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be less verbose | Adeodato Simó

dato's blog for Planet Debian


Some follow-ups

Mon, 13 Jul 2009 22:04:50 +0200

I’d like to follow-up to a couple recent posts in this blog, triggered by comments I received via e-mail and other media.

In the first place, I’ll comment on the post that labelled bloodletting and electroshock as “barbaric methods”. I received two comments about this. The first one was from a heamatologist who pointed out that bloodletting per se is not an abandoned practice, and that is still the method of choice, for example, for some pathologies that consist, precisely, on elevated bloodvolume (eg., polycythemia vera). The second of these comments was regarding electroshock, and how it can or is still used to treat long-term depression (and pointed me to this TED talk by American surgeon Sherwin Nuland, who apparently had severe depression himself and was well served by electroshock therapy).

These comments were called for, so I’ll amend and say that only “indiscriminated bloodletting” should have been described as barbaric, like doctors in the distant past used to do as far as I know. For electroshock, however, the fact that it may cure depression doesn’t make it less barbaric in my eyes, at least if the amounts of pain involved in the treatment are what one has been led to believe. So I think it’d belong in the same category as treatments for cancer: we use them despite being horrible because we’re sadly not quite there yet in the “knowing better” ladder of History. (And this is just my opinion, of course.)

Regarding my recent post about Oposiciones, it was pointed out out that the original intent of for-life employment when working for the State is to free such workers from possible politic pressures, and to avoid firing en masse when a new party arrives to the Government, to hire people that will sympathize with their agenda.

And finally, about my somewhat older Meritocracy and entitlement, I was told that —even if the reader would know me relatively well— it was very easy to read the short entry in the opposite way it was intended by me. If that’s the case, let me clarify: my thoughts on the matter are that the more power or positions you get in a project (to which you arrive by meriting them, obviously), the less entitled you should feel.

Short items (#4)

Sun, 12 Jul 2009 12:05:09 +0200

  • Pity is a messy business, I’d say, and I wonder if we wouldn’t be better off never pitying anybody whom we don’t know reasonably well, or who isn’t clearly asking for it. For all I know, the girl in a wheelchair sitting across from me in the library could be way happier than many of us, and the guy with all the looks nearby, unexpectedly miserable (or the guy with all the money, for that matter).

  • I come across regularly with Git repositories converted from Subversion with plain git-svn, in which the initial commits are in the typical form:

    commit 1bd799efe798308aed29c95eb08e4cb1c91693c9
    Author: guy 
    Date:   Wed Nov 29 01:12:13 2006 +0000
      git-svn-id: svn:// 5c8cc53c-5e98-4d25-b20a-d8db53a31250

    Every time I see one of these, it reminds me of how different people are, for I could not be able to stand such (ugly) commits in my history for eternity (and it’s not as if git-svn does not have the “authorsfile” and “noMetadata” options).

  • There’s a bus here that used to do City 1 ↔ University ↔ City 2, so students would pick that line on side of the road A to go to City 1, and on side of the road B to go to City 2. Now they’ve changed the line, and it only does City 1 ↔ University, with side B going to City 1 as well. The sign in the bus no longer shows “City 2” as a destination, but the line number is the same as before. I do wonder if a SONAME bump would have helped here: plenty of people are still taking it to go to City 2, and get very upset when they see the bus do the U-turn!

  • If my weak math-fu didn’t fail on me, it should be possible for an ATM to deliver any amount of money multiple of 10 with only notes of 20 and 50, except of course 10 and 30.

  • I’ve been trying to eat more fruit lately, particularly more kinds of fruit (for years, I’ve confined myself to Granny Smith apples and watermelon). I now also like grapes, peaches, oranges, and some kiwis.

  • A while ago I read with great amusement Rusty is a homosexual.

P.S.: I’ve passed the second of the three courses as well, only one exam left now on the 16th (incidentally the hardest of them).

Oposiciones, or working for the Spanish administration

Tue, 30 Jun 2009 18:58:27 +0200

In Spain, in order to work for the public administration, you have to go through this selection process called Oposiciones, which are basically an exam and other tests after which candidates are sorted by their combined grade, and available positions are handed out to them in that order. I assume every country has something to the same effect.

