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Name: Matthew Daniels
Member since: 2009-03-03 23:14:14
Last Login: 2009-12-18 20:44:41

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Homepage: danielsmw.wordpress.com

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Undergrad physicist at Clemson University and writer for the Fedora documentation team. Other projects include web development and writing apps for Sugar on the OLPC XO-1.

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POSSCON Summary


I should have posted this right when I got back from POSSCON this past weekend, and I also should have taken pictures while I was there. But I still need to write this down before I forget it all, so here it goes:

Lee Congdon opens his presentation on the state of open source software.

Lee Congdon opens his presentation on the state of open source software.

The morning opened up with a keynote by Lee Congdon, Red Hat’s CIO.  He presented on “Open Source Software Today”.  His presentation (in PDF format) can be found here.  I feel like it was a good opening keynote simply because it was from Red Hat.  POSSCON’s population was a dichotomy of businessmen and developers.  If Red Hat’s CIO isn’t in a position to relate business and open source software, I’m not really sure who is.

Following Congdon’s talk, the attendees split into business and developer tracks.  I can’t speak much to the business track, but I sat in on all the developer lectures.  The first presentation was by Greg DeKoenigsberg.  He talked largely about contributing to Fedora, so has heard most of it before.  I still enjoyed it though, and even learned a bit of Fedora history.  Following Greg, though, we had an absolutely enthralling talk on open source tools for Windows developers, which can be found here.  We learned a bit about Notepad++ and such (which I’ll actually say is a nice program that I’ve used on occasion), but it seemed like we learned about Visual Studio.  Maybe it’s open source these days, I haven’t checked…

Greg talking about the process of becoming a contributer and the essence of the Fedora community.

Greg talking about the process of becoming a contributer and the essence of the Fedora community.

After the Microsoft presentation, lunch was served.  I was impressed, actually, but that might be because I’m used to Clemson food (which I’m also continually impressed with; it gets repetitive after a while, though).  Our second Keynote wasn’t as interesting to me, but I admire the work that Keith Bergelt is doing with the Open Invention Network.  Following his talk, the developers attended a session on functional programming with Haskell, Erlang, and Clojure.  The talk, which had a beautiful visual presentation, was given by the guys from Catamorphic Labs, and can be found here.

The presentation actually perked my interest in these languages, so I tried installing them during the presentation.  I hit some problems, though.  The biggest problem was the lack of wireless internet.  I have no idea how USC doesn’t have full service WiFi across Amoco Hall, which I’m pretty sure is their building of Computer Science and Engineering.  USCGuest, which we were supposed to be using, would pop up occasionally, but it was virtually unusable.  The best I ever got was the “Do you accept USC’s terms of agreement?” page, and that was on my iPod (which seems to have better reception than most laptop, oddly enough).  As a Clemson student, I just have to remind anyone from USC that we have a secure WPA2 Enterprise wireless network as well as an open “clemsonguest” network fully operational in every building on campus.  You guys should work on that.

It happens, in fact, that I had previously downloaded the source for Haskell via DarwinPorts on the OS X half of my laptop, but it was throwing some errors trying to build it.  I’ve found the problem (and a patch), but it’s a little late now.  Nonetheless, the presentation was one of my favorites (even though I was pretty tired at this point).  The next presentation was on trusted systems.  It was alright, but I have to admit that I was feeling dead tired at that point.  I also failed to win any free books.  I feel like I was entitled to the last one they gave out, because only one person beat me for it and he already had a book.  But I guess now he has two, and that’s okay.

Functional programming taught by example.

Functional programming taught by example.

Our closing Keynote was by Tom Persons.  It was about why developers are important to South Carolina.  I’m sure it was important and interesting, but I was just too tired to store anything for me to recall now that I’m writing about it.

Overall, it was worth it, although probably more for the networking than the presentations.  I spent a lot of time talking with David Nalley, who was kind enough to give me a ride there and back.  I also met a few people for dinner afterwards, as well as some people from the Charleston LUG (which I hope to attend meetings of over the summer).

Any regrets?

I didn’t steal one of the Red Hat hats in time.  They were all gone when I went to get one.

All of the presentations from POSSCON can be found in pdf, odp, and ppt at http://posscon.org/presentations.php.

Disclaimer: Since I didn’t take pictures myself, I have shamelessly used pictures from the POSSCON Facebook group.  I’m going to make the assumption, even though they didn’t specify a license, that putting them on Facebook and being an Open Source event means that they intend them to be used under something like Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike. If anyone would like me to take these down, just shoot me an email.  The photo pool I drew from can be found at http://www.facebook.com/photos.php?id=75688002968.

