Famous last words

Yesterday, 9AM, driving to work…

Wife: “Hey, look, it’s snowing!”

Me: “Uh, no, I don’t think so”

Wife: “I tell you it’s snowing, look outside”

Me: “Well, yeah, couple snowflakes, nevermind”

Wife: “Doesn’t seem like just a couple, it’s getting heavier”

Me: “Oh, don’t worry. It’s not going to stick, it’s just too cold for heavy snow. Besides, it’s a windy day and if you look at the sky it doesn’t seem like heavy snow is coming. Sit back and relax, honey, we’ll be fine. By the way, did I mention I’m going out with a few mates for a round of golf this weekend?”

Today, 11AM, looking out of the window:

Snowy day

Snowy day

Snowy day

So much for my round of golf and my skills in weather forecasts…

No fry-up for you, sir!

I just got back from a business trip to London which was really interesting from the business point of view and a nice chance as well to catch up with a few Cocooners and friends. Given the recent issues with Alitalia strikes, lack of seats on alternative flights and my somewhat cheapskate attitude (yes, no matter the fact I’m traveling on company expenses, I’m fed up with being ripped off by expensive airlines: thanks for asking), I decided to give Easyjet a try.

During the reservation process I found out that the airline has partnered with some large network to provide hotel reservations as well. A quick check revealed that their site had indeed some excellent fares and I was able to find a nice deal at the Danubius Regent’s Park, a four stars hotel in central London.

Being a breakfast junkie, and given the low fare anyway, I also decided to pony up some more cash and indulge my craving for the “full english breakfast” option. When I woke up this morning I already had a mouth-watering feeling of sizzling fat and cholesterol waiting for me at the hotel restaurant, which definitely was too good to be true. Due to some mismanagement of my records the gentleman at the door informed me that my reservation included just plain and dumb continental breakfast: no matter what I thought my reservation was including, all I could have was some coffee and a croissant and no, it was no use for him trying to check with the front desk since the Mighty Records in front of him were clearly labeling myself as a continental customer.

Being on a business trip with a tight schedule, I didn’t have time to get back to my room and bring some proof to the guy that would allow me to enter the fabulous world of fried stuff: considering that it could well be that I was wrong after all, I just sat down and swallowed my lousy croissant and coffee silently envying the guys in front of me who were ingurgitating embarassing quantities of greasy matter.

Upon checkout I asked the hotel to double check my data, and eventually they dug my original reservation which indeed included my Bill of Rights to Unhealthy Morning Food. They apologized about the inconvenience but they firmly refused to reimburse the difference since I already paid the full amount in advance and they weren’t allowed to return any cash. Now, if you know me you’re well aware I’m not going to starve because I had a croissant instead than a full fry-up, and my company isn’t going to bankrupt for a few euros of difference that went down the drain instead than being transformed in calories and fat, but this is exactly the kind of disturbing stuff that makes me mad.

I really can’t understand what’s the problem for companies in reimbursing customers when they mess up with us: when something goes wrong all we get are excuses, apologies and, if we’re lucky, some kind of coupon/voucher which assumes that we’re going to give the suckers a chance to rip us off again. More specifically, I’m now questioning the whole process of paying travel fees in advance when there is no way to recover from mistakes made by others. I’m wondering what would happen in more serious cases such as a room downgrade, a reservation not being honored or some other gross mismanagement. The lack of reimbursement policies is somewhat scary, and I’m definitely considering getting back to more traditional travel reservations that don’t require upfront payment. And most definitely my next trip to the UK will include breakfast at the pub!

If you don’t know Italian…

You don’t know what you’re missing. After a 5-years long hiatus, Vinicio Capossela, my long-time favourite artist finally gave birth to his new work of art. “Ovunque proteggi” is an amazing CD: I still have to grasp all of it, but looks like Vinicio is at his best ever in quite a few tracks. If you like Tom Waits, John Fante and Charles Bukowski, and if you’re not scared by exploring weird and ever-changing musical atmospheres, Capossela is a guy you shouldn’t be missing: it might be difficult to get a hold of his recordings outside Italy, but it’s well worth the effort.

I, for one, am looking forward to his next Milan concert, due April 10th: I have fond memories of every single Vinicio venue I attended, so there is no way I’m going to miss the next one. You shouldn’t, too. :)

Today’s meme: what’s your major?

