Monthly Archives: April 2008

(Finally) upgraded to Leopard

At the beginning of the month I got my work laptop, one of the early 2008 MacBook Pro’s. It came wit h 10.5.2 preinstalled, so I took the opportunity to upgrade to Leopard. It’s been an interesting experience sitting on the sidelines watching everyone else explore the new features, but I don’t regret it. I had a few hiccups moving things over, mostly related to installing Python packages. But I had fewer migration problems than I expected, especially given how customized a setup I am running.

Spotlight is actually fast now. It’s not absolutely lightning fast, but it is now fast enough to be usable, at least for me. This might also be partially related to the 7200RPM disk in the new laptop, but either way, I am happy, because this is the thing I wanted the most from Leopard.. Well, except for the fact that mds still sometimes shows up as the top CPU consumer on the machine. improved a lot. There was a bug in the reply all command that made moderating Apache mailing lists a pain. Gone. Account setup, and more importantly, self-signed certificate support is hugely improved. No more trips to Keychain Access to make things work. If only it could remember the position of multiple viewer windows across restarts.

I used one of the virtual desktop managers on my Powerbook and then stopped, so I didn’t expect much out of Spaces. It turns out that spaces is actually pretty good. It works with multiple displays and plays well with Expose. I’m using it all the time I just wish there were shortcuts to go to a particular Space.

Against my better judgment, I’m using Time Machine for primary backups at the moment. This is due to an unfortunate fragmentation of external Firewire disks. After JavaOne I need to spend some time rearranging stuff on various hard drives, so that I can put a SuperDuper! backup into the rotation again. I don’t yet have complete faith in Time Machine’s reliability. Just yesterday, I successfully used Time Machine to save my bacon, and then later in the day, a Time Machine backup just failed with an error. Running Disk Utility over the backup disk didn’t find any problems, and after a reboot, backups seemed to work again. Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, though. I also tried to use a USB disk that is attached an Airport Extreme, and Time Machine could never finish its initial backup. I like to work with a large display, so wireless Time Machine is not a huge deal to me, but it really ought to work. It’s likely to be several more point releases of 10.5 before I really feel like I can rely on Time Machine.

Quicklook is useful when I remember to use it. I’m getting tons of PDF slideshows in e-mail, and Quicklook is good for those. I really wish there was a Quicklook plugin that work on OpenOffice documents.

The next one is dumb but true. I really like having pictures for my desktop backgrounds. The translucent menu bar isn’t a factor in this. Apple provided a nice set of pictures for the backgrounds, and I have it set to rotate the background fairly often. All I need to do now is find some time to pull some of my own pictures into the rotation. The new animations for the picture folder screensaver is also cool – it drops the new pictures on top of the older ones, so that over time your screen looks like a pile of photographs.

On the infrastructure front, things seem a mixed bag. Things are snappy, but the machine also has 4GB of RAM in it. I have yet to see a kernel panic, but it seems less stable than 10.4. I’ve had a bunch of little problems: the issue with the Time Machine disk, loss of sounds after using Front Row to play a DVD, a bug that makes it impossible for file moves to work correctly in PathFinder, and syslog running amokfor no good reason. I had to turn off Growl because it was causing NetNewsWire refreshes to clog up. At the moment, anytime the machine makes a noise, the screen flashes (and yes, I did check the preferences for Universal Access). I’ve also been having a problem with my Firewire 800 disks just disappearing, sometimes during operations. Turning off one of the drives seems to be helping the problem, but that’s 500GB of storage that is offline. It makes me wish (again) that ZFS was going to be in 10.5.3, but alas, it will not. In any event, 10.5.3 will certainly be welcome. All these little problems are really starting to annoy me.

Erlang == CGI?

Jay Nelson, in the comments to Damien Katz’s Lisp as Blub:

The two relevant issues are system granularity and garbage collector behavior (if it is related to memory and garbage collection).

Erlang encourages an architecture of many small-granularity processes. To the extent that this approach is followed, failures are localized. It is possible to do this with other languages, but erlang does encourage the approach more so than other languages.

The other difference is that erlang uses a single-threaded garbage collector per process. This makes the garbage collection process simpler, more finely grained and distributed. Smaller processes mean less complicated memory structures, and thus the language encourages a simpler model with localized garbage collection failure. Determining the cause of overburdened memory usage (or any other resource because of the localized nature of small processes) becomes easier.

An erlang system can get wedged, but following the principle of many small processes makes it less likely to happen than in other languages which encourage large processes with shared memory structures.

It strikes me that this is a sort of CGI’ish view of the world (well except for the garbage collector). CGI scripts run, use (non-shared) resources, release them all and die. The entire post and comment thread is worth some pondering.

Python at CommunityOne

CommunityOne is a free and open developer conference that is run by Sun on the day before JavaOne. This year, there will a space at CommunityOne dedicated to the Python community, complete with whiteboards and wifi. If you are in the Bay Area for JavaOne, or in the Bay Area, or just plain interested in Python, please register for CommunityOne — space is limited.

Registering for CommunityOne gets you a bag of swag, a free lunch the day of CommunityOne, access to all the CommunityOne events and sessions, and a free pass for Day 1 of JavaOne. When you register, put “Python/Jython” in for the referral code.

I will be on a panel on community models during the general session from 9:30AM – 10:45AM, and Frank Wierzbicki and I will be doing a Python/Jython panel. In addition to the usual developer stuff, there will also be a two day Startup Camp, and the folks from RedMonk will be back to do their day long unconference thing.

On Science Fairs

Last weekend the girls participated in the Washington State Science and Engineering Fair. I participated in science fairs from sixth through twelfth grade, so it was a familiar experience to me, at least in some ways. The basic premise is the same, which is that kids learn about the scientific process by doing experiments, creating a display, and presenting their work to a panel of judges.

Our girls are at the age where learning and building up excitement over science is more important than winning, but in the high school division the stakes are higher than I remember them being. When I did fairs, the top rewards were some kind of monetary award in the $50-$100 dollar range, and the chance to compete at the International Science Fair (now the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair). There is still all of that, although the slate of special awards is much much longer. Also, there were a number of college scholarships (some of them for 4 years) being awarded. Several students won enough scholarships to go to college several times over. Julie told me that last year an 8th grade girl won one of those scholarships. Another significant change from my science fair days, was the number of women participating. The gender ratios looked much better than what I remember, and the top two students, the ones going on to the Intel Fair, were women. The Kitsap Sun did a pair of articles on the fair.

A few notes about homeschoolers, since our girls are homeschooled. The people that organize the fair made a big effort to get homeschooled children involved. Apparently, kids in regular schools are too busy, between trying to pass the WASL (thanks No Child Left Behind) and sports, to participate significantly in a science fair. Indeed, the two top ranked academic districts, Mercer Island, and Bainbridge Island, were barely represented, if at all. In contrast, homeschoolers took 1/7th of the 35 first place awards given in the 1st-6th grades, a pretty impressive showing. It will be interesting to watch how/if these children progress over the years.

These fairs are an important way to expose kids to science and to help them develop enthusiasm, curiosity, and an understanding of how science works. If you’re reading this blog, you are aware of the importance of science and engineering for the future of our country and for all mankind, really. I just wish that there were more kids entering these fairs.

Return of Guinea Pig TV…

Long time readers will know that my girls embarked on a series of videos starring their guinea pig, Chatterboy. Julie facilitated this by getting the girls a blog for Guinea Pig TV. For a variety of reasons, Guinea Pig TV has been on hiatus, until a few days ago when the crew put up a new episode, inspired by the Seattle Flickrites’ escapades with Chase Jarvis.