19 Aug 2002 raph   » (Master)

I've been using a lot of the time that's been set aside for writing this diary for other things. For example, I just spent an hour or so talking on the phone with David McCusker. Also, over the last two evenings I read a great book. It's all good, but as usual a challenge to keep everything in good balance. I'm not sure whether writing a diary every day is the right frequency or not.

Raising Blaze

"Raising Blaze", by Debra Ginsberg, is a compelling tale of a child with a high impedance mismatch with the (public) school system, and how his family copes with it. If you have a child that doesn't fit in to any of the neatly defined categories that schools are designed to handle, you should read this book.

Our Alan is a challenging kid, for sure. We've been incredibly fortunate to have good teachers, guidance, and support, and his academic performance has been excellent (by contrast, the Blaze of the book, is labelled a "problem" very early on and struggles with academics).

The book is beautifully written, with gripping narrative at times, and fully human, real characters. Heather is reading it now, and I am sure we will discuss it deeply.


A couple of people recommended gnome-meeting. I did try it before, but with no success. It was probably a low-level audio driver issue. I'm particularly prone to these kinds of problems because I compile my own kernels. I'll give it another shot.

I also bought a reasonably priced Plantronics headset with microphone, instead of the clunky old Apple microphone I had been using. The ergonomics should be a lot better, anyway.

Video games

Both Alan and Max are getting into computer games on the iMac in a pretty big way. Everybody (myself included) likes Pop Pop, a new game from Ambrosia in the Breakout family. Alan is able to get through the demo levels by himself, so I've bought him a registration key. Alan is also really enjoying Snood. He's just recently been able to win games at the first difficulty level.

Build tools

I've actually been hacking a bit on my prototype for a build system, but if tromey's is a good design, I'd rather help on that. Perhaps a good way to do that, though, is to make the Rebar prototype good enough to build interesting projects, and offer it as grist for the mill.

Tromey writes about an important question in build tool design: do you make it depend on an existing, but not yet ubiquitous tool or language (such as Python), or do you try to make it bootstrap from more primitive parts? Auto* does an impressive job working on older Unix systems, but is deeply dependent on the Unix shell. I really need a build system that works on other platforms too.

A dependence on Python is pretty reasonable and is one way to solve this, but I have a different idea for Rebar. This question also brings up another: what language underlies the build scripts? If you know that your tool will have a (say) Python dependency, then it's very tempting to just export the languages "eval" capability. In fact, all build tools have some underlying language.

In the case of Rebar, my choice is to roll a new language, tiny and simple of course. What makes it interesting is that it's purely functional, so it can be evaluated in parallel (make -jn), and so that results from one run can be cached for others (like ccache and friends). However, in all cases, the tool must give the same results as if executing the script serially from beginning to end. I feel that this design is potentially a lot more robust than those in which the parallelism and caching is specified explicitly, and that build scripts can be simpler.

As for bootstrapping, I will expect most developers to have the full tool. However, the plan is to have a "light" version written in portable C and released under a very liberal free license (MIT), so that it can be included in source distributions. This version can be much simpler in terms of caching and dependency analysis, so I think it's possible to do in a small number of lines of code. It will also come with scripts to automatically build it on a number of popular systems. If these scripts fail for any reason, then getting the full tool is always an option.

I like this idea, and feel it would be quite a bit harder to pull off if a large, rich language such as Python were embedded. Even so, I'm doing the prototype in Python and am happy with the choice.

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