In Spain at least, the position thus obtained is to be held for life, meaning you cannot be fired unless you incur in extremely unacceptable behavior (and then, as far as I know, most of the time you just get barred from work for a number of months, after which you return normally). Because of this, many a mother advices their children to prepare for one of these exams, and many people decide to do so particularly in times like these. The people who occupy such positions are called funcionarios, and there’s this même in Spanish society that they all work very relaxedly, to use an euphemism, particularly those in offices. (It must be very upsetting to be a diligent funcionario, and be made the same snide remarks again and again when revealing yourself as one.)

I really don’t understand why this is done this way, and can’t possibly agree to it. Of course, the State above all should behave responsibly and provide with stable employment, but I can’t see why its employees shouldn’t be held up to the same standards of quality as the citizens employed by private companies. Isn’t just «for-life employment» a recipe for people lowering their standards? If there’s no risk of getting sacked, isn’t that an invitation —at least for many people— to performing a sub-par job? (A person I know who’s preparing Oposiciones to be a teacher in Primary school told me that, in fact, such fact would give her much freedom to implement more modern teaching methods without fear of consequences, for they are regarded as very unconventional by most, but my impression is that she’s the exception rather than the rule.)

Speaking of Education, here in Spain there’s a special degree you have to pursue if you want to be a teacher in Primary school. However, to be a teacher in Secondary school, any degree will do, as long as you attended upon completion to a laughable 4-month course on “how to teach”. Because of this, people with random degrees and no interest in teaching whatsoever decide every year that Secondary school is their best bet to a funcionario position, and go for it. Which, I muse, perhaps plays some kind of role in the state of Education around here — but that is going into muddy waters, and I rather wouldn’t. (I’m told that this laughable 4-month course is being morphed into some kind of 1-year Master with exams and grades and shit. Well, I guess that’s something.)

Oh, and by the way, greetings to all the diligent funcionarios out there, including the teachers that live for their teaching and their students: you rock!

Short items (#3)

Sun, 28 Jun 2009 12:28:34 +0200

  • Last week I mentioned Randy Pausch was an Unitarian Universalist. This made me visit briefly the Wikipedia page for this movement, and out of pure curiosity I also peeked at the homepage of the Unitarian church in Dublin (which may just be part of the Unitarian movement, and not the UU one, beware!). Anyway, it has a a reverend, which left me realizing that, whilst I can’t really say whether I’ll ever set foot in a church weekly again, at the moment I can’t really conceive ever going back but to an unconventional one where the speaker would be, each week, a different member of the community, and not an appointed reverend.

  • Throughout the history of Medicine, barbaric methods have been used to cure some illnesses. Bloodletting and electroshock come to mind. In the current times, we’re thankfully past such practices, and the reasonable thing to do is to pity those who had to live back then, when science did not know any better. I’m hopeful one day the people of the future will look back at chemotherapy and radiotherapy in the same way we look at bloodletting and electroshock today.

  • During this VAC from Debian, my amule package was NMUed by the Security Team. I must ashamedly confess that my first reaction was not very positive, for I was annoyed that the procedures hadn’t been really followed (it was not an RC bug and no advance notice of the NMU had been given). Anyway, whether it was right or wrong is not the point: the story goes that I pulled myself together, slapped self a bit, and decided to send a “Thanks!” e-mail instead, which was very much in order. It’s so magical how a couple hours ater sending it, I really felt grateful and no longer annoyed. The thing I learnt is not to despair when desired traits don’t come naturally, for they can become true just by trying.

  • Recently I obtained a copy of the latest album by Corazón, Nuevo futuro. Not having the time to listen to it at home, I transferred it to my iPod, an (old-generation) iPod Shuffle, and hence without a screen. I had read this review of the album that, among other things, said a track named «Vestir santos» was probably the album’s finest. So, when listening to the album in the street, I was hoping I would manage to deduce which track «Vestir santos» was, out of its lyrics. Unfortunately I wasn’t smart enough to deduce it, but when I got home I had the opportunity to get surprised by the fact that track #4, which had become my favourite after a couple listens in the iPod, happened to be «Vestir santos».

