Older blog entries for MichaelCrawford (starting at number 161)

What To Do With Myself

I've been doing a lot of soul-searching. That's no surprise. You've probably figured out by now that I'm a soul-searching kind of guy.

What do I really want to do for a living? I've been so unhappy. How can I be happy, in particular happy in my work?

I've been struggling with this question for years. I've already written here about my (apparently successful) transition from GUI to embedded development. Well, it solved some problems (I'm able to please my embedded clients in a way I never seemed to be able to please my GUI clients), but I'm still not happy.

I wrote a few months ago about how maybe I really should go back to GUI. I've toyed with the idea of being a professional writer. In my more outrageous fanstasies, even a musician or a composer. From time to time I think of going to graduate school, maybe even going back into physics.

But lately I've been thinking that maybe I can find happiness doing just what I'm doing now.

I was talking to my new psychiatrist last week. We've mostly been talking about my work. He said, "You know, lots of people have crap jobs, but they're able to find happiness in other ways". I told him about my love for the piano, and how I'm taking lessons now. My p-doc thought the piano lessons were a great idea, and strongly encouraged them.

Here's the problem I have: I'm not exactly unhappy with my work. When I'm able to work productively, I actually enjoy it just fine. The problem I have is that I spend so much time not working at all, feeling like I ought to be working, but filled with despair at the prospect of doing so. Many days go by that I don't even crack open my development environment.

Instead, I post to Advogato, Kuro5hin, Slashdot, mailing lists and the Usenet, I write articles, I analyze my web server statistics. I have found all manner of things to do while sitting at my computer which keep me occupied but don't contribute to the bottom line.

What's crazy is that when I can get into my work, I actually really enjoy it, and I'm very productive. When I merely try to work, I find it incredibly boring and frustrating, and the smallest problems completely stymie me.

But when I am in the groove, I am unstoppable. It's not that the code gets easier, or that I have no problems, but that I have no problem making the needed effort. Whereas I would otherwise throw up my hands and say "I can't do this", instead I say, "Well that didn't work, I'll try this instead". I'm able to get by at all because I'm so productive on the days when I can be productive at all.

What is ironic is that, when I am able to work, I am a far better programmer than I was back in the old days when I was a far more productive, but far less skilled programmer. I wasn't so good, say, ten years ago, but I really did enjoy it. For most things, it doesn't matter if there's a few bugs, if you're able to ship the product on time. Now my code is far more reliable, performant and maintainable than it ever used to be - but it is always late, and I spend most of my time at my computer in a state of hopeless despair.

I tell Bonita that I do all these other things because they're contributing to my community, socially useful, or just because I enjoy them, but you know, I really don't enjoy the experience that much. In the end I just feel tired and guilty.

But day before yesterday I spent the morning saying to myself, I want to get this one thing working in my code. I'm just going to focus on this one thing. When I went to my office, I did some of my busywork, like checking my mail, but soon set into productive work. And worked late into the night. I enjoyed it, I really did.

I didn't figure out the problem with my code, but somehow that didn't matter much, I knew I would eventually. What mattered is I spent an evening feeling good about what I was doing, able to focus completely on the work which I do to provide for myself.

What was different? Why were things so different two days ago than on so many other days? (Yesterday I took the day off because I have a bad cold, and expect to take the rest of today off too.) Over the years I've developed all kinds of little strategies to help me get started at my work, only to find that none of them really help when I'm faced with such despair.

The only difference I can find is that I just decided I was going to focus effectively on my work. Everything else followed from that.

That's when I started thinking maybe I'm doing the right thing for myself after all. I've contemplated so many ways to go chasing after happiness - but as Buckaroo Bonzai said, "Wherever you go to run away from your troubles, there you are." Maybe I can find happiness right where I am.

There are many advantages to programming, even being a software consultant. I can't pretend that any of the alternatives I imagine would earn as much money. As a consultant, working out of my home, I can live anywhere I want, and have been living in the most out-of-the-way places since I've been consulting.

I truly love to write, but I have doubts that I would still love it if it were the way I was making my living. I also write very obsessively - it would be very hard for me to write in any kind of balanced, measured way. I fear that if I were to ever write a book I would either starve to death or die of exhaustion.

I have had a plan, throughout the entire economic downturn, that I had been on the verge of abandoning now that things seem to be getting better. My plan was that I would do whatever it took to get by somehow, to provide for myself and for Bonita, even if I didn't like my work - but I would get by by writing code.

I felt that if I could just keep body and soul together for a few years, and (importantly) keep my skills current, then when the recovery inevitably happened, I would be in a very good position to do very well for myself. I could steadily raise my consulting rates, and get enough work not just to get by, but to pay off my debts, and save up money so that if the economy collapsed again I would be prepared, and never have to suffer again what I have these last few years.