Found it via Maurizio, but I’m not quite convinced:

You scored as Mathematics. You should be a Math major! Like Pythagoras, you are analytical, rational, and when are always ready to tackle the problem head-on!

Philosophy

75%

Mathematics

75%

Theater

67%

Linguistics

67%

Engineering

67%

English

67%

Sociology

58%

Psychology

58%

Anthropology

58%

Chemistry

50%

Dance

42%

Journalism

42%

Biology

33%

Art

17%

What is your Perfect Major?
created with QuizFarm..com

Mathematics? Moi? You might want to read the full story but, despite how my wife might actually agree with the test results, math still isn’t quite my cup of tea… dance might actually be a better option.

Reclaiming my space

I’m the lousiest guy ever when it comes to managing my own machine. As much as I tend to be paranoid when it comes to servers, cleaning up every possible bit and caring for my beloved hard drives, I tend to leave some notable amount of cruft lying around on my personal stuff.

In my quest to speed up my powerbook I wondered why on earth I needed 72GB to store my digital life and eventually figured out that it was time for a cleanup. Despite some ruthless rm’ing around, though, I still wasn’t able to make much of a difference, freeing up just a few gigs which still didn’t account for the majority of allocated but MIA hard disk space.

Eventually, I found out that I had more than 12GB squatting my Library/Mail folder, with a lot of stuff used by a bunch of CachedMessages directories. Even for a power mail user like me 12GB looked weird until some googling around revealed this article which clearly showed how my upgrades and migrations left a lot of unnecessary cruft behind. A few find/rm afterwards I was able to reclaim a whopping 8GB, trimming my mailboxes to a still too high but overall understandeable 3.5GB.

With 15GB of free disk to spare I was a 5x factor happier than when I started, having earnt a total of 12GB in the process, but still I was somewhat unsatisfied. A nifty utility showed that I still had some work left, given that I still had two copies of previous systems lying around from upgrades, which accounted for 15 more GB overall. Having blasted that, I’m now much happier given my 30GB of free room for orphan bytes still floating in the cyberspace in their quest for a new home.

I’m still wondering, though, if I really need 45GB of data, no matter how digital my life can be: the obligatory trip down memory lane brings to mind friends making fun of me for a 120MB SCSI HDD I bought sometimes around 1990. It was about 3x the average size of consumer hard disks at that time, and I clearly recall them betting I wouldn’t have been able to fill it up no matter how hard I tried: interestingly enough as of today a RAID-0 array of five 120MB units would be just barely enough to host my current Inbox. Something’s wrong.

Maven2 is sweet!

I know this will be no surprise for many of you, yet I’m writing this post for the skepticals still around: if you’re developing Java applications and you’re not considering moving to Maven 2, well, think again. I’ve been in the skeptical camp for far too long and while I don’t plan to enter the zealot crowd anytime soon (there are still a few rough edges), I’m definitely sold on the idea.

After a few years spent juggling jars, keeping Ant skeleton files around and trying to put together best practices and guidelines, I’ve become sick of build processes that no matter what you do always end up in spaghetti code making Postscript shine as a more manageable alternative. Maven’s standardization works indeed, and what you loose in terms of flexibility is more than paid off in terms of clarity and maintainability. True enough, there is some black magic lying around, and I’m too old/not brave enough to see what has been downloaded in my local jar repository, but the overall result is just astonishing.

What makes Maven great, besides the sound ideas behind it, is the number of great plugins that are made possible thanks to standardization. If you’re an Eclipse user like me, you’ll just love the Eclipse plugin that generates project files automagically, referencing jars in your local repository. And if you’re into web applications like me, you’ll find yourself asking how on earth you managed to survive without the Jetty6 plugin around, which makes webapp development a breeze with a mere handful of configuration lines.

Bottom line: if you didn’t give Maven2 a try, this is a very good time to take it for a spin. I, for one, am not looking back.

Security control nightmares

A side effect of being a roadwarrior is dealing with a number of security checks on a daily basis. I’m getting used to airport security, which typically require waving my ID at least three different times to three different people per trip (I already had to tape it together a couple of times). I even learnt to live with the most obnoxious TSA controls in the USA (what? taking my shoes off?), no matter how getting fingerprinted and photographed every time doesn’t make me feel that welcome after all.