The future

Thu, 25 Jun 2009 17:27:49 +0200

I’ve sometimes told myself that I’ll feel the future has arrived when it’ll be possible to enter an IMDB number on my TV, and have a HD version of the movie play instantly, with languages and subtitles available. Current bandwidth is driving us towards that direction, and some invaluable communities are in fact making it almost possible today. (Nevertheless, I’d be happy to pay a monthly quote in exchange for the bell and whistles mentioned above, and for really having practically all movies at my disposal.)

The future likes to arrive in small doses, of course. Today I wanted to write “food time, bbl” on IRC, but I typoed it as “good time, bbl”. This typo made me remember a song from my teen years that I used to listen to all the time, since the video clip was included in the Windows 95 installation that accompanied me through high school (yes...). I found it really futuristic how, after typing exactly three words, I found myself enjoying the video again, and then peeking at the rest of the album. (After that I proceeded to this other video. Wow, I really spent hours playing that game back then.)

I think the appreciation of things like the above is a very good excercise: the world becomes such a much better place when one stops taking everything for granted. I, of course, also have wilder wishes for the future: I dream with the day when singing to self a particular fragment of a song will be enough to trigger it playing in the nearest loudspeakers or headphones. For now, getting one of those players where my whole collection will fit will have to do.

The Time Traveler's Wife: not a review

Tue, 23 Jun 2009 22:21:19 +0200

Yesterday I borrowed The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger from the library. I’m hardly on page 100 by now, and I’m already making plans about whom I am going to give it to for their birthday.

During this first half of 2009, reading has been a painful experience. I already mentioned last week that I’ve been suffering some kind of reader’s block for a long time. It seemed to have gone away late in 2008, when I managed to read several books in a row (my favourite being The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), but in 2009 I’ve already started and given up three others: my “Oh no, I’ve smoked again” moments.

Big part of the problem is my limited ability to choose what to read. There isn’t really much of a library at home, and for now buying books comes below the cutoff line in the budget, so I’m left to sticking to public libraries: it’s really sad to get all excited about a certain book in Goodreads or LibraryThing, and then check that it’s not available in any of the libraries around here. (It doesn’t really help that I insist on reading in English now, in a country where that’s even more uninteresting than undubbed movies. Then there’s the pain that I’m not a fast reader anymore, and the clock ticks.)

Anyway, let’s get back to this non-review of The Time Traveler’s Wife, since the above should sort itself out soon. Imagine, coming from where I come from on this, how empowering it feels to say, a couple tens of pages into a book, this book, to say: “I’m so going to finish it.” (Well, any book can turn out bad, but I’m quite confident this one won’t.) It was a really great feeling.

This book is obviously science-fiction, since it involves time travelling, but I think that’s a wrong label for it since it’s just a love story. One that, precisely because it involves a component one doesn’t normally find in regular love stories (time travelling), becomes such a powerful one: the characters experience situations in a relationship your brain had never conceived, like for example the whole Jason incident, and that’s been for me incredibly moving. (I guess if you’re well into time-travelling stories, you might have thought of such situations. And there are probably some science-fictions books out there that have presented some of them already.)

If you’re thinking of reading this book, and particularly if you’re a regular science-fiction reader, I’m tempted to suggest —with only 100 pages into it, beware!— that you don’t see it as a science-fiction book. Try not to derail into analyzing if the travelling is consistent (which I’ve found it to be), or if the presented philosophy makes sense. For me it’s a book about emotions, and the time travelling is the device that allows us to achieve some very high peaks.

By the way, as far as I can tell, this is going to be the first time ever I’m going to watch a movie after having read the novel, and not the other way around. Let’s see how disappointed I will be!

P.S.: I’ve recently passed one of the three courses I had set out to pass when I went VAC, yay! Only two to go.


Mon, 22 Jun 2009 14:07:40 +0200

I have this recurring experience in my life whereas I’ll regularly be late in my discovery of something. It happens with any kind of stuff, but particularly with with music: how can it be that I discovered this artist so ashamingly late? For example, I only came to hear about Anthony and the Johnsons a couple months ago, in 2009 already... (Clearly some processes in my life could be streamlined.)

Anyway, this is not about music, but some of the other kind of stuff. Through the magic of the intarwebs and by virtue of people who care to compile a list of worthwhile links in their homepages (I should definitely do that some time), I came to know about the PostSecret project (blog, page, wikipedia). The premise is simple: anonymous people send in a self-made postcard with a short message, which must be a truthful secret never revealed to anyone before. Every Sunday, the creator of the project (Frank Warren) will post to the site a selection of the received postcards.