But the last few months, since things have been starting to get better for most people, I've been increasingly sick of my work, and ready to abandon it.

I asked Bonita why I should dislike it so, when I used to find great joy in programming. She seems to find it unsurprising - my transition to embedded development was pretty damn hard, with not just one but two projects taking far longer than expected (or bid for). We spent quite a few months doubting for our economic survival, with both of us feeling quite desperate all the time. Earlier, before I started the embedded work, I was able to get by OK but I hated the work I was doing, writing a specialized financial database. Frankly I resented doing it at all, and got out of it at the first opportunity.

Bonita seems to think it should make a lot of sense that I should feel despair when I contemplate my work. She also points out that as long as she's known me, I've never spent much of my free time doing anything but hanging out on my computer, so I am at my keyboard for both work and play. She thinks that's very unhealthy.

I think it is already helping that I am finding other ways to enjoy myself, like my music. Ways that don't involve computers. But that can't be all there is, I won't be able to continue to tolerate programming unless I can find some joy in it too.

Maybe I can find it again.

Perhaps not at all coincidentally, I'm going to be forty years old in a week. That's very old for a working coder. Bonita thinks I'm having a midlife crisis.

Yesterday I ordered Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's book Flow, which I first heard about after someone mentioned it in their diary here. What Czikszentmihalyi calls "flow" is precisely the experience of being "in the groove" that makes my coding enjoyable, during the rare times it is.

I've been strangely hesitant to order it. I felt it would be helpful to read it, but I've read all manner of books - technical books, self-help books, books on productivity and organization - and worried it would be just another book full of good advice that somehow did not address whatever problem I was really having.

I really wanted to find a copy in a brick-and-mortar bookstore that I could leaf through before purchasing, but I never could find one. Finally yesterday I decided it would be worth giving it a try.

Any advice you may have for me is greatly appreciated. My email is crawford@goingware.com

What Bonita Says About Valentines Day

I had to wait until today to post this because part of my Valentine's Day gift for Bonita was that I stayed off the computer for the entire day and instead spent it with her.

Yesterday Bonita said:

You know how they say Valentine's Day is for lovers? I think instead they should say "Get off your ass, you lug, and show some appreciation for all the shit she does for you".

Or maybe "Valentine's Day: because sleeping in the basement is just no fun".

Writing

A popular website has invited me to write for them. It wouldn't be for pay, as the site is all volunteer, but it would be very good exposure for me.

I really enjoy writing for Kuro5hin, and sometimes for Advogato, but I think this site that contacted me gets much more traffic.

I don't want to say who yet until I've spoken to them more about what they have in mind.

But I've been thinking I should write another article soon. Some of my articles are very popular, but I've got to keep writing if I don't want readers to lose interest in what I have to say.

California Gubernatorial Campaign

I'm making progress in my campaign to replace Governor Schwarzenegger. I've been going to the gym very faithfully, ever other day for two weeks now.

I'm not sore all day any more like I was. Right after I work out, I feel very weak for a little while, but then feel very good. That good feeling is why most people like to work out I think.

I'm still not lifting very heavy weights, but I'm gradually increasing my repetitions, and will add some weight after a couple more workouts, then drop the repetitions back to where I started. That way the transition is more gradual.

This is a Googlebomb

I've been watching the server logs of my music downloading article pretty carefully. It's been Google's #1 hit for the query legal music downloads for quite some time now. Lately it's been getting about a thousand hits a day, far, far more than anything else I've ever published on the web.

However, although my article doesn't rank so well (ranging from #15 to #20), it's been getting far more referrals for the query free music downloads than any other. Many, many more people must be using that query than any other, with 4442 referrals coming the month of January. In comparison, there were 1251 referrals for legal music downloads.

I'm sorry to be posting the link here again (and have stopped posting it so often at kuro5hin and slashdot, after some complained they were weary of seeing it), but many of the people who have read my article wrote to tell me they felt I had something valuable to add to the debate over copyright, the RIAA, file sharing and the future of music in general.

I worked hard to educate the readers I was targeting, as I think most p2p users aren't that well-informed about the issues. Many, if not most of the posts I see in the p2p message boards aren't very eloquently, or even coherently stated. I wanted to give the typical p2p user some useful arguments to use in the propaganda war being waged by the record industry, lest they fall victim to better educated attorneys, political lobbyists and PR flacks.

