per-project diaries, like those for user-mode-linux or distcc. I think this fills a valuable function, similar to that of Kernel Traffic, by allowing people interested in the project to get a sense of how it's getting on, without needing to read the whole mailing list. It's nice to know what the developers are thinking about and how things are going. It gives you a sense of whether it's active or not.

Actually they kind of remind me of the sport reports at high school, where during assembly the captain of the rugby team (somebody perhaps not a specialist at public speaking) would stand up and use cliche or amusing analogies to describe the weekend's matches.


linux.conf.au was great. I particularly liked Rusty's kernel overview and Willy's talk -- it's good to keep up to date with softirqs and similar things happening in the kernel, even if I don't normally work there. Telsa's talk about debugging was pretty interesting too, though I cringed at some of the dumb things some projects do. My distcc talk was well received. More geeks need to learn to make eye contact while they're talking. The next LCA is in Adelaide in Jan 2004; it's well on it's way to becoming one of the big few conferences.

"black panther on 'roids with a love affair of genocidal dictators" [1].

I've been called many things, but never before something so hilarious. Really, criticizing our resident neoconservative would be superfluous -- his work speaks for itself.

Nevertheless, the essay Anti-Europeanism in America is an intelligent look at the phenomenon. (mglazer seems to think that it is a book rather than an editorial in a publication that happens to be called "NY Review of Books." Be glad you didn't make that embarassing mistake in a graded assignment. :-)

If I was going to pick out just a few passages, it would be these:

Robert Kagan argues that Europe has moved into a Kantian world of "laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation," while the United States remains in a Hobbesian world where military power is still the key to achieving international goals (even liberal ones).[...]

[...] American writers should, but often don't, distinguish between legitimate, informed European criticism of the Bush administration and anti-Americanism, or between legitimate, informed European criticism of the Sharon government and anti-Semitism.

I wish mglazer would get his head around that second one and cut out the "anti-semitism" trollery.

you are here

On a related note, I listened to Bush's State of the Union on BBC World at lunch time. I suppose to be fair non-American ears have to edit out all the religious references, which seem to be obligatory in US politics. I'm not sure how I feel about it overall. He has a good speechwriter.

One interesting thing was his use term "American Coalition" -- it seems to have condensed out of the earlier, somewhat clumsy "American-led Coalition". (Does the new one imply ownership? And can you have a coalition of one?) It strikes me as quite a nice and handy term for the current political power structure, parallel to "Roman Empire" or "British Commonwealth". Practically everyone reading this lives in the entity called the American Coalition, or at least on the margins of it.

how painful...

You know, looking yesterday at the eerie black smoke and red light in the sky, and the strings of helicopters going across, I thought that this must have been a *tiny* taste of what it was like in the Gulf. Thank goodness they were dropping water not bombs.

I am a bit hopeful that this will make Australians think twice about participating in a slaughter in Iraq. Losing four people is bad enough -- the US & friends killed about 100,000 Iraqis last time. If there is any reasonable way to avoid it, we should.

mglazer seems to think anyone opposed to war must hate the US and love Hussein. I'll try to explain it in small words, not that I think it will do much good: I think the world would be better off were Hussein not in power, and we ought steadfastly to work towards a peaceful & democratic Iraqi government. I just think tens or hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths is too high a price to pay for his removal. (These people didn't choose to be born in Iraq, and few have the option of leaving.) Is that really such an unreasonable or hate-fuelled position?

Canberra on fire

A state of emergency has been declared in Canberra because of severe bushfires. Dozens of houses are on fire. Fire officers on the radio report that the fire is out of control and they are just trying to preserve life and property. About 2/3rds of the city is declared "under threat".

Roads to the south (Monaro Hwy) and west are shut off. Fires are also burning in the Snowy Mountains, Brindabellas and north of Sydney. 100,000 hectares are reporting to be burning or burnt out in Kosciuszko National Park.

The sky is eerie. It varies from black to golden to green and blue like a bruise. It's overcast like the beginning of a thunderstorm, but the light is yellow rather than blue, and the air is parched. It's very hot -- up to 43C in the middle of town, now down to 36C. Strong winds are blowing embers and causing spot fires 10-15km ahead of the fire front.

A few water-dumping helicopters are overhead but visibility is becoming too poor for them to continue flying.

Some of my friends are in suburbs that are on alert, but nobody I know is immediately threatened.

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