If you visit during this week, you’ll see a themed edition of sorts, dubbed Father’s Day Secrets. I urge you to take a look, now or after finishing this post. I can’t even begin to describe how powerful the experience was for me. Upon introspection, I think it’s because each one of these secrets is a concentrated drop of empathy waiting to hit your brain. If you’re not too keen on empathizing with others, maybe you won’t enjoy the site after all. (And, of course, not all of these drops result equally powerful to one’s sensibility.)

There have been several books published with many of such postcards, which is great since unfortunately each weekly set disappears from the blog upon the arrival of the next one (or shortly thereafter). If you use Google Reader, that’s great because it keeps a history of all posts since 2007 (though the images don’t seem to load for the oldest of them). Alternatively, you may visit the Spanish translation, which displays the original images in addition to their translation, and allows to visit older entries.

Finally, I can’t but help to show a couple here. First, the really sad ones:

(image) (image)

Then, a very light one:


And then, this one:


Short items (#2)

Sun, 21 Jun 2009 13:40:01 +0200

  • Spanish having accented letters, it is very easy to get misspelt artist names in, and since doesn’t do auto-correction for them (only for track titles), you end up with two different pages for a given artist. If you’re an elitist, refrain from enjoying music from artists whose misspelt name has more listeners than the correct one (and good luck).

  • The “automatic formatting” feature in Vim is rather useful, since you can edit text mid-paragraph and have it automatically “flow” to the desired line length, like word processors do. I wish, however, it was context sensitive (but I guess only Emacs must be able to do that): using it for e-mail or LaTeX sucks because then you must deactivate it when editing the headers or the preamble. But, alas, a shortcut for easy activation/deactivation is a mess, because there’s no toggling for multi-valued, comma-separated options in Vim AFAICS. (The shortcut can be done, though.)

  • I’ve watched recently the two late talks by Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who passed away in 2008 due to pancreatic cancer. These are Time Management and, of course, The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams. I was profoundly impressed, for I found him to be really, really inspiring. Once I recover from that, I’ll watch them again and take notes. (Interestingly enough, he was an Unitarian Universalist.)

  • The stupid riddle in last week’s items was simply a list of middle names for some well-known people (Knuth, Raymond, Stallman, Torvalds and Dijkstra). The addendum was Icaza’s second surname.

  • I’m rather fond of top-posting in private correspondence, since I see little value in replying inline and only in few occasions quoting really makes a difference. I prefer my private correspondence, particularly if not technical, to be snail mail-like, with each reply standing on its own. (In that case, it is of course one’s responsibility to ensure you don’t overlook in your reply any of the topics or questions in the original text.)


Thu, 18 Jun 2009 14:02:17 +0200

I’m a fearful person. I haven’t really stopped to think why, but the truth is that I’m always fearing that things will go wrong, eg. that something good that’s supposed to happen in the near future will not happen in the end.

Last year I mentioned being in Dublin for the summer in an internship at Google. Well, that went well, and during this year I’ve been interviewing for a full-time position. See, I kept rather secretive about this, because I was utterly convinced I wouldn’t make it (some kind of pessimism as a defense mechanism, I’ve been told).

Even now, two months after having been told that I made it, and even with the contract signed, I still have fears that something bad will happen that’ll prevent me from starting there in August. But, well, now that I’ve bought my tickets, I think it’s about time to say: I’ll be moving to Dublin in a couple months to start as a reliability engineer at Google. It feels strange buying a one-way ticket, and at the same time so natural.

For me, the part that excites me most about this whole business is —drawing an analogy from the world of video games— finally jumping to the next level in life. I’ve been a student for too long already, and life forced me to move back to my parents’ even when I had supposedly moved out permanently. It’s time for me to move on, and it’s very helpful to have solved «the job issue» already, since I have a lot of (other) work ahead of me.

A thought on «pro-life»

Wed, 17 Jun 2009 20:18:04 +0200

On the whole debate about abortion, you could say I’ve always been (and still am) in the so-called «pro-choice» side of things. There’s however a recurring thought I’ve been hitting myself with lately, and which I’d like to share now.

