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Name: Tom Hull
Member since: 2000-06-23 03:03:57
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Shy developer of the little-known ftwalk script programming language, and sometime free software ideologue.


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Visiting again, the occasion being the need to change my email address. Coincidentally, I just updated my main working machine from RH 5.2 to RH 7.3, moving from Netscape 4.61 to Mozilla. Runs like a pig in a holler -- guess it's time to shop for memory, the price of progress, right? Plus a whole net set of annoyances -- chiefly window focus behavior that defies my ability to analyze much less fix it, and Mozilla has usurped a bunch of emacs-editing control-keys so that whenever I try to type in new messages I'm attacked by flying widgets. Progress.

I haven't been able to put much time into the new ACLUG website, but it still looks like a promising project. We're using openacs to build a real community website for the local (Wichita, KS) LUG.

My other main project is to build a general website framework for writers (mostly music critics) based roughly on my work on the Robert Christgau website. Some fragments and notes are on my website. I've talked to 3-5 writers who seem like they're willing to participate. Main thing now is that I need to find some affordable hosting -- best deal I've found is a dedicated server for $130/month, which would allow 35GB/month. At this point Christgau is running close to 2GB/month, so that's probably good for 20-30 writers (assuming no music on the websites).

BTW, I have a more frequently updated diary (notebook) on my own website.

It's been a long while since I even looked at advogato, but looking at it today reminded me to update my web site info. And, what the hell, post something.

The new web site is -- I moved the old stuff to the ocston directory. (My good friends at Caldera had shut the ocston site down a month or two ago. Running on UnixWare, it was always pretty lame.) But I still haven't done much with the domain -- been too busy working on another web site to pay much attention to my own.

The other web site is: -- a public repository for a substantial chunk of Village Voice rock critic Robert Christgau's encyclopedic writings. The centerpiece here is a database of 10K rock and more/less related albums, with grades and short reviews, consolidating Christgau's three decade-spanning Consumer Guide books. Lots of essays, too. All implemented with free software, of course: Linux, Apache, PHP, MySQL, ht://Dig.

Not much other news. Still no employment. Looking for consulting work (not much of that either) sucks. Home automation project is on hold. Same for Ftwalk. Been reading a lot -- mostly history, mostly background for the stupid antiterrorism war.

Got annoyed then bored with Advogato some time back. Came back for a look today, wanted to post a comment on Bruce Perens patents article, then found I've been busted back to Observer, so no longer have article posting credentials. Ironic, since observing was precisely what I was not doing. Fickle system.

FWIW, for the last couple of months I've been occasionally writing journal entries on my own web site: very little, I'm afraid, to read there on software -- mostly music, books, movies, recipes, Bill Mazeroski.

Speaking of patents, my pet idea is to throw the defensive patenters into therapy, specifically a program to be called Patents Anonymous (or more likely, just Software Patents Anonymous). This would be an organization that provides automatic cross-licensing to all members, and possibly other services, such as:

  • An open, running comment forum on all new software patents.
  • Prior art search.
  • Clean room tests of originality. (One way to test how original a patent is would be to pose similar problems to other developers, to see how frequently other developers come up with similar solutions. Don't know whether this would have any legal clout.)
  • A forum to log ideas that other might eventually patent. (This would allow free software developers to pre-emptively publish notices to foul would-be patenters.)

Took another look at my business plan draft last week, and it looked pretty pathetic. Spent the weekend rewriting it, then put it up here. That's right: first time I've ever seen a non-proprietary, openly-published business plan. Guess that proves how unfit I am to be CEO of anything.

I plan on writing this up further, spreading the word a bit. It's an interesting business model. Since I wrote the Free World piece, I've been looking for some way to convince end-users to finance free software development. While the business model is mostly brand-managed service. my plan is to break out a Development Fund line item on top of the usual service bills, to invest in continued future development. Kind of like a tip, or surtax, depending on one's point of view. But since it's a tip on top of professional services, I think there's a much better chance of paying it.

Many other interesting points. The idea of a Linux box in every house, with everything hooked up to it, through free software, should be pretty strategic.

Speaking of strategic, I've almost finished reading Ken Auletta's World War 3.0. The trial coverage is quite interesting, although I get the sense that the Justice Dept. acted much like they did with Al Capone (the guy's evil, so let's convict him of something, anything), which in turn confuses MS (who like Nixon is guilty of so much the only safe course is to deny everything). However, in the lulls between the trial coverage, we get long, slow background on MS's myriad business deals, along with yet another biography of Gates. In this sludge there are traces of what MS has in store for the home user -- the ignorant chattel of the consciousness industry.