While airport security is clearly understandable, what’s bugging me lately is corporate controls: customer visits typically start with the reception desk nightmare which requires thorough understanding of a number of obscure security procedures that will make you feel like being on candid camera or acting in a Monty Pithon sketch (apart from the vikings choir, sometimes). The typical setup goes more or less like this:

  • you can be greeted either by a nice and professional looking receptionist. The nicest and professional she is, the highest the possibility she has no clue on what you should do to be let in;
  • as an alternative a grunting security guard with a clear steroid addition problem will welcome with a “myheah?” as his most sincere form of flattery. The bigger the muscles the highest the possibility he has no clue on why he should actually let you in since you clearly look as a terrorist being hired by the competition to steal corporate secrets, ashtrays and paper towels from the toilets;
  • next step is introducing yourself, shouting your name, affiliation and host through a shielded bulletproof display with enough acoustic isolation to let anyone behind it sleep in peace during a carpet bombing attack. The various misunderstandings can get really funny after a while, but usually you end up hoping for the best, figuring that Mr. Jones who’s picking up the receptionist call will eventually be able to understand that Mr. Rakeltrino is actually the Rabellino guy Ms. James he’s waiting for;
  • once the reception staff understands that the only one alternative to you camping on the premises is actually letting you in, you’re asked to show your ID, fill a form, authorize the outsourcing security staff to sell your name to a list of known spammers and wait for poor Ms. James to show up, tell the receptionist that yes, she’s actually the one waiting for you and that, yes, you is really you and she’s supposed to meet you, as per the three different emails and five forms she had to fill to put you on the list.
  • Eventually you’re allowed to enter the building, while the security guard looks strangely at you muttering something like “you won this time, but I’m looking after you”. Once you do this every day for a couple of years, sneaking in an exclusive Hollywood wedding will be a piece of cake.

Now, while the above list can be somewhat exaggerated and humorous, the following one is for real. One the places I visit most is home of one of the most famous BigCos in the IT field (sorry, I won’t name the sinner): these guys did invent possibly the most used technologies in the enterprise field, and have some serious products when it comest to digital identity, from directories to RFID solutions. Every employee of the company has a smart-card based badge which allows them to enter their sites anywhere in the world, head to the first thin client available, insert their ID and have their personalized desktop display popping up automagically in no time flat.

Visitors, however, are a totally different story: every time I get there, and I do get there pretty often, sometimes as much as two-three times a week, I’m requested to fill in a paper form which clearly comes from scissor-cut photocopied paper. I’m required to write down who I am, what’s my affiliation, who’s my host and what is my ID number, expiry date and issuer. Plus, I’m required to agree on specific T&C about my personal data being treated (uh? shredded, I assume, there’s no much you can do with that lousy piece of paper) and sign. The whole process takes at least five minutes and gets bothersome in no time flat, expecially when you have to do it day-in day-out, and sometimes twice (well, it’s not security’s fault if you went for a sandwich for lunch).

I asked a couple of times if it would have been possible to have one of those pieces of paper so that I could prepare a set of photocopies which I would sign in original every time. No luck: they’re not authorized to have those forms leave the building. I then questioned a few guys I know who are full time consultants over there, and they confirmed that the same procedure applies to them as well, no matter the fact they have outlived by far the typical security staff turnover: they know part of their job is filling in 200+ forms a year and they managed to just live with that. I wonder how much it will take to me to get over it: thinking how these guys have some of the most advanced software systems in the world and how actively they promote digital solutions and paperless office while forcing stupid forms down their visitors throat just makes me sick.

Guys, if you read me you know who you are: this is an official proposal to build you some piece of software that will make you look a bit less lousy in front of your customers. (Almost) for free. :-)

Battery Update rocks!

I don’t know if my fellow Powerbook is trying to redeem itself before I trash him for some new stuff or if the battery stuff that showed up yesterday on Software Update is really making a difference, but battery life seems to have received a consistent boost since the upgrade.

