Posts for January 2008

2008-01-01: Debian Policy work

There. I declare myself caught up with Debian Policy work.

There are, of course, still tons of open proposals that need attention and it's going to take us quite some time to work through the backlog. But when I did the initial bug triage, I identified a set of proposals that had concrete wording and previous seconds that we could deal with first. I've now gone through all of those proposals, analyzed them, resurrected discussion, and in most cases proposed new patches. Now I can sit back for a while and wait for reactions, seconds, and suggestions.

Also today I decided to stop using arch like RCS and really try this distributed revision control thing. So now all of my queued pending patches are on arch branches. Annoyances so far: deleting branches in arch is obnoxious, unless I'm missing something, and getting a diff between branches requires far too much typing and produces a diff full of arch implementation crap I don't care about. But it works and takes much less disk space (particularly if I aggressively delete pristine trees.)

I have three bug fixes applied to my personal tree, one patch from Colin for man page internationalization that's waiting for a few more seconds, and nine other changes queued up waiting for review or to time out on people's chances to object.

But tomorrow is the last day of vacation, and I plan on not doing Policy work tomorrow. I may play video games. I may work on lintian, since the repository is back and there are a ton of straightforward changes queued up to handle.

2008-01-02: Last vacation day

Tomorrow, it's back to work, although I get to work remotely for a few days before being back in the office. So, the plan was to spend today completely relaxing, doing whatever I felt like doing.

Of course, then what I felt like doing was Debian work.

This sort of thing often happens to me, and I'm doing a lot of pondering of how to deal with it. On the one hand, I do enjoy working on code and accomplishing things, so when I have time to do whatever I want, that's a reasonable thing to do. On the other hand, I wonder if it adds to my overall stress to not be better at taking longer breaks or balancing that work with other things.

Adding to the complications, often the bit of work I'm doing isn't really something I want to do (like debugging html_reports this morning). Instead, what I want is the end result. So I'd enjoy reading more than the hours of debugging work, but the result of the debugging is neat and better than just having read.

It's surprisingly hard to figure out what I want to do, sometimes.

Anyway, I'm about half-caught-up with lintian now and have kicked off several things that will mean more lintian work in the future, which means that my grand plans to start reorganizing and rewriting chunks of it will probably wait again. And tomorrow, it's time to shift gears and go back to doing work-like stuff.

2008-01-04: Introspection

A lot of introspection will be important for me over the next few weeks as I get back from vacation and get back into my routine. I do not want to go back to feeling as stressed and out of control as I did right before vacation. So those of you who just read the journal for the book reviews will have to put up with occasion nattering on, since I seem to think better about some of these things if I write them down and post them to teh Intrawebs.

For the first two days, things have gone fairly well. The main downside is that my estimates were way off on the first two coding tasks I tackled (estimate: 4 hours, actual: 9 hours), and that got to me a little and made me feel like I wasn't getting anything done. But it's just an emotional response, and if I take a step back and keep reminding myself "oh, remember, that stuff took way longer than you expected," it's okay. I know I need to get better at estimates in the long run, but that's a problem that I can live with for right now.

I did struggle with motivation today and probably should have used my to-do list, switched away from the Big stuff, and started doing little things until I recovered a sense of accomplishment. Instead, I distracted myself by working on lintian and bit off a major rewrite of a chunk of code, which wasn't horribly wise. Got it done, though, so it's not hanging over me.

Now, however, it's the weekend, which means a firm shift in gears away from doing day-job stuff. That's one of the changes I want to make: preserving weekends for myself. Day job stuff can wait. Book review writing and video game playing would be a good use of the weekend.

2008-01-05: lintian 1.23.42

There's still more work that could be done, but the changelog was up to 148 lines, so it was time to get the release out. One of the bugs fixed was rather annoying, and in any change this large I will have broken something or other. So it's time to get broader testing.

It's amazing how much stuff there is to do on lintian on an ongoing basis. There are always little changes and fixes to help it understand packages better, and it's wonderfully rewarding to work on even without making major architectural changes. Although I still do want to find time to do that at some point.

I expect there will be additional releases before this package makes it into testing, both to fix the inevitable bugs and to clean out more of the bug backlog.

2008-01-06: 2007 in Books

The reading accomplishment for this year was finishing all of the Nebula winners (although I haven't yet read Seeker, the 2006 winner awarded in 2007, since I want to read the previous books in the series). I've now read all Hugo winners and nearly all Nebula winners. Maybe in the coming year I'll tackle another set.