If you agree that what I wrote was valuable, you can encourage others to read it if you'll Googlebomb it too:

<a href="http://www.goingware.com/tips/legal-downloads.html">free music downloads</a>

Yes, I admit to being quite shameless, in the way I attract readers by promising them lots of free tunes but deliver a sermon on copyright and political activism while I've got their attention. It is easy to find lots of other articles on the p2p controversy that are much more respectable - but I don't think they're getting attention from the people who need to be reading them, the people who are facing lawsuits because they are trading files.

Please note that I didn't write the article for any commercial purpose. It has only three really bare links to the rest of my site at the top. It's quite likely that any of my clients would be quite appalled if they read what I had to say:

... I feel that the awesome political power possessed by the large corporations is the greatest challenge my nation faces...

The fact that people aren't already dying in the streets in the struggle against the corporations and their intellectual property is not because the struggle is not one worth dying for, but because most people have not yet awakened to the problem.

Recently, a pay site operator offerred me a considerable amount of money if I'd refer traffic to his (rather questionable) site. It was a tempting offer because I could really use the cash. But after much soul searching I turned him down, and have further decided I won't accept paid advertising from anyone.

Thanks for your help.

Got a Mac? Help me out by testing iRATE

Version 0.3 of iRATE radio is just now being released, but the Mac OS X version that is built using Eclipse's SWT toolkit is being held up a couple days because I found a bug.

But a test build has been posted on iRATE's unstable downloads page. As long as you read the ReadMe file, you shouldn't have any trouble. It's working well enough to be useful and enjoyable.

It would be very helpful to me to get some more widespread testing, because the OS X SWT version hasn't been tested by anyone but myself so far. (Previously iRATE for OS X was only available in the version built with Swing).

It's likely that there are some other bugs that I could fix before the release, if only I knew about them.

Thanks for your help.

Want to Use SWT in OS X?

If you try to use SWT's OS X build you are likely to think it's not really ready for use. It will seem as if your user interface is really brain-damaged. But that's not really the case.

The reason is that SWT uses native widgets, sorta like AWT does. For OS X, it makes calls to Carbon. This is done by supplying a dynamically loaded native code library for each platform and widget set, that is loaded via the Java Native Interface.

The way Java applications are built in application bundles on OS X (to make a program you can run by double-clicking it) has the threads set up wrong for the native widgets to be able to process the events.

What you need to do is read the instructions in Eclipse Bug #40003.

In short, what you need to do is use an executable called java_swt instead of Apple's JavaApplicationStub. Both these programs launch the Java VM and tell it to run your java jar, but java_swt will set up the threads to make SWT happy.

I thought I should post this here so someone with the same trouble I had will find it with Google. It's a simple solution but apparently not too well known yet.

1 Feb 2004 (updated 2 Feb 2004 at 05:27 UTC) »
iRATE

Presently there are two versions of iRATE radio. Version 0.1 was built with the Swing GUI toolkit, but Swing is non-free - just try to find a Debian package for any part of Sun's Java; Sun doesn't allow it. Version 0.2 has two versions, one built from Swing and another from the SWT toolkit that is part of Eclipse. Besides being GPL-compatible, SWT is a lot faster than Swing. The SWT versions are very noticably more responsive than the Swing versions.

iRATE is nearing its 0.3 release, and while tremendous progress has been made in the SWT build, the Swing build has fallen behind somewhat. I offerred to help get the SWT version to work on Mac OS X. Most people who use the Swing version are using it on OS X.

One advantage of Swing admittedly is that it is pure Java so it can be used on any platform that has Sun's JRE; SWT include a Java Native Interface library that makes use of the native widgets for whatever platform it's being run on. (However, I suspect that the better performance of SWT is not just from using native code, but in avoiding the thick layers of indirection from which Swing is architected.)

Although I've been cheerleading for iRATE for months I've never actually worked on the code. Last night an iRATE developer named Robin Sheat chatted with me on Jabber (which I installed just for this purpose) and helped me to get it to build on my Panther Mac.

I encountered the apparently common problem that the native SWT library couldn't be found and used Google to find the unpleasant workaround of placing it in the JDK's libraries directory. That works for now but of course we can't distribute it that way. Robin was previously able to get it to work right when he built the SWT iRATE as an OS X ".app" bundle, a small directory heirarchy that the Finder presents to the user as a double-clickable application program.

I'm going to try now to get it working right and provide a test build by late tonight. If you have Mac OS X and would like to help test my work, watch for it in iRATE's unstable builds page.

Update: - no build tonight

Bonita needed some quality time.

Real Soon Now. Like tomorrow night.

There is a Swing build of the release candidate available though, that will work on OS X, or any system with a JRE.

