Archive for February, 2007

coffee lineup

February 28th, 2007

coffeeline.pngThe first lectures of the day start at 9am, a difficult hour for all of us. As one of my teachers said "what a time to start". And even if you bike to school and get some of that fresh morning wind air to wake you up, by 9:20 everyone is fighting sleep.

Once the lecture ends, those conquered by fatigue just let gravity work, cross their arms on the desk and let their head find support in the horizontal. The rest, sober enough to get to their feet, stroll out of the room and head for the lounge area.

Quickly two lines form in front of the twin coffee machines. Fortunately, these are very reliable, so people get their fix, but as the Dutch would have it, the cups are really small, so by the time you're halfway through, you're thinking about getting more.

The soda and candy machines see no business at this hour - it's too early for soda and candy. Instead, those not lined up for coffee just linger around the two tables and stakeout the scene, waiting for the worst crowds to clear. Around 9:55 everyone (including the teacher) grabs their drink and heads back into class, where every room is marked with a sign "no eat or drink".

Note: I actually wanted to make the drawing look more like it was drawn by hand, but there are two problems:

  • I can't draw.
  • I don't have a tablet.

Drawing with the mouse is just awful, so instead I sketched out a pretty lame illustration in inkscape, which is wondeful, but unfortunately I don't know how to use it properly (but even if I did, I have no artistic ability).

five tidbits from the personal archives

February 27th, 2007

Hm, nawet nie wiem w którym języku to napisać. Nie wiem z jakiego powodu Kamil postanowił, że właśnie ja powinienem uczestniczyć w następnej rundzie "chain mail" (ehm "poczty łańcuchowej"?). Podobno chodzi o ujawnienie "5 skrytych faktów ze swojego życia".

In short: I've been summoned to another round of the good ole chain mail, this one is about "revealing five things from my personal life". Ehm.

  1. Grałem na skrzypcach od 10-ego roku życia do 15-ego, ale nigdy nie lubiłem ćwiczyć.
    I played the violin from age 10 to 15, but never actually enjoyed practicing.
  2. Na pytanie "gdzie się wychowałem" odpowiedziałbym "Oslo", piękne miasto z którego mam mnóstwo wspomnień i do którego tęsknie co jakiś czas.
    To the question "where did you grow up" I would say "Oslo", a wonderful city that lives on in my memories and one I miss from time to time.
  3. Nigdy się nie upijam.
    I never get drunk. Like never.
  4. Wolę brak towarzystwa nad złym towarzystwem (zasada stosowana bardzo konsekwentnie).
    Better no company than bad company and I apply the rule with great consistency.
  5. Nie lubię się spóźniać, z reguły jestem przed czasem.
    I don't like to be late, I'm usually early.

Now then, whom to bestow upon the great honor of this next chain...

  • Erik (like you could ever escape it )
  • Ash (payback )
  • sinx (will no doubt respond in c code)

impressions of fosdem07

February 26th, 2007

What I thought it would be like

If you've ever been to a trade show this will sound familiar to you. Trade shows are marketing stints, it's where companies go to sell their image (and hence their products). It usually goes a little something like this. You have a big open area, like the area of a large supermarket.

This floor is filled with booths, that is a couple of screens to separate it from the next booth, on which they hang a poster or five of the company logo, product catalogs, whatever they want to catch your eye with. Then there' s a desk where the person manning the booth sits. There are a couple of other people standing around the booth, engaging onlookers in conversation about the company/products. All of them wear matching apparel to show you they represent this particular company. The best booths also have some other gimmicks, like computer screens showing a demo of their software or some other kind of demonstration/snapshots of their product in action.

When you go up to the desk, they have all kinds of free stuff for you, like pens, keychains, stickers, candy etc, branded with the company logo.

This is essentially the way I pictured Fosdem to be. Given that it's not a commercial event (or at least for the most part it isn't), it might be a little different. I certainly expected the projects that think of themselves as being the most exciting (KDE, Ubuntu, Fedora etc..) to have some cool demos or whatever that would wow those of us present. Obviously these projects publicize everything they do (so it's not like they need a conference to explain what they are about), thus I thought they would take this opportunity to show off their best features and tricks.

What I found it to be like

I narrowly missed Fosdem last year, which I regreted, so I was looking forward to it for a long time. Out of the two days it is in session, I arrived Saturday at about 12:15 (opening was at 10:00) and stayed until the last talk, which ended at 5pm.