This year, I read three books I rated 10 out of 10. The highest rating usually doesn't mean the book was any better written than a 9 out of 10; rather, it means the book spoke to me particularly strongly. One was the re-read of Bambi, a classic I loved as a child and loved even more as an adult. The other two were new novels first published within the last couple of years: Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette's subversive animal fantasy A Companion to Wolves; and, to close out the year, The King's Last Song, Geoff Ryman's spectacular mainstream novel about Cambodia. All three are, of course, highly recommended.

The non-fiction highlight of the year was Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind's The Smartest Guys in the Room. This detailed story of the rise and fall of Enron is exceptional journalism and a cautionary tale about the state of oversight in US capitalism. The documentary made based on that book was also good, although a bit overdone in its musical background.

There are almost too many other notable books to mention them all, but I will particularly recommend Jo Walton's Ha'penny and Elizabeth Moon's The Speed of Dark as books that deserve a wide audience. Charles Stross's Glasshouse was the best traditional science fiction novel I read all year and should have won a Hugo. It alas lost to a far inferior and uncritical Vernor Vinge paean to the wonders of technology.

Below are some additional personal reading statistics, probably only of interest to me.

In 2007, I read and reviewed 92 books (one fewer than last year). Books are counted as complete on the date that I finished the first draft of my review. Overall statistics with change from last year:

Books read 92 (-1)
Total pages 30,807 (-852)
Average rating 6.94 (-0.09)
Pages per day 84.4 (-2.3)
Days per book 3.97 (-0.05)

So not as much as last year, but not that much of a change.

This year, I decided not to set a reading goal (after coming in under 100 books last year), but of course spent the year occasionally worrying about how many books I was reading anyway. However, I think I have a good baseline now, one that will let me keep up with the authors and fields I want to follow and still leave time for other things. I'm aiming for about 80 books a year.

Breakdown by genre:

SF and fantasy 69 75%
Mainstream 5 5%
Graphic novels 6 7%
Non-fiction 12 13%

Of the SF and fantasy novels, here's a rough breakdown of the books by reason for seeking them out:

Award winners 16 23%
Award series 5 7%
Genre classics 6 9%
Current SF&F 8 12%
Favorite authors 16 23%
Re-reads 5 7%
Recommendations 7 10%
Random 6 9%

Finishing the Nebula winners was a large chunk of my reading at the start of the year. All in all, 30% of my SF and fantasy reading for the year was reading either award-winning books or earlier books in the series that lead up to award-winning books. 12% was keeping up with the field (including reading all Hugo nominees), and another 23% was following favorite authors.

2008-01-08: Back to work

I've been back to work for the past few days, but working remotely. Tomorrow I really head back to work, which thankfully involves an interim of a nice train trip and a good opportunity to read.

As usual, I'm already ahead on work hours for the week. Today was spent working on the WebLogin upgrade, unfortunately not as directly as I would like since the test system isn't set up properly for serial console. However, I also needed to make a new WebAuth release for the upgrade, so I could work on that part.

The libapache-mod-auth-kerb Debian package is kind of a mess. I need to file at least one bug report for a patch that we need, and may file bug reports about various other problems as well. But I think I have something working locally for our purposes.

I'm not horribly enthused about heading back to work. This was not a year where I came out of vacation ready to tackle things again. It's been more of an endurance year, with a whole pile of frustrations and stressful deadlines. Thankfully, there are more long weekends coming up this month and next month.

2008-01-09: Small book haul

I'm back home. I must say, it's rather nice to be home and be able to settle into my own place, as much as I'm not really in the mood to be back to work. I could use a couple of weeks of just staying home.

I came home to a book shipment and have another book I picked up a while back that I never mentioned here. I made another large Powell's order over the break, too, so more will be coming.

Edward Gorey -- Amphigorey (graphic novel, sort of)
M. John Harrison, et al. -- Parietal Games (nonfiction)

Parietal Games is a collection of M. John Harrison's non-fiction writing about literature, as well as some essays about him and his writing. It's just the sort of combination of reviews and essays that I love to read about the SF&F field. It was rather expensive (small press only printed in the UK), but Borderland Books was great about tracking it down for me.

Tomorrow is the first day back in the office, punctuated by meetings and a trip to the bank and the post office.

I have two books (Fire Logic and Runaway) in the queue waiting for a chance to review and a third book (Urban Shaman) already reviewed and waiting for editing. But tonight I think I'm going to go read more Mort and then go to sleep.

