Oct 30

Dennis Ritchie day

Tim O’Reilly proposes that we designate the 30th of October as “Dennis Ritchie day”. That works for me. Pass it on.

Since my readers are probably wondering: Yes, I knew Dennis slightly. He contributed to The Art Of Unix Programming and was very supportive of the project. He was indeed as pleasant and gracious as others report…a true gentleman and, of course, a hacker of such stratospheric accomplishment as to have few or no peers. But he treated me like one anyway — and that was an honor.

Oct 30

RFC: Action stamps

This is a request for comment on a convention for uniquely identifying user actions on the Internet. The motivating context was identifying commit changesets in version-control systems in a way independent of the specific VCS. It is anticipated that this format will have uses in recording many other similar sorts of transactions, including actions on web interfaces, where we want a simple cookie identifying “who did this and when”.

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Oct 29

Repositories in Translation

I’ve been doing a lot of repository conversions recently, lifting ancient project histories from Subversion or even CVS into modern distributed version control systems. I’ve written about the technical problems with these conversions elsewhere but they also raise issues that are almost philosophical – and not unlike, actually, the challenges natural-language translators face moving a literary work between human languages.

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Oct 27

The Smartphone Wars: Sprint Doubles Down on Dumb

One of my regular commenters points out an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal,
Sprint Could Yet Strike Out With iPhone. “SPQR” interprets it as follows:

The article states that Sprint’s cost to run the iPhone is $15.5 billion over four years. Unclear to me what that “cost” means from the article. The iPhone won’t have a positive impact on Sprint operating income before depreciation and amortization until 2015. The article then implies that outside of that cost are the costs of upgrades to network to support iPhone data useage on its unlimited plans, resulting in a “cash shortfall of up to $5 billion” through 2013. Again, vague what that exactly consists of. Sprint says that the estimated wholesale cost of the iPhone is 40% or $200 more than other smartphones.

If Apple is running margins that essentially suck the profit out of the wireless phone telcos and into its own pockets, then there is another way that dropping market share can rapidly attack Apple’s margins – and that is by removing their leverage against the wireless phone companies

The article is oriented around a reference made by Hesse, CEO of Sprint Nextel, in a earnings call where he made a reference to “Moneyball” about how smart the iPhone is to him. But the article points out, that the Moneyball theory is low wage value players not high wage players, and claims that Hesse got his metaphor backwards.

SPQR is quite right, but to understand the degree of wishful thinking Hesse is exhibiting here you have to bear in mind the huge Damned Fact that drives the behavior of Sprint and other telcos: the real rates of return on carrier cell networks are negative! The carriers are burning capital, all day, every day.

When ROI is negative, you become desperate to drive down costs or pull up margins. Desperation makes CEOs stupid; Hesse is exhibiting that kind of stupidity by placing a bet that even if he shovels most of Sprint’s present profits down down Apple’s throat, the iPhone will push Sprint’s margins up soon enough for the deal to be a net positive in four years.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Android’s U.S. market share is probably passing 50% right about now. I wonder how long it will take for Sprint’s board to realize they’ve been had and fire Hesse’s ass?

Oct 27

On not being destroyed by travel

On G+, Stephen Shankland links to RMS’s travel rules. He faintly praises their transparency but finds them a bit bizarre. For contrast, here are my travel rules, from back when I was accepting a lot of speaking engagements:

Yes, mine are much simpler, but don’t be quick to judge RMS until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. The kind of constant travel and speaking he does, and that I used to do, is more psychologically exhausting than anyone who hasn’t done it will ever understand. Even the smallest details of comfort start to matter a lot after a few months of it; it’s like your nerves get scraped raw.

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Oct 25

A DVCS migration howto

This is a consequence of my recent adventures in repository conversion – a detailed discussion of how to do a high-quality lift of a CVS or Subversion repo to DVCS-land, how to make both git and hg users happy, and what sorts of good practices to teach to keep things tidy.

Oct 23

Looking for reposurgeon test cases

I just released reposurgeon 1.2 and am continuing to develop the tool. In order to test some of the newer features, I’m looking for repository conversions to do. If you run an open-source project that is still using CVS or Subversion, or some odd non-distributed VCS, I may be willing to lift it to git for you (and from git to any other DVCS you might prefer is a pretty small step). Details of this offer follow; limited time only, first come, first served.

(Why have me do it? Well…especially for older projects with a complex revision history, it’s a messy and daunting job. The tools are somewhat flaky, the difference between a sloppy conversion and a good one is significant, and good conversions require experience and judgment.)