The first thing I was looking forward to was "the floor". Unfortunately, there was no floor. Instead there was a crummy and very crowded corridor which doubled as "a floor". The moment I walked in I was quite lost, it was so crowded that I could see booths, but I couldn't see what they were for or which direction to even go. As I walked around, I realized how they had organized the booths. Actually "booths". They arranged a bunch of tables in a long line, most of which had an A4 sheet taped to it, printed on it the name of the project it was for. Behind the desk were a few people sitting behind laptops. On the desk were some items, like stickers, pens etc.

So... there weren't any actual booths. And they hadn't brought very much with them either, some a single poster with the project's logo, some didn't even have that. The items were not for giveaway, they were for donate-and-get-for-"free". Which ruins the whole point of having free stuff, but I suppose since these aren't rich companies that can afford to give you stuff, it sort of makes sense. And it's kind of in the spirit of open source anyway, you can donate to the projects you like.

The trouble is.. that's it all was. None of the booths actually had anything going on. In most cases the people at the booths were just sitting behind laptops, consumed in their own stuff. I think OpenSUSE had a computer actually turned the other way, with an open document and the words "Try XGL now!" written in it. Well... that's nice, but wouldn't you think OpenSUSE would have a little more to show off than just a plain boring desktop with ripple effects on the screen and XGL which everyone has seen 7 times over? I mean when you go to a certified geek event, what you would expect is shiny hardware, huge screens, fancy graphical effects, software running on exotic hardware etc. The whole idea of booths is that you go up to them and there is something to see/read/try/experience there. KDE, Gnome, Ubuntu, Fedora, Mozilla, they all had nothing at all to show you. O'Reilly was much more interesting, they had brought in lots of books they were selling (and of course geeks love O'Reilly books). The Free Software Foundation was mostly selling clothes with various advocacy slogans, but at least they were trying to engage people in conversation, not consumed in their laptops.

The Gentoo booth was one of the least noteworthy. They had one laptop showing "Gentoo for Mac" on the screen, and that was it. No other materials (well there was a small one page flyer listing the advantages of Gentoo if you count that), and when a guy asked about t-shirts they were apparently sold out. So either they didn't bring any or they didn't bring enough. As a Gentoo user, I'd have to say that was a pretty pathetic showing for the biggest annual European event.

Google was there too, not sure why. I think they had a raffle going, but from Google you would expect some gimmick. All they had was a demo of Google Earth running on a laptop, which isn't open source, and everyone has seen anyway.

There are some pictures to be found here. Notice how a) there are very few shots of the "booths" and b) how they look a lot more like a cake sale. A booth is supposed to look something like this, or this, or this, or this.

Okay, so the booths weren't quite what I expected, but what separates a thing like Fosdem from just a trade show is that you have something for the intellect as well, you have interesting talks. The way they set this thing up is that they have 3 different locations for talks. Then they have a host of other project specific locations where they run talks about that particular project. At the time I arrived, there was actually nothing happening in any of those rooms yet, there was just a talk in the main auditorium, for which I was late anyway. So I strolled around the area and tried to decide which of the later talks to go to.

img_1244t.JPG

From 2pm onwards, there were suddenly parallel talks in 17 locations. I have to question the wisdom of this system, I mean if you find that you would like to attend a few of them, it's very hard to be in multiple places between 2pm and 5:30. I ended up just going to the main auditorium for a talk on ReactOS (which was very technical and not too interesting from a user perspective), then a "lightning talk" on OpenWengo (which was too short to be informative) and then Andrew Morton's talk on the kernel (which again turned out to be quite dull). Of course, I can't say whether the 16 other sessions at that same time were worthwhile or not.

By all the noise about Fosdem on Planet KDE, I would actually expect them to put on a good show. I suppose instead of setting up a great booth they went to work on giving good talks, which I didn't attend as I'm physically indivisible.