I'm Gonna Run for Governor

I decided I wanted to be Governor of California someday so I joined the gym at the community college here in town (it's open to the public for a fee, not just students). I've worked out twice so far, just lifting weights.

I'm too embarrassed to tell you how much weight I'm lifting, lest you think I'm a pathetic wimp, but I guess it must be the right amount because I was sore for several hours after working out yesterday.

Despite that I have the physique of a good computer programmer, I've actually worked out with weights on a few other occasions and gotten into good shape that way.

I'm looking forward to the Spring when I can start bicycling again. There was a time many years ago when I used to bicycle all the time, and I think I felt the best that I ever have back then.

Sam

Sam was my wife Bonita's dog. He had been with her from before she and I met in 1997.

Sam liked to run on the beach. He liked it a lot when we lived in Santa Cruz, because we'd take him to the beach every day sometimes.

In the winters, here in the east - we've lived in Newfoundland, Maine and now Nova Scotia - he liked to roll in the snow. I think he found the cold invigorating.

Bonita loved Sam as if he were her own child. I loved him too. Sam adored Bonita, with such a depth of devotion that I've never seen in anyone, human or animal.

Sam was taken from us yesterday by leukemia.

I wish someone had given Jesus a dog
As loyal and loving as mine
To sleep by His manger and gaze in His eyes
And adore Him for being divine.

As our Lord grew to manhood His faithful dog
Would have followed Him all through the day
While He preached to the crowds and made the sick well
And knelt in the garden to pray.

It is sad to remember that Christ went away
To face death alone and apart
With no tender dog following close behind
To comfort its Master's Heart.

And when Jesus rose on that Easter morn
How happy He would have been
As His dog kissed His hands and barked its delight
For The One who died for all men.

Well, the Lord has a dog now, I just sent Him mine
the old pal so dear to me
And I smile through my tears on this first day alone
Knowing they're in eternity.

Day after day, the whole day through
Wherever my road inclined
Four feet said, "I am coming with you!"
And trotted along behind.

-Rudyard Kipling

Sam, I want you to know the world is a better place because you were in it for a time.

Good bye, Sam, I will miss you.

Help Test iRATE radio

Version 0.3 of iRATE will likely be released in a few days. Quite a lot of work has been done in the months since the 0.2 release. But that means that we need help with more widespread testing, so that if there are any serious yet undiscovered bugs, they can be found before the release.

If you'd like to help, download either the unstable or testing build for your platform. There are native clients for Windows and x86 linux, and a bytecode Java Webstart client for platforms such as Mac OS X that have a Java Runtime Environment installed.

As I write this, I don't think the first release candidate has been posted yet, but I expect it will shortly.

Thank you for your attention.

Music

I started taking piano lessons last tuesday afternoon and had my second lesson yesterday.

I've been playing for twenty years, so I can play some things well, but I taught myself, so there's a lot I don't know. My teacher, after checking me out at the first lesson, selected a near-beginning method book for me, and said that it would cover some things I might not know. She's expecting (and I think she's right) that I'll go through it quickly.

Writing

I decided last night I want to start writing for pay. I need to find my way out of computer programming before I'm unable to write code altogether. I'm able to work right now, but I can see how the time will come that I can't program anymore.

I've been meaning to write a book for years, but never get it together to complete one. But I do well at writing articles. So my plan right now is to write an article during the month of February that I'll try to sell. I don't have anything specific in mind, but most likely will try to write something technical to sell to a computer magazine.

18 Jan 2004 (updated 19 Jan 2004 at 03:52 UTC) »
Are You a Music Expert?

Help me find choral music for my wife, in my k5 diary.

Not to download (unless legally), we want to buy CDs. My wife is getting really tired of the same old CDs all the time.

I Came Here Not to Praise Gates, But to Bury Him

Can someone explain to me why it is that one can create files on NTFS that the Administrator is neither allowed to delete nor take ownership of?

My cygwin installation on Windows 2000 got wedged because I ran out of disk space partway through an install. I figured the best thing to do would be to delete the whole h:\cygwin folder and reinstall, which ought to be quick to do because I always copy the packages to my local drive before I install (so I install from a local copy, instead of from the net).

However, it seems that there are lots and lots of files in there that I can't delete. I even booted my NT4 installation and tried from there, in case there was something running on my Win2k that kept my delete from proceeding.

Can someone kindly tell me how I can delete files that I can't take ownership of?

Let me leave you with this thought: Bonita just bought a Windows XP Pro laptop. I was going to install Win2k on it, because she doesn't like XP much, but I thought maybe I shouldn't because laptops often have exotic hardware for which drivers can't be found. But Bonita has this to say about Windows XP:

Windows XP makes me want to set myself adrift on an ice floe.

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