Posted in Reviews, Technology Tagged: Fedora, Linux, Reviews, Technology

Syndicated 2009-04-24 14:20:35 from Reflected Pensiveness

Review: Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist (McCormmach)


Review of Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist, focusing on the analogs between Jakob and his era.

Front cover of Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist.

Front cover of Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist.

Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist picks a unique subject and setting through which revolutions of thought permeated every facet of the West.  The beginning of the twentieth century marked a global transformation in many facets of humanity, and science was not exempt from cultural upheaval.  Changes both political and social ensued in parallel with revolutions in scientific thought, and McCormmach tells the story of a man left behind – a Classical Physicist permanently intertwined with the past.  The story of Professor Viktor Jakob represents the struggle of the world to keep up with the sweeping changes of a new, faster globe and the intellectual modifications that accompanied it.

The physics presented in the novel – although nonetheless historically accurate – served a purpose beyond simply representing a branch of natural science.  The paradigm shift in physics of the day was an analog of the worldwide metamorphosis of civilization.  Jakob embodied these parallel transfigurations in his thoughts on both art and science.  To him, theatre and physics as well as music and mathematics were entangled in a single human experience.  In this sense, his scholarly lineage could nearly be traced to the Enlightenment era.  The ideas of unity, closure, determinism, and the importance of the individual that accompanied Enlightenment philosophy manifested themselves in his interpretation of science.  Jakob’s pursuit of a solution for the world-ether typified his mindset towards the world.  Even deterred by the likes of Planck (pg. 139), Jakob continued to dream of a grand scientific unification.

Physics and the world stage were in two not unalike states at the turn of the century.  The rise of Germany in central Europe and the end of the beginnings of industrialization introduced paradigm shifts in life and politics as radical as the new interpretations in physics.  It may have been ironic to Jakob that the very same forces in Germany catalyzed both scientific knowledge and military prowess.  He prided his and his fellow scientists’ peaceful natures, especially within their profession – but even he could not entirely resist the call of nationalism.  His work on acoustics in the field was an example of his contribution to the war.

But nationalism was a phenomenon with which the professor did not always peacefully mesh.  Jakob considered himself a worshipper of science, in accord with Einstein’s scheme (108).  Jakob has chosen for himself “the life of the discoverer” (109), and accordingly placed physics higher than the state.  But interestingly, many of the scientists to whom he would pay reverence – such as Planck – were at least able to support the war with their public attitudes.  Jakob’s refusal to sign a single document supporting the war is evidence of his strict, scientific moral code and fear of change.  It fits with his description of a classical physics; in his view, the role of virtue and scientific rigidity within oneself is the key characteristic of physics.  He admired many of his more esteemed colleagues for their incredible internal strength of character.

Jakob was, indeed, a self-proclaimed Classical Physicist.  Unlike the era of his youth, the German students of the twentieth century had (allegedly) not been “drilled in the classics, in the careful thought of the languages and literatures of antiquity” (133).  Jakob believed in a strong connection between physics and the classics.  With this in mind, one might propose that what bothered Jakob in part about the new age of atomic physics was uncertainty and a disconnect between a priori assumptions and the implications of modern physics.  Jakob thought of classical physics as not so much a world-view, but an attitude: a description more of the scientist than the science.

His knowledge of the classical age made it easy for Jakob to recognize the mutation of Greek thought and culture into a tool for nationalism when he and his wife attend a reading of Antigone.  European affinity for Greek science and culture is exploited as the company alters details of the tragedy to create sympathy for the German cause.  This sort of alteration for the sake of political allusion would begin to permeate many cultures in future decades.  Later in the century, this same type of subliminal propaganda would manifest itself in American and Soviet media to generate sympathy for democracy and communism.

It was Jakob’s belief that the loss of the world-ether implied the loss of intelligibility in the physics community (134).  Jakob appreciated mechanisms representative of our perception more than he did abstractions into mathematics.  Accordingly, he felt that the lack of an absolute reference frame turned physics into a “cold gray cave of abstraction” (ibid).  Once more, Jakob reveals his ties to the previous century.  Like the romantics of art and literature calling for a return to nature after industrialization, Jakob feels that the loss of sensible physics is a loss of a part of human culture.

The magnitude of destruction experienced in the First World War is certainly akin to a cold gray cave of abstraction.  The introduction of twentieth century weaponry and technology made the Great War a monster of a sort not before witnessed in the world.  Lengthy, monotonous trench warfare and the introduction of war to the sea and sky made war less personal than ever.  In the eyes of many – including Jakob – soldiers started their transformation from people to numbers in that era.  In that light, modern warfare may be somewhat similar to modern physics in Jakob’s view.

