Mystery Company #1

Two months ago I hit the ground running at a new job with a company called NetBooks. They make accounting software for tiny businesses (not tiny computers or online book readers).

I'm having a great time getting to learn new technologies and learning from some very sharp people.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Some data storage solutions that have inspired me

In the course of my long term data storage research, I've run across some very neat storage solutions. While none of them meet my needs exactly, I've found all of the things listed below to be very inspirational in my quest to find or create a simple long term data storage solution.

Let's take a look at some of my favorites!

Clay tablets. The oldest known Clay tablets are over 6,000 years old. The Epic of Gilgamesh was written on clay tablets, the earliest versions of the epic date from 2150-2000 BCE!

Image of a 'chip' from an IBM Photostore machine

"Photos". In the late 1950's IBM developed a few "Photostore" machines that would store data on photographs. Data was stored on "chips" like the one pictured above. Each chip was approximately 2.75 x 1.38 inches and could store about a half a megabyte of data.

Golden records. Probably the most famous of all golden records is the one that was launched into space as part of the Voyager spacecraft. It had controversial cartoon depictions of naked humans, and some great music.

Stainless steel tablets. When Scientologists return to earth from the distant future, Trementina Base will be there for them. Trementina houses the complete collection of L. Ron Hubbard's creative output, engraved on stainless steel tablets, stored in titanium capsules.

Salt mines. Naturally temperature and humidity stable, salt mines are perfect places to archive film and paper.

As I search for a simple long term storage solution, it has really helped to remember these methods of storage. I want to build on the past as much as possible. These solutions have also been extremely inspirational: The clay tablets for their longevity, the Voyager Golden Record for it's carefully selected contents, Trementina Base for its long term thinking, and the salt mines because they are a simple, elegant and non-obvious way to store human artifacts for very long periods of time.

But the most inspirational of all the things I've listed here is the IBM 1360 - the "Photostore". Much of my thinking regarding archiving data to paper has been inspired or influenced by the little know about this system. It does a lot of things that just make a lot of sense to me: "write once, read many", storage of data on non-electronic, non-magnetic, almost inert media, the ability to remove media from a running system for long term storage, the ability for a running system to request the re-insertion of media that is in long term storage.

As I look for ways to help people store data for long periods of time with little or no effort, it has been very encouraging to find similar things others have done in the past. I can't help but wonder what other technologies exist, hiding in the whispers of the past, that can help me find a solution.

On being an extra in a movie

Being an extra isn't as fun or interesting as I thought it would be. From what I can tell, filming a movie is actually pretty tedious.

Here is the summary: The more scrappy the movie is, the more fun you'll have. Avoid being an extra unless you get paid to do so.

I've been an extra in a total of three films: a shoestring budget, student film for a buddy when I was in high-school; a big budget feature film for BBC Films; and an independent film for a web comicist named David Malki.

Of the three, the one where I had the most fun was the student film for my high-school buddy Joshua. As I remember it, it was a lot of goofing around with friends, with a few film takes here and there. (Joshua is still making movies, this makes me happy.)

Next is the David Malki movie, "Expendable". This was actually a lot of fun, probably due to the fact that I spent only a little bit of time as an extra. The rest of the time was spent as a grip assistant, and later a production design assistant - I'm listed in IMDB for this. I actually really enjoyed helping with production design, it's a busy job with tangible, immediate results. I list this second mainly because it was ... a job. Not a particularly hard job, but not a relaxing way to spend a weekend. One great plus of helping with this film was being able to explore an abandoned marine base!

Lastly is the big budget film. I was in this movie because I'm white and was in Rwanda at the time of the filming, we didn't look to be in this movie, they sought us out. The first few times were very fun, mostly because of the novelty. We got to dress in military uniform and walk around with rifles of questionable origin. After the first couple of times however, the only real reason to go was because we got paid, and for the food. They had amazing gourmet catered food on the set. Oh, and they gave us live ammunition to cary around.

Just like grandma used to make

My favorite kind of burrito is the kind that my grandmother used to make:

"Un burrito de papas y huevos con chorizo"

This is one of those cases where using a foreign language allows one to be more precise and terse, in English the same thing would be "a burrito with Mexican diced and friend potatoes made with Mexican chorizo"

The nice thing about being fairly fluent in Spanish is that I can order this in most Mexican restaurants without getting any strange looks and get exactly what I want.