For me, the whole «pro-choice» business is based on, well, choice, and the right to choose regarding oneself. I’ve always argued that a country having legislation that allows for abortion doesn’t mean that everybody should be following that path, and pregnant women for whom abortion is morally unacceptable are free not to pursue it.

In a quest for trying to illustrate to myself why «pro-life» people don’t find that argument compelling at all, I came with the following toy dilemma: imagine your country would start to allow for capital punishment if —and only if—, provided that the law says the crime warrants it, the victim or the family of the victim say they’d like for that.

Would I not be campaigning in the streets against this? Why would that be okay, but on the other hand I’ve regarded «pro-life» campaigning as intolerance in the past? Why does self-righteousness come so naturally to everyone of us?

World. Not a simple place.

PS, I’m pretty much convinced that the two posed examples are fully comparable for the purpose of this discussion, yet I find it very acceptable to be «pro-choice». The point is not on the rightness of wrongness of either belief, but on how we regard those who won’t think like us.

Terenci’s memoirs, reader’s block, and an excerpt in Spanish

Mon, 15 Jun 2009 20:20:54 +0200

Last week I borrowed from the library El peso de la paja, Terenci Moix’s memoirs. I find it intriguing how having his memoirs in my hands only managed to trigger the sad memory of the day he died after some days, and not immediately. Terenci Moix died in April, 2003. For some time by then, I used to listen to La Ventana, a radio show conducted by (the oh-so-marvelous) Gemma Nierga, where Terenci would share a space with Boris Izaguirre a couple times a week, I think. I remember myself most avid for that half an hour: I found their talk fascinating. (I must investigate some time, or have somebody find out, whether it’d be possible to access to those recordings now. It is something I’d love to have, for those inevitable days of melancholia.) In the preceding months, too, I had started reading some of Terenci’s books: El día que murió Marilyn, Garras de astracán, and also Preguntar no és ofendre. I clearly remember myself crying in the rest rooms on campus while listening to La Ventana that day. He was probably one, if not the first public character who died while being a dear part of my life, and I was also young and easily affected. For a long, long time I’ve had some kind of «reader’s block». I used to read an awful lot in my teen years and very early twenties, but somehow all that stopped when I started doing computery stuff and despite my repeated attempts to get back on track. I’ve also elaborated an assorted set of explanations for this. The latest of them, derived from the pleasure with which I’m reading Terenci’s memoirs, that it may be the time for me to look more into non-fiction, which I’ve always neglected. Cinema was a very strong force in Terenci’s life. Not only he wrote important texts on Hollywood movies from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s (and a History of cinema together with Pere Gimferrer that got stolen and lost forever before publication), it also influenced his views of the world. Early in his memoirs, the following text is found, which I found moving: [...] solía ensimismarme en juegos siempre solitarios o en la contemplación de unas imágenes que constituyen mi primer recuerdo, el primer signo reconocible de mi vida. Era la vidriera de la entrada el punto fijo de aquella mi observación diaria, de aquel ensimismamiento. Y no porque a través de los cristales se vislumbrase la calle como punto posible de escapatoria —tan estrecha era que no me permitía imaginar horizontes—, sino a causa de los carteles que solían dejar semanalmente varios cines de la barriada. Eran pasquines amarillentos, impresos a toda prisa en cualquier imprenta barata de las cercanías. Tipografías tristonas que anunciaban, en letras rudimentarias y carentes de imaginación, los títulos de las dos películas de la semana, amén de las frases de publicidad destinadas a pontenciar sus atractivos. En medio de aquella composición desangelada, aparecían dos recuadros que contenían a su vez dos folletos de colores. Eran los inolvidables «programas», que los demás mortales obtenían de los cines, previo pago de su localidad, y que a mí me llegaban en sobreabundancia y sin moverme de casa. Permanecía sentado horas enteras ante una de las mesas de mármol, y desde allí fijaba los ojos en los carteles de la vidriera, y muy especialmente en los reducidos programas cuyos rostros, preferentemente yanquis, llegaron a ser tan habituales como las clientas, las vecinas y los familiares. Y aquí me corresponde agradecer con ternura aquella costumbre, hoy perdida, el hábito entrañable de una época que todavía no había descubierto el derroche de las grandes campañas publicitarias. Pues inclus[...]