Been a while since last entry -- thrown a few junk drafts away. Been an awfully frustrating stretch of time. Quick rundown:

  • I spent a lot of time trying to sort out a business concept for a service cooperative to support independent agents in installing and maintaining home networking and automation systems. This still seems to be the right idea, although I haven't gotten anyone else interested, and I haven't gotten a good handle on exactly what the technical side involves. (I tried tracking Neil Cherry's LinuxHA project, but without my own HA system I haven't been able to follow what's going on.) So, finally, I'm throwing my hands up in the air on that idea. I'd like to at least clean up my business plan notes and post them, but it's been hard to concentrate on something that feels like a failure.
  • Meanwhile, started looking for a job, which has always been difficult for me. My standards (work at home in KS, work on open source software) don't make it easier. I'm also kind of a senior guy expert at nothing in particular, with extensive dabbling but no convincing mastery in a number of fields -- most recently, kernel work, but the last kernel related interview I had was a severe embarrassment. I suppose I could go back to consulting on publishing systems, but as long as I insist on open source work, I feel like I have to start all over again. (I'm old enough to feel uneasy about that.)
  • I did get a bit of work done on my Ftwalk language. In fact, got past a problem that had been strumping me for months, which was how to build an RPM package. The problem wasn't how to build a RPM .spec file; rather, it was a conflict between my expectations of what a packaging system should do, and what RPM actually wants to do. My expectation is one should be able to simply do ...
    1. tar zxvf ftwalk-1.5.3.tar.gz
    2. cd ftwalk-1.5.3.tar.gz
    3. ./configure
    4. make
    5. su root -c 'make rpminstall'
    ... and get Ftwalk installed under package manager control. Alas, what RPM wants to do is:
    1. rpm -ba ftwalk-1.5.3.spec
    2. rpm -i ftwalk-1.5.3.i386.rpm
    This is not the place to go into the ins and outs of this, but suffice it to say that these are solutions to two different problems, that RPM makes it difficult to solve the first, and that the second is not anywhere near as simple as it looks (and certainly not worth the trouble for anyone who is actually working in the build area, as opposed to merely building in it).
  • Took a quick look at pliant's Pliant project. In some senses this is much like Ftwalk; e.g., that we both spent a long time working privately before disclosing this work to the world, and that the world has meanwhile adopted unaesthetic but mostly practical alternatives. But I would never characterize Ftwalk as "my life's work" -- however hard up I am for other accomplishments -- it is merely a small idea that got a little out of hand, which I handicap by ignoring it for long stretches, but find interesting and amusing enough that I don't seem to ever be willing to trash it. Pliant, on the other hand, is a big idea, which in part at least seems to be well reasoned. In particular, it does seem to be the case that there is a desire on the part of users for systems that are much simpler and cleaner than what we offer them, and that simplicity and cleanness and so forth are not especially well supported by the current tool set. But turning a sensible critique into a solution is never easy, and simple solutions tend to be unacceptably limiting.
  • I've been reading Peter Wayner's book, Free for All: How Linux and the Free Software Movement Undercut the High-Tech Titans. It's a useful book, with some information that I had not known that is good to have. However, it's got problems, too. For instance, page 9 asserts two intrepretations that are counter to my bent:
    1. That companies keep code private to keep secrets from their competitors. In my experience, this is done to keep the customers in the dark.
    2. That Linus Torvalds made Linux free to allow it to be distributed more broadly. I'd hazard a guess that Linus did this to get other people to help write Linux -- correctly perceiving that a reliable kernel is not something that one sane person can do all by himself.
    These are points that can be argued. More annoying is a tendency to over-dramatize and to raise innuendo (e.g., the discussion of whether Stallman is a communist). I'm also perplexed by what I guess is a literary motif: 22 chapters, all with single word titles, which form little ruminations on keywords like Love, Money, and Sex (although the latter was actually called "Fork"). Not done yet, but thus far I don't see anything that lives up to the subtitle. There is a book to be written about AT&T's Unix floundered under arrogance, greed and blunder, and ultimately fell prey to Linux. (True, the details of the epilogue are not in yet, but the plot line is secure.) This isn't that book. Nor is it the unfinished saga of how Microsoft meets its match. Anecdotes and generalizations, not much more.
  • I wrote down some notes on the US elections and pushed them up to my web site. Sometimes I think I'd like to chuck programming and try my hand as a pundit, but there doesn't seem to be nearly as much opportunity on the left as on the right (don't know that there's any support whatsoever for wherever the hell I stand).
  • Also put up a preliminary year-end music list. I'm planning on writing some annotation for this list at least. Meanwhile, there is some really superb saxophone out there (Rollins, Carter), and Jimmie Dale Gilmore has never sung better.
  • I'm very sad now to hear that my Aunt Edith Hixson has died. She was the last of my mother's family of eight; effectively the last person alive who knew my mother as a child. The end of a generation. She was born in Arkansas in 1911, followed the Okies to CA. She had a very tough life, which she suffered with quiet, modest dignity. I barely knew her while I was growing up, and had few chances to see her later, but they were intensely etched in my mind. I saw her last in July, shortly after my mother died. She may have seen in mom's death the inevitability of her own; in her death I see the finality of my mother's.

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