This morning, confronted with a lengthy meeting to attend, my aluminum friend greeted me with 3h:10m of expected battery life, something I haven’t seen from ages and, which is even more surprisingly, it actually lasted *exactly* that long (from 11.05AM to 2:15PM, I could have squeezed a few more minutes in but I had to leave)! A not so nice side effect, though, seems to be extended charging time: it seems it will take roughly three hours to recharge the battery I used this morning.

Now, I’m wondering what were they doing previously to drain that much power for nothing…

It’s there!

It’s new. It’s shiny. It’s FAST (or at least they say so). Check it out on the Apple store.

First impressions:

  • I believe in benchmarks as much as I believe in leprechauns. I hope the 4x promise is true, but I could happily live with a 3x increase. Heck, every increase is welcome at this point!
  • “Ho-hum?” to the integrated iSight camera. I don’t need it, I used it mine maybe 3 times since I bought it, but with increased power you never know.
  • Thumbs down to Apple photographers and web designers: I still don’t quite understand if the new Macbooks are a darker shade of gray (as it seems from the store home page) or if it’s still the old Titanium look.
  • Having a single SO-DIMM as the default for the 1GB Macbook is nice. Thanks, Apple.
  • The graphic card is definitely able to drive the 30″ cinema display: nice! Not that I’m going to buy one anytime soon, but it’s good to know there’s bandwith enough.
  • I’d have appreciated a 7200RPM disk as default stuff, but at least it’s a (not so pricey) option at 100$ a pop.
  • The brand new power adapter I had to buy today will go down the drain, given the new geeky magnetic connector.

Now, where is that 2006 budget sheet? Looks like I’ll have to increase my February allowance…

OpenSource != amateurs

Maybe I’m just too tired, but this post from Matt Asay is touching a nerve over here. I know the sentence I’m quoting is not his, but seeing him backing such a statement with no comment at all makes me wonder:

OpenOffice is an extremely complex mountain of source code. As far as I know, in the five years it has been available as open source, not one contribution to the program has come from amateurs. The outsiders who have provided input have been full-time professionals employed by Linux companies to help make the software credible.

I’ll leave the OpenOffice quality argument aside: suffice to say it’s enough for my needs, even though it makes me grunt at times. What makes me mad is reading between the lines how the lack of “amateur” (sic!) contributions and the fact that most contributions come from paid developers somewhat diminishes the value of true Open Source (whatever that is) and clearly explain why OOo is failing. Now, since when did the Open Source definition include the idea that paid development isn’t true to the Open Source spirit? Who decided that metrics for Open Source quality have to include individual and uninterested contribution of people working exclusively for fun or ideology?

It seems to me that these guys never are largely unaware of the large crowd of people who, while being committed to Open Source (and sometimes zealots as well), happen to make a living somewhat from OSS development, be it by working for some BigCo, helping out smaller ones, or just running their shop. Fair enough, when BigCos enter the Open Source arena there are lot of troubles ahead, and we all know how much harm hidden agendas, corporate politics, and paid developers with no motivation/committment can do to any projects. However, this doesn’t rule out at all the role of people that, while having a proven track record as OSS volunteers and enthousiasts, also manage to pay their bills with some kind of paid job or self-employment around the projects they like. And definitely it doesn’t rule out the role of companies employing these guys because they fit in their (necessarily somewhat evil) corporate agenda.

Sure, there are OSS projects out there that scare people away: I’m definitely not going to delve into OOo code to scratch my itches, and the same goes for Firefox, Eclipse et al. But I don’t feel the value of such projects diminished at all by the idea that only people with full-time availability will actually be able to deal with the source mammoth. If I really need to draw a line, that would be around the diversity concept: as long as a project is able to catalyze different interest and build communities that foster communication, the Open Source concept is alive and kicking, and it really doesn’t matter much if a project community is focused on corporate strategies rather than individuals’. As long as we’re talking about diverse corporate strategies with community processes that allow for shared participation and governance. Despite a clear lead from the mother ship, OOo belongs to that crowd. So (possibly more) does Eclipse.

Now, back to that “OOo sucks” argument, just for completeness sake, well, I guess I have to basically agree when talking about complex needs. But, while this is clearly a tell-tale sign of a specific problem for that project, there is no need to generalize that into an “Open Source without individual amateurs contribution is doomed”, as the outlined article seems to hint.