Short items (#1)

Sun, 14 Jun 2009 14:37:46 +0200

  • There’s stuff that I feel doesn’t warrant a full blog post, but won’t fit in 140 characters either (and I prefer the blog anyway). Because of this, I’ve decided to start bundling such bits together in a single post that’ll get flushed each Sunday if there are any items in the queue (this period could be adjusted later). The guideline is, roughly, “the item fits comfortably within a paragraph”. I think flushing weekly, independently of the numer of items, could be a good idea, because some stuff may perish. I wonder if it’d be worth trying that out for DeveloperNews.

  • This comes reposted from Twitter: if you’re mathematically inclined, particularly if only very slightly like myself, I invite you to spend ten minutes reading EWD975 (pdf), «On the theorem of Pythagoras» by Dijkstra. Who would’ve said that Pythagoras’ theorem could be abstracted into something that applies to all triangles and not only right-angled ones? (I hope to blog again about Dijkstra within the next weeks.)

  • Here’s a small and stupid riddle: “Ervin, Steven, Matthew, Benedict, Wybe.” I’ll tell you how long it’s been sitting in my computer: 6 years (it shows, too). Here’s an addendum: “Amozurrutia”. (Solution in the next issue.)

  • I’ve started wearing a white knot, a badge that’s been campaigned as the symbol of marriage equality (i.e., supporting marriage of same-sex couples). I’ve never worn badges before, and I’d like to salute all the not queer people that support this cause and have even started wearing a white knot themselves from time to time.

  • Again from Twitterland, this time Bryan O’Sullivan’s, an article in The Atlantic about a 70-year study of a couple hundreds Harvard students, pursuing some insights about what are the key factors for a happy life. Interesting enough read, at least for this uneducated mind in such matters. A quote:

    [The study director] was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

Why I regard my socialist heart as a moral imperative

Fri, 12 Jun 2009 13:57:45 +0200

The world is a complex place, and I always feel easily belittled when talking about its matters. The world is complex, and what follows is a very simplistic approach to things, but it can be surely excused, because the view of this matter as it lives in my head is, after all, very simple.

This is not really about politics, but about the welfare state and some of the comments I occasionally hear or read regarding social expenditure and incremental taxes. Comments in the line of not wanting to pay for others’ benefits, since one’s surely worked their ass out to earn everything they have now, much more than all the lazy people that exist in the world.

I always feel tempted to take out the machine gun and shoot some questions around: think about all the efforts you’ve made to arrive to where you are now, and answer: was being born in a developed country earned by you in any way? Or being born in a family that could provide food and shelter and hopefully love every day of your life? Your family not needing that you would start working at the age of 14? The intelligence that allowed you to make it through college? The money in your family or from other citizens’ pockets that allowed you to do so? The lack of serious health problems that came to disrupt your life, or the magical medicine that saved you from them?

I always feel tempted to take out such machine gun, but I never do: if last night, while making this reasoning to a like-minded friend, my voice almost broke, I can see how things could go very wrong when talking to somebody who doesn’t realize that, for every big effort and hell-like situation they went through in their life, the world had a bigger gift in place for them.

In a couple months I’ll be starting a new job that’s going to pay me well, part of which will be taxated at the highest rate. A small chunk of me wants not to like that, but a bigger part prefers to learn to regard it as a honor and a privilege. A privilege because arriving to such position means that I’ve been immensely lucky and covered with gifts in my life. A honor because it means I could be contributing to a system where people without private medical insurance get the most expensive of treatments without a blink, or get put through college without strangling their following years. It’s only too bad I don’t find it in me (yet) to get rid of half my earnings right away.

Doubt is a constant in my life, in the sense that I constantly challenge the way I act in my daily doings and strive to do better. It is a pure joy, then, and a big gift, that at least some beliefs are in place and set in stone, to act as foundations and not subject to challenge.