Hopefully by the end of tomorrow I'll have a test weblogin server up for the upgrade at the end of this month and can go back to working on the wallet.

2008-01-11: First Week

End of the first full week back at work (although not the first full week back at home). Time to take a step back and take stock of how things are going. (This is one of those annoying self-centered introspective blog posts that you probably want to skip if you just read for the book reviews. *grin*)

I'm exhausted this evening, I think because I started working the moment I got home from the train ride and have been doing a flurry of "coming back home" things ever since. That's been a good use of initial momentum. I have a physical appointment made, picked up my mail, have walked every night on the treadmill since I've gotten back, am mostly unpacked, and have taken care of a pretty good variety of random chores. That's definitely a positive for the week (and since I didn't get as much done on major projects, I need to stress to myself how much of a positive it is).

Also a positive is eating habits. I think changing habits is all about taking advantage of energy and momentum. If I'm thinking about something, that's the time to see just how much I can do about it, the time to pay close attention, and the time to carefully monitor what might be sustainable. So far, I'm eating far better than I had been, without a lot of effort. As long as that's feeling comfortable, I'm going to keep it up, and I'm doing well enough that I have some distance to slip as long as I can keep the slip gradual and under control and not as backlash. (The trick is to not push, just take advantage of momentum, so that I don't get into the guilt and guilt backlash cycle.)

One interesting discovery is that, yes, I really wasn't all that thrilled to come back to work, and that didn't change when I got back. It's not that I'm unhappy, but I'm not raring to go do a ton of work for Stanford right now either. Also, all the pressure and insufficient time problems are still there, just like they were before vacation. However, I'm dealing with all of that much better, and I'm easing myself back into things rather than burning out again right away. The month of January is going to be painful and a lot of deadlines are simply going to slip, but I'm also not going to do work on the weekends and I'm going to do a minimum of work in the evenings. I need more space to relax, calmly think about what other projects I want to work on, and read and play video games more.

Of course, another thing that will make this month weird is that the football playoffs are in full swing, so the next weekend and some of the weekend after are spoken for and simply need to be worked around.

So far, so good. Surprises are tiredness and the realization that the problems I was having before break weren't just being burned out. But the strategy is working so far.

2008-01-13: First challenge

This weekend ended up being my first major challenge to the new year and my new plans around improving my attitude and some of my habits. Verdict: I fell down some, but it ended on a positive note.

When I'm running a stress surplus and feeling like I'm barely keeping my head above water, it's like the emotional equivalent of running a large credit card debt. As long as everything goes as planned, it all works out and feels somewhat under control. However, what one loses, sometimes without realizing it, is the ability to deal with the unexpected, since all of one's energy (financial or emotional) is already committed and there isn't a nice surplus available.

The unexpected was relatively minor in the grand scheme of things (car battery didn't have enough of a charge to start the car, thus preventing me from going to the store Saturday like I'd planned), but I really felt the impact of not having that surplus of emotional energy. I'm pretty much tapped out right now, particularly given that I'm tackling several difficult things right off the bat this year since I had some momentum: better eating habits, seeing a new doctor and getting my lab work up to date, better work management. So it was a nasty surprise, and I went into one of my tailspin cycles fretting over whether I could use the battery charger that I have safely. (Don't research car battery chargers on the Internet. The warnings are spectacularly dire and overblown.)

The tailspin cycles are a problem. I do this too easily. However, I know from experience that they're mostly another sign of stress, and reducing unrelated stress often helps prevent them quite a bit. Otherwise, I've not found effective ways of dealing with them other than lots and lots of research and questions and then pushing through, doing things, and getting familiar with them. Around anything that involves physical injury, I'm just highly risk-adverse, and I've been that way my entire life, so it's not like I'm going to make any sort of drastic change overnight. Part of the overall stress reduction goal is to give myself permission to fall down occasionally and concentrate on learning from it and moving forward.

The weekend ended well. The trickle charger worked just fine, the car starts without any trouble now (leaving a car for a month and a half without being driven is hard on the battery), and tomorrow I'll see about making an appointment to have it serviced and the battery replaced. Even though the car gets almost no usage, the battery is 7 years old, and the almost no usage part is probably harder on the battery than constant usage. Grocery shopping is now done, which should help with eating healthy. I gave into stress and ate a lot that I shouldn't have this weekend, and didn't exercise yesterday (or write a journal entry), but that's another stumble that I learn from and move on.

I do wish I had another day, since I feel like I only got one day, or less, of real time away.

