29 Dec 2000 thull   » (Journeyer)

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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