Some stuff

Tue, 09 Jun 2009 18:34:21 +0200

This past week hasn’t been a very good one. Exams have started, and they always manage to get my mood to swing dangerously low, which in turn makes me see everything inevitably black and jeopardizes my ability to study. Throughout the year I’ve managed to pass 3 courses already, and I’m hoping to pass 3 more from now until July 16th, when I’ll take the last of this set of exams, if I can manage to pull that out. But then there’s the Debian stuff too: these past days I’ve been having a Debian crisis of sorts, coincident with my return from the Release Team meeting in Cambridge on June 1st, and evidenced by my lack of interest in procrastinating studying for my exams by doing Debian work.

I came back sensibly disenchanted from Cambridge, mainly due to the realization of a couple of things. One, that I have a vision of management that is not globally shared by all members of the team, or at least one wouldn’t say so by looking at some of the courses of action proposed there. And, two, that I lack the strength to impose this view of mine upon others, and that I’ll prefer to back off and concede rather than fight for it (but, sadly, this is nothing new in my life). This, combined with the constant feeling (promulgated by myself, mostly) that I’m never performing well enough in my role, and the accumulated abundance of tasks, have contributed to a rather stressful couple of weeks, and made me end up out of stamina for Debian.

Now, I think I’m fortunate enough that I can be conscious that this “paint it black” mood is probably playing an important role in all this, so I’m not despairing. It’s only natural, I think, to go through low-stamina periods at times. It has certainly happened to me in the past already, and slowing down for a bit and spending more time in other activites did serve me well in such occasions. However, it’s been already more than a week off this time, and things are not really improving, so that’s why I’m going to go VAC for some time; it should also help with the studying, I hope. There are some tasks, like training new assistants, for which I would like to say, “No, I’ll still be taking care of that”, but that would miss the point, since the point of this VAC for me is not feeling guilty at all if I feel like doing exactly zero Debian stuff throughout all of it. But well, I’ll try to prioritize that should I find some time and energy to spend in Debian.

I’ve felt tempted to cancel DebConf, but I’m not letting that get painted in black too, at least not yet. Even if Debian is not joyful for me at the moment, it has been fully so in the past, and I’m hopeful it’ll be again soon.

Minirok 2.0 out, apparently popular among disenchanted Amarok users

Tue, 02 Jun 2009 12:48:48 +0200

Yesterday I released Minirok 2.0, which is basically a port of Minirok 0.9 to KDE4, with a couple nice features thrown in, like undo support in the playlist, which I can’t live without.

Minirok is a very simple audio player written in Python and modeled after Amarok 1.4 (the interface is almost identical). I’ve been told by several people already that they’ve happily migrated to it from Amarok, after being dissatisfied with the 2.x series. Beware, though, that Minirok is very simple, has limited functionality by design, and may not be what you’re looking for. For example, there’s no collection built from tags, only a tree view of the filesystem. See the homepage for details.

Minirok is known to work well with KDE 4.2 and Qt 4.5, which are both in Jaunty and Squeeze already, but it should work with KDE 4.1 and Qt 4.4 as well. The package is already in unstable, feel free to grab it from here for other distrubtions.

A note for users upgrading from 0.9: submissions are disabled by default now, instead of enabling themselves opportunistically upon the presence of lastfmsubmitd (which could be not configured). If you want Minirok to continue submitting to, you’ll have to enable it in the preferences dialog.

Meritocracy and entitlement

Wed, 27 May 2009 22:18:49 +0200

Via Planet Bazaar, this paragraph from a post by Paul Hummer caught my attention (emphasis mine):

Finally, I wrote an open ended question to myself to think about, and thought that maybe I’d throw it out here as well. For context, Jono Bacon was talking about community (y’know, plugging his book and all that :), and I wrote “Open source thrives on a meritocracy - how can we prevent feelings of entitlement?” I see this a lot in open source communities: people earn their “commit rights” and then start behaving like everyone owes them something. Collaboration is about peers, not about hierarchies.

Now I’m reposting that here because, although I’m not very keen on philosophizing myself, something in that thought was of immediate appeal to me.

j and autojump

Tue, 28 Apr 2009 18:24:49 +0200

Via blaxter, I got to know autojump. It hooks into your shell, tracking the directories you visit, and provides a “j” command that allows you to cd to a directory by providing a string or regular expression that matches the directory you want to visit. To decide among various possibilities, the code has gotten to know the frequency with which you’ve visited each directory, and how long you stayed on it (or, rather, how many commands you execute in it, it seems).