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Oct 19

Return of the reposturgeon!

reposurgeon 1.2 is shipped.

This is the repository editor I wrote about back in 2010; description here, architectural lessons here.

I did a conversion of the repo for the Roundup issue tracker, which had a messy history. It started out as CVS, got up-converted to Subversion, and I grabbed it with git-svn. Cleaning up the geological strata of conversion artifacts taught me some useful things.

Accordingly, a main feature in this release is a command that finds and removes zero-content commits created by cvs2svn->git-svn conversions. Also, the repository merge operation is no longer confused by out-of-order commits.

Oct 15

Ubuntu and GNOME jump the shark

I upgraded to Ubuntu 11.04 a week or so back in order to get a more recent version of SCons. 11.04 dropped me into the new “Unity” GNOME interface. There may be people in the world for whom Unity is a good idea, but none of them are me. The look is garish and ugly, and it takes twice as many clicks as it did before to get to an application through their supposedly “friendly” interface as it did in GNOME Classic. No, dammit, I do not want to text-search my applications to call one up!

But the real crash landing was when I found out that the Unity dock won’t let you manage two instances of the terminal emulator separately. Oh, you can click the terminal icon twice and get two instances, and even minimize them separately, but they’re tied to the same dock icon when minimized. If you click it to unminimize, both pop back up. That did it; clearly Unity is a toy, not intended for anybody doing serious work.

I was miserable until I found out how to fall back to GNOME Classic. But then a few days later I upgraded to 11.10 and my real troubles began.

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Oct 13

You can tank me later

I have interesting friends. Two of them, who shall remain nameless because it is possible they have let slip to me information that is technically classified, recently told me the best GPSD deployment story since the robot submarine.

So, Friend A says “Hey, Eric, did you know GPSD is used in the on-board nav system of the Abrams tank?” Friend A is in a position to know, because Friend A has done troubleshooting of that nav system – once, over the phone with a tank actually in combat in Iraq. It seems GPSD is used as part of IFF (identification friend or foe) and without that module they are at unpleasant risk of heaving a shell at a friendly. (And no, I am assured the bug was not in GPSD itself.)

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Oct 08

On Steve Jobs’s passing

I had been planning to defer commenting on the death of Steve Jobs long enough to give its impact time to cool a little, but Against Nostalgia puts the case I would have made so well and so publicly that it has changed my mind.

I met Steve Jobs once in 1999 when I was the president of the Open Source Initiative, and got caught up in one of his manipulations in a way that caused a brief controversy but (thankfully) did the organization no lasting harm. The author of this piece, Mike Daisey, does well at capturing Jobs’s ruthless brilliance. Jobs was uncannily perceptive about the interface design and marketing of technology, but he was also a control freak who posed as an iconoclast – and after about 1980 he projected his control freakery on everything he shaped. The former trait did a great deal of good; the latter did a degree of harm that, sadly, may prove greater in the end.

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Oct 04

The Smartphone Wars: How are the mighty fallen

HP replaces the hapless Leo Apotheker in a manner not very well calculated to reassure anyone that HP has a bright future. Granted, Apotheker’s performance – typified by the now-it’s-dead-oh-maybe-not fumbling around the TouchPad – was dismal. But the new CEO’s first move was to reassure everyone that Apotheker’s cunning plan to turn HP into a low-rent clone of SAP is still on track.

How are the mighty fallen. HP was a great company once. Then they spun out the instruments division to focus on printers and lost their culture of excellence along with it. Now they’re thrashing. Sad.

In other news of the stupid, there’s evidence that Nokia (remember Nokia?) is developing a Linux-based OS for its low-end phones. Yes, that’s right, they dropped Meego/Maemo — which actually worked — only to start an entirely new OS development project.

On a more cheerful note, Samsung is pushing kernel source code out the door. This after hiring the Cyanogen lead. Good stuff; they actually seem to get this open source thing.

From the excellent StackOverflow site, a report with statistics indicating that Android passed iOS in developer mindshare on that site at the beginning of 2011.

And Amazon finally moved; the Kindle Fire is out. G+ points us at the funniest tweet about this.

The business press had already begun to notice that Apple is chasing Android’s tallights. Then Apple announced the iPhone 4S, and it’s a big yawn. iCloud? Me-too voice recognition features? Really, Apple? Is this the best you can do? Gawker has a hilarious post on how overblown the media hype was, but even that fails to convey what a boring, derivative-seeming product the 4S is. How are the mighty fallen.