The verdict

I really wanted to see one of these events, and perhaps I picked the wrong one to attend. In any case, I think I've satisfied my curiosity. What strikes me most is how badly organized it is from a "physical" perspective. You have these tables set up in a narrow corridor, which is flooded with people. At times I actually had to stand aside and let a stream of people pass before I could make my way ahead. The place itself is a university campus, not a very pretty one at that. ULB is clearly in pretty heavy decay, so the hallways were sort of dirty, with paint coming off, crooked walkways on the outside and so on. The auditoriums themselves are in pretty decent shape, at least. Of course, it's a matter of resources and having permission to use university buildings for this, but I can imagine that holding this at our campus in Utrecht would be heaps better in the sense of actually having the necessary space. When you go to a conference, you're not supposed to feel like oxygen is precious, you're supposed to enjoy yourself in a nice location, with good lighting, plenty of space to move around, and a nicely organized "floor". (Needless to say, though, obviously Brussels is a much more interesting city.)

It might be fun for developers who have a chance of getting together and hanging out, but from a user's perspective, unless the talks are dynamite, I don't really see the attraction. Definitely nothing to warrant spending 6 hours on the train. I mean I'm very interested in free software, I use it, I read about it, I'm into a lot of the projects. But coming to Fosdem I don't see much of interest to me, which is surprising. I brought my camera too, thought I would get some nice pictures of the booths, but there was nothing there I would take a picture of.

There's a little feedback form here in the Fosdem program brochure and among other things they ask me to rate the "catering". I have to ask "what catering"? Or maybe the question isn't meant for me, but as far as I'm concerned, the coffee machine in the J building works well and the coffee is quite good, thanks for asking.

For being the biggest annual European open source event I would certainly expect a lot more "magic", in one form or another. I donated 25 bucks to Fosdem for a t-shirt (in a way just to feel like it wasn't a total loss), so in that I encourage them to keep at it and improve, but I don't think I'll be coming back.

because cheating is a lot more fun

February 24th, 2007

Unless you've lived your whole life under a rock, you've probably played a game or two. But did you ever cheat? Of course you did.

Whether it was on a computer, a console, a GameBoy, one of those electronic handhelds that only had one game, or any other kind of programmed game. Some people really really love games, I used to be one of those. Others like them, but never get really hooked. I remember there were kids who played a new game every week, they were constantly looking for new challenges. Then there were those who played the same games over and over. I loved games, but only some games, so I was in the latter category.

I think my all time favorite game was Championship Manager, which may seem somewhat strange, considering there were no fancy graphics, no animation, no interactive characters, and the game screens themselves didn't really look that amazing. But everything great in this game was in its depth, not on the surface. In fact, anyone who say me play it and had just walked into the room couldn't get what was so great about it. CM was a very popular game, though, not among the market winners by any means, but it had a super strong core following. And that's because it just didn't wear off, it didn't get old. Well, not until you'd played it for aaages.

First of all, CM is a simulation, so for it to be interesting you have to be interested in what it simulates. But if you are into it, and you have an imagination ( ), then you can play CM to explore pretty much any possible what-if scenario you could ever think of. It's like a meteorologist could add a new continent into his system and simulate the weather in Paris based on this new data. Well alright, but so what? There have always been a few football simulation games on the market, what makes CM so special? It's because, unlike those other games, CM seems realistic. The game engine works quite well, so most of the time you get the same kind of results that you would get in real life. It seems obvious that for a simulation to be worthwhile, it has to be able to simulate with a certain degree of credibility. But CM is the only game that has been able to achieve this, while providing great gameplay.

So, given this great game, what do you do with it? What do you aim for? How do you really like playing it? People have different taste, but to me the most exciting part of gaming was testing its limits. Once I mastered the game fairly well, I tried to do all kinds of things that I really wasn't supposed to do. Because *those* parts of the game were a bit like unexplored territory, you never knew what to expect. Most of the time the cut off points in games are very logical and mundane. Like if you play a car racing game and you try to steer your car outside of the track, most likely it will just bounce off an invisible wall, it won't crash, nothing "interesting" will happen. But exploring boundaries and trying to find things that few people had seen always seemed like fun to me. This is where CM comes in again, because exploring boundaries in CM was more fun than bouncing off invisible walls. The question was simply: in this simulation, if I create this state, what will happen? If I give my club a stadium of 500,000 seats and set the average attendance to capacity, will I become filthy rich from gate receipts? (The answer is yes. ) If I create a player with the youngest possible age, max out his stats and play the game long enough to see out his entire career, can he exceed 200 international apps? (The answer is yes. ) If I take over my hated rival club (usually Roma ), sell their entire first team, give all the youth players £100k/week contracts, can I bankrupt and relegate them in one season? (The answer is yes. )