I’ve been using it for a week now, and it indeed improves The Shell Experience™.

By the way, if you’d rather not execute a Python script with every prompt (!), there seems to be a small sister project/clone written in shell and awk here.

Five films (#5)

Mon, 20 Apr 2009 11:19:00 +0200

Ok, here we go again. I do hope somebody, somewhere is finding these posts of some use. *g*

  • Changeling: I’ll confess I’m not very fond of Angelina Jolie, and I watched this movie exclusively because it came from Clint Eastwood. I gave it 5/5, which may be a tad too much, but that’s how I felt right after it finished. It’s not a light movie, but I do think everybody should give it a try when they find themselves in the mood.

  • One Fine Day: This romantic comedy doesn’t have much of a high rating on IMDB, and maybe I’m too fond of George Clooney myself, but it pleased me enormously. Thanks to Marc ‘HE’ Brockschmidt for having recommended it to me in the first place, though probably you shouldn’t bother if you can’t stand the genre at all. Ah, and Michelle Pfeiffer.

  • Sling Blade: I was left deeply in awe by this movie, and even more so when I found out the director, writer and main role are all the same person, Billy Bob Thornton. One of the things that pleased me the most was the ending, because I found it included a good share of food for thought, particularly regarding how the characters would get on with their lives afterwards, which is not shown. Again, not a light movie, I’ll reckon.

  • Sideways: I enjoyed this movie a lot, and I should watch it sometime again, because I think I didn’t scratch it enough. Which is great, because it’s rather difficult combining hilarity with reflection. Viva la escena in the fast food restaurant.

  • Tiempos de azúcar: I’ve comitted to watching some more Spanish films, and this one is the more remarkable of those I’ve seen as of late. This is a bittersweet love story spawning more than 30 years, and has Verónica Forqué and Charo López in wonderful supporting roles. I should watch more films of Charo López.

Isaac watched Love Actually recently, and I oooh’ed quite a bit when he told me, because that movie has one of my favourite or should I say powerful scenes of all times for me, and recalling it brings me instant joy and often instant tears. I think these three (spoiling) minutes are so powerful because, albeit they are fully anticipated for the spectator, they come as a complete surprise to both protagonists (obviously to her, but also to him, given the dialog that takes place once she gets down the stairs; that tiny dialog is in fact the most powerful bit of it all).

Piglatin in Debian!

Tue, 07 Apr 2009 21:42:13 +0200

This is too good not to blog it, but it’s horribly old too.

While composing a message for #522776, I wanted to see where the output of locale-gen is stored (/usr/lib/locale/locale-archive, it seems), but my first try ended up with me looking at /usr/share/locale, where I couldn’t help but notice that Inkscape comes with a translation to, wait for it... Piglatin (apparently since 2006). There sure are people with lots of spare time, and I sure hope he did the translation programmatically!

Anyway, here’s the obligatory screenshot, including some out of date strings:


If you’d like to run it yourself, you’ll need to create an en_US@piglatin locale first. I did it by sticking this file in /usr/share/i18n/locales/en_US@piglatin and adding a line “en_US@piglatin UTF-8” to /etc/locale.gen, etc.

The Führer in IMDB

Sat, 28 Mar 2009 10:20:26 +0100

Following-up to the story of having all the movies I’ve watched in a PostgreSQL database, I now have a tendency to run the following query after wathing one, to take a look at what other movies I’ve watched in which some of the actors also participated:

  movies=> SELECT, s.title
             FROM seen_cast s JOIN seen_cast s2 USING (person_id)
             WHERE s.movie_id != s2.movie_id AND s2.title = 'Sideways' 
             ORDER BY name ASC;

(Replacing Sideways with the movie I just watched, of course. Also, “seen_cast” is a view, that’s why it looks as if the database is not normalized.)

So, apart from informing me that I have seen Paul Giamatti in other five films in addition to Sideways, the above query returned the following rows:

       name     |       title        
   Adolf Hitler | Germania anno zero
   Adolf Hitler | The Good Shepherd

Apparently, Adolf Hitler has a page in IMDB, and is credited (generally by IMDB only, not by the film credits themselves) in every film that shows any archive footage of him. Which, as of today, are more than 400.