But more than simply the loss of the world-ether concept, Jakob felt that the branching away from classical physics meant the loss of the individual.  Jakob recalls a shift during his career from individuals pursuing physics of their own accord – with their own ideas – to an age where money translates a wealthy student into a fledgling scientist to pursue the goals advancing the reputation of the university director.  The idea that money fuels a man’s career is certainly not a new concept, but Jakob seems to feel that this sort of construct contaminates the purity of the physics community.

Jakob’s view of his evolving science and evolving world resonated with the ideas of a finished age.  Victor Jakob might have been one of the last of his breed. Perhaps, though, his concern for the individual may have been warranted as we entered a less personal age.  Perhaps, even today, there is still a place for the Classical Physicist.


You can find a more traditional book review at the Harvard Press site, http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/MCCNIG.html.

You can also preview the book on Google Books.  Search for “Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist”.

Posted in Philosophy, Reviews, Science and Mathematics Tagged: Fedora, Literature, Philosophy, Physics, Reviews

Syndicated 2009-04-24 04:40:14 from Reflected Pensiveness

Looking for a package review: odfpy07


A week or so ago as I went to convert the MediaWiki syntax in which the User Guide is written into the DocBook XML that our docs are published in, I remembered (and was reminded nonetheless) that mw-render is currently broken because of a dependency on odfpy 0.7.

I had time being on Spring Break and all, so with some help from quaid, abadger1999, and kanarip, I packaged odfpy07.  Hurray for my first package!

So now, the spec and srpm files are sitting at fedorapeople.org/~danielsmw/odfpy07 and the review request can be found at https://bugzilla.redhat.com/show_bug.cgi?id=491946.  I hope someone can review the package and find me a sponsor!

Posted in Technology Tagged: Fedora, Linux, Technology

Syndicated 2009-03-24 19:10:51 from Reflected Pensiveness

Uses of an XO-1


#1: Developing activities for the Math4Team

#2: Being cool

#424: Shielding your other electronics when you spill an entire pitcher of water on your desk.

Lesson learned: the XO-1 is both selfless and invincible.

Posted in Uncategorized

Syndicated 2009-03-23 19:56:27 from Reflected Pensiveness

Disclaimer #1: This is not a political blog post. If you try to interpret it as one, then you’re interpreting it improperly.

Disclaimer #2: I’m not about to try and bash business majors or investment bankers. I’m just making a generic point.

Many Americans probably saw President Obama on Jay Leno last night. It was fun enough to watch, and I think was actually a good move by the president to bolster public support by dropping back down to the friendly, laughing American citizen status he had on the campaign trail instead of the all- powerful presidential aura he’s had to take on lately.

I agreed and disagreed with some things that he said, but one thing that I agree enough with to blog about is his take on the role of education and, perhaps more importantly, the tone given to the importance of certain career choices following from education.

I’m going to quote a large part of what he said last night, just so there’s some context. You can find a full transcript at the Huffington Post website (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/20/obama- on-tonight-show- wit_n_177206.html).

Well, and part of what happened over the last 15, 20 years is that so much money was made in finance that about 40 percent, I think, of our overall growth, our overall economic growth was in the financial sector. Well, now what we’re finding out is a lot of that growth wasn’t real. It was paper money, paper profits on the books, but it could be easily wiped out.

And what we need is steady growth; we need young people, instead of — a smart kid coming out of school, instead of wanting to be an investment banker, we need them to decide they want to be an engineer, they want to be a scientist, they want to be a doctor or a teacher. And if we’re rewarding those kinds of things that actually contribute to making things and making people’s lives better, that’s going to put our economy on solid footing. We won’t have this kind of bubble-and-bust economy that we’ve gotten so caught up in for the last several years.

I can’t ignore that, as a physics major, I probably have some unavoidable bias here, but I think his argument also makes good sense. We need to reward jobs that contribute to society and make everyone better off rather than jobs which are focused on monetary and personal gain. This doesn’t mean that we don’t need bankers and business men; they’re obviously quite important to the business model that’s been in place for a long time. But we do need people to want to contribute to humanity in more real ways. At the same time, I think we would have a more enlightened culture as a whole if we focus on these types of fields. But that’s quite possibly my bias sneaking out.

And since this blog is syndicated on Fedora Planet, where everyone’s an open source contributer, I’m curious to see what everyone else thinks. Could this sort of mentality work for the country the same way our open source communities do? (As a side note, I’ve read some stuff recently about the government looking into adopting open source software, but that’s a blog for another day.)

By the way, this line of thought reminded me about the XO developer program that David Nalley talked about way-back-when. You can find the project page at the math4 wiki page.

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