It is toying with reality, it is creating scenarios that would never happen, just because you happened to think of it. What helps this happen is cheating, of course. Cheating is a shortcut to creating that situation you want to simulate. I was looking around my harddrive the other day and found a bunch of old screenshots from CM 97/98, the best release. The only screenshots from any game that have ever survived permanently. Looking over them now, I remember how many hours of thrill they represent. Imagine how much neglected homework!!

cm_managerawards.jpg cm_matusiak37years.jpg
cm_jackpot.jpg cm_clubinfo.jpg
cm_topaverageratings.jpg  

But what surprises me is the bashful attitude most people have toward cheating. Let's review the facts here. Gaming is all about entertainment, right? So whatever you can do to entertain yourself better would be good, right? So what's wrong with cheating? If you're in some kind of tournament competing against other gamers, then yes it would be unfair. But if you're just doing it for your own personal enjoyment, then condemning cheating makes no sense. The only argument you could make is that you're "cheating" the makers of the game, those who set the rules and boundaries of it. But all *they* did was make the game such that it would be the most fun for you to play, so if they knew you wanted to change something, and they thought they could get more sales this way, they would have. A game like CM depends on a certain correlation to real life. If you removed that limitation, the game would lose its value. If you could play with 11 strikers and win every match, it wouldn't be realistic, and it wouldn't be fun. So the fun in cheating lies in testing some those limits while still keeping the rest of them in a semi-realistic framework. Cheating is more fun.

that elusive free time

February 23rd, 2007

Interviews are a curious thing. You see that there's an interview with a person you find interesting and you're thinking "I'm gonna read this". I feel the thought process there is a little lacking. Even if it is an interesting person, you're not going to be dazzled by the answer to the question What's your favorite color?, or What book is on your nightstand?. Unless it's with an expert in color theory or a literary critic, but those people never get interviewed.

One question from How to conduct an interview that appears on page 7 in bold face with a big red ellipsis around it is What do you do in your spare time? Every interviewer asks this question. It's the epitome of "I've run out of crap to ask about", it gives you a chance to bounce back from the favorite color and end the interview on a high note.

Almost everyone gives the same answer to this question. "Free time? I wish I had some of that." Yep, no one has any free time. It almost makes your heart sting. There's no time for free time in our crazy, hectic lives. But *we* have free time. Those of us reading these interviews. I mean don't tell me that reading an interview is part of some planned activity.

Except it's not true. It's a big lie. It's what we say to make our lives seem more meaningful. "Between my career, my health club, my night classes of Japanese, my political activity and Saturdays at the soup kitchen, I barely have any time left for my family, let alone free time." Well I got news for you. Your health club? That's free time. Your political activism? Free time. Photography club? Free time. Company softball team? Free time.

It's all free time. Most people work, so having a job is not really optional. Taking care of your kids isn't either. But everything else is. Whether it's curling or curing cancer. Just because you planned in advanced what you're gonna do in that time doesn't mean you can't cancel in an instant if you wanted to, it's *your* time, *you* decide.

When I was a kid I didn't have as much free time as most kids. I had after school Polish classes once a week and music lessons once a week. That was a real hassle too, the violin teacher lived across town so I would have to take the bus from downtown up there, wait an hour until it was my lesson, have my lesson, have orchestra, then it took me an hour to cross town and get home again. My whole afternoon gone, I would get home at 8pm. I also used to do [organized] sports, never anything for a long time, but I played football for a year and a half, ju-jitsu for 2 years, volleyball for a year and then basketball for a year. I never really fit into organized sports, so I actually played a lot more sports "disorganized". Anyway, violin was a hassle, my lesson was only once a week, but I had to practice an hour everyday, and I didn't like practicing. Finally I quit violin after 5 years. That really freed up my time. Suddenly I felt like I had a lot more free time. That doesn't mean I spent it productively, though. More free time to play computer games, that's where it went.

But in both cases it was *my* time, so if you don't have *any* free time, that's because you've decided you don't want any. If you plan 7 different after school/work activities per week, then you're not interested in free time. Free time is for pragmatics. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it." It's not for obsessive planners. Because it's really a matter of definition. If I played football in a club, I would call that my free time. "Yeah, that's what I fill my free time with." Or developing software, yep that's free time. If you don't want to call it that, that's up to you, but it is what it is.