How I started programming

(As some of you have noticed, I've been posting a lot lately. There is a reason for that. I'm part of a group of about 12 people who have made a "bloodpact" to write once a day for a month.)

"How did you get started with programming?" - I casually asked this question once while hanging out with my hacker friends. I expected that their answers would be short and fall into a small number of distinct categories. It came as a surprise then, that their answers to this question were neither short, nor easily categorizable.

My own story is below. I encourage you to write a blog post of your own, telling your story.

I learned how to program from my Dad over the course of many years. The events below are the most memorable.

a picture of the Compaq Portable computer

The earliest memory I have of a specific computer was the Compaq Portable that my Dad had. I remember walking past my parents bedroom on my way back from a trip to the bathroom. It was very late at night, my Dad was awake and watching the computer give out results from a simulation that it was running.

For the next few years, the only thing I would use that computer for was to play Ernie's Big Splash. I think that this is also the computer that Dad used to teach me how to use the text editor that was part of of Microsoft QuickC.

My Dad eventually got a 386 "portable computer" from Dell. It is on this computer that I started learning how to program in C out of "K&R". It takes me a long time to finally feel like I understand C, from what I can tell my progress in mathematics correlated with my progress in learning C.

Time passes. I play a lot of Super Mario World with my brother on our SNES.

More time passes. My family moves to Austin, Texas. I spent practically 6 straight months learning DOS 6 from a book my dad bought for me, writing batch scripts on the Dell.

More time passes, my family moves to Sunnyvale, California. I figure out just enough BASIC to make new QBasic Nibbles levels for my cousin. My dad buys a 486 and we install RedHat Linux (kernel 1.2.13) on it. I start learning bash scripting.

My friend Chris wants to sell some of his SW:CCG cards online. eBay isn't out yet, so I decide to write an auction system for him. I try writing it using CGI and sed/awk. Luckily I find the "Learning Perl" book in the Mountain View public library and everything falls into place. I finish the project and Chris successfully uses the code to complete one auction. eBay comes on the scene. I lose track of the auction source code along with all the other digital artifacts I created in that time.

Finishing that auction script was a defining moment for me. From that time forward, it became easier and easier to move on to other platforms, languages and projects.

There is still much work to be done

I never thought that this day would come: Microsoft is no longer relevant.

These changes didn't happen suddenly, it was an almost imperceptible change. One day I just realized that an overwhelming majority of my friends and peers use a variant of Unix on a daily basis. Many have not used Windows in years.

Linux users once felt like they needed to count themselves to prove that Linux mattered, now people are unaware they are running Linux. Eleven years ago, people were predicting the doom of Apple as their stock hit the bottom and Microsoft invested $150 million in them, today Microsoft is running advertisements attempting to save face from Apple's iconic "I'm a PC" advertisements. It's all pretty unbelievable when I stop and think about it.

So what changed? I'm not sure that I care about the "how" of the matter, I'll leave it up to the historians to figure that one out. I like where things are, I'm even more excited about where they are going.

Nobody has "won", not even close, there is still much work to be done. I get the distinct impression that the Free Software community has just finished laying down the groundwork upon which true innovation can be built - innovation born in the 1970's held hostage by incompetence until now ... that is a topic for another day.

There are still plenty of things to argue about in this area, there always will be. I just don't care to argue anymore, I don't have to. And there lies the crux of the matter: Free Software stands on its own merit.

Improving the fire alarm.

Modern fire alarms are so stark, so robotic, so inhuman. I propose a better fire alarm. Ladies and Gentlemen. I introduce to you:

The Disco Fire Alarm

Disco inferno

Why settle for the shirl and jarring beeping of an alarm, when you can have the shrill, jarring sounds of The Bee Gees:

Picture this, your house it filled with smoke, maybe it's just your next door neighbor barbecuing at midnight again, perhaps your roomate forgot to remove the plastic wrap from the pizza. Just as you are about to roll over and hope it all goes away, a disco ball drops from the fire alarm in your ceiling the lights turn on, "Staying Alive" starts to play and it's the 70's all over again.

This is not a drill: It's time to get out of your house as fast as you can, away from the smoke and fire, but more importantly, away from the disco.

Disco dancer