2008-01-14: WebAuth 3.5.5

I was planning on having 3.6.0 out by now, but best laid plans and all. I've been doing a lot of other development work recently.

This release fixes a memory allocation error in mod_webauthldap that could lead to memory for an environment variable being freed and dangling pointers left in the system environment table, which PHP in particular is rather unhappy about. It also fixes various things about WebLogin, most notably cookie detection in the presence of Negotiate-Auth and Shibboleth integration.

3.6.0 will contain much better multiple realm support and possibly WebLogin enhancements for multiple realms and additional user ID lookups in a local database.

You can get the latest version from the WebAuth distribution page. I need to create WebAuth pages off my own pages as well.

2008-01-15: First 2008 haul

I just got my first Powell's order of 2008. There are so many wonderful books out there that I want to read and so little time to read!

Elizabeth Bear -- Dust (sff)
Phil Co -- Level Design for Games (non-fiction)
Leslie R. Crutchfield & Heather McLeod Grant -- Forces for Good (non-fiction)
Jack McDevitt -- A Talent for War (sff)
Jack McDevitt -- Polaris (sff)
Toni Morrison -- Playing in the Dark (non-fiction)
Graham Robb -- The Discovery of France (non-fiction)
Felix Salten -- Bambi's Children (mainstream)
Nassim Nicholas Taleb -- The Black Swan (non-fiction)
Bill Willingham, et al. -- Fables: Legends in Exile (graphic novel)

The Jack McDevitt books are earlier in the same series as Seeker, which won the Nebula last year. I should finally read that to get back to 100% on the Nebula winners.

I'm finding lots of interesting non-fiction lately, which I'm very happy about, although it's making it harder to keep up with new SF. I still need to read MacLeod's The Execution Channel, since I expect it to be one of the Hugo nominees. But next, after the books I'm reading now, is Dust, which I've been eagerly awaiting all year.

2008-01-16: Random food note

The Lucerne "Limited Edition" gingerbread-flavored light yogurt is delicious.

Google tells me that "Limited Edition" means "seasonal," since they had it last year as well. Why they only do this flavor during certain times of the year is beyond me, but then I never got the whole seasonal thing anyway. When we run out of oil and the world's transportation system collapses, I will greatly bemoan my inability to get summer fruit in winter thanks to it being summer in South America. (Shortly thereafter I will stop moaning and start screaming as I am devoured by feral dogs, given how useless my skills will be after the collapse of civilization.)

Yeah, so I didn't feel like writing a book review today and I didn't accomplish anything useful to brag about. How'd you guess?

2008-01-18: Weekend

I got my car back this morning, and with luck I'll get no further surprises and this weekend will be the nice, relaxing weekend that last weekend was supposed to be. The current hope is to spend tomorrow doing chores and running around so that I can spend the rest of the weekend vegetating.

Right now, what I want more than anything else is large stretches of time entirely to myself. Maybe I'll read. Maybe I'll play video games. Maybe I'll just sleep.

I'm currently working on The Lady of Sorrows by Cecelia Dart-Thorton, which is still slow and repetitive but just interesting enough to keep me reading, and The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, since I was in the mood for something non-fiction. I'm about to go read more of the latter. Queued up behind both of those is Dust, by Elizabeth Bear, which I've been waiting for for nearly a year.

The book after that will be my 400th review, so as is traditional for the round numbered reviews, I'll re-read something that I loved the first time. I think this time it'll be Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. And then maybe I'll start on Jack McDevitt's series.

See, this is why I rarely borrow books from people. Everywhere I look in my apartment, I see books I already own that I'm looking forward to reading.

This weekend may (or may not) also be a chance for me to catch up on book reviews, in a further clearing of the plates and tidying up loose ends.

2008-01-26: Guardian SF reviews

Link via David Langford. A book reviewer for the Guardian is doing what I did a while back except in a more structured way. He's going through every Hugo winner. The first post covers Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man rather well. For the second, he counts the retro-Hugos (which I don't for various reasons) and looks at Fahrenheit 451. Interesting stuff, and I hope he continues through all of the Hugos.

2008-01-28: wallet 0.6

This release finishes up hopefully all of the wallet modifications needed before we can go into production at Stanford, although there is still a lot of cleanup required for a solid 1.0 release. There are several new client features, most notably krb5.conf configuration, a -u option to obtain Kerberos tickets, and merging of keys into an existing keytab. The server now supports naming policy enforcement and has a real wallet-admin program to handle database initialization.

You can get the latest version from the wallet distribution page.

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