Monday, October 20, 2008

On Appendices

In a book, an appendix is usually a little bit of text at the end which elaborates on a specific aspect of the work, or gives a bit of extra clarification. It isn't complete necessary, or else it'd be in the text proper, but it is usually good to have, and helps give some good context to the main text. I sometimes read the appendices to books or papers, especially if they look interesting, but mostly I just leave them be.

The appendix in the human body is similar. It's little appendage connected to the large intestine near the it's junction with the small intestine. Nobody is really quite sure what this finger-sized organ does, though recent studies suggest that it keeps a "backup copy" of the bacteria which as needed for proper gastrointestinal function. Because of humans' extensive social interaction these days, we can usually get new flora from other people if we need it, so the appendix is really a bit redundant, though it usually gives people no trouble, myself included.

Until today.

I woke early this morning to a dull pain in my gut, and could not get back to sleep. After a couple of hours, I called the nurse helpline at the student health center, and was referred to the urgent care clinic which opened at 8am. I also called a couple brethren from Church to bless me, which turned out to be a wise idea. After poking and prodding at the urgent care, they referred me to the hospital with possible appendicitis. By this point the pain was starting to localize, and it was also a bit intense at times.

After meeting the surgeon, who poked and prodded even more, we decided to proceed with a laproscopic appendectomy. It took a bunch of waiting around, but eventually an operating room opened up, and the surgeon was able to remove my appendix. Things are settling down now, and I'm recovering, but it's been a long day with lots of poking and prodding. Heather has been a great support, as always, I think I'll be able to go home tomorrow. If nothing else, this has sure helped cure my jet lag from last week's trip to Germany!

And now I don't have to feel so guilty about not reading appendices in the future.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Subversion Developers' Summit

me in munichThis past week, we've been holding the 2nd Subversion Developers' Summit, colocated with SubConf 2008 in Munich, Germany. It has been a very productive several days. After wandering around Munich for several hours on Monday, the developers have spent the last three days working out issues with the current code, discussing problems about upcoming features, and just brainstorming more goodness for the Subversion user community. I've finally gotten to meet a number of other members of the developer community face-to-face.

Some highlights:

One of the coolest parts of the Summit for me was a off-hand conversation between Mike Pilato and I about how to fix some storage inefficiencies in our current FSFS backend. Over the course of the last few days, I've been hacking on the code, while Mike has been finishing up work on the fs-rep-sharing branch. Hopefully both improvements will make it into Subversion 1.6. The synergy of getting a bunch of developers in the same room has been amazing.


In some ways, it's pretty surreal to be at a conference dedicated to an open source project that I work on largely in my spare time. During the Subversion Roundtable held on the eve of the conference, we got some good feedback from current users, and people that are still waiting on features to do large-scale rollouts. All-in-all, it's good to see how people are actually using Subversion; I spent a lot of time focusing on minute details of the project, and taking a step back every once in a while is useful.

Unfortunately, I haven't gotten the chance to see as much of Munich as I had originally planned, but I did get to see a few things during my wandering on Monday. Definitely a cool town, and one I'd like to visit again.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Unanswered Question

(First, I'd like to apologize in advance to all who feel like they've been browbeaten by the media regarding the "mortgage meltdown," the "economic crisis," or the "we-can't-call-it-a-recession-yet-but-we-will-anyway." I normally don't like ranting on such topics, but here goes...)

As somebody who attempts to know a little bit about the inner workings of the economy, I've been following the roller coaster ride of the last year with some interest. I'm fairly insulated from it all as a grad student—there's not much difference between being poor because you're in grad school and being poor because you just got laid off—but it has been interesting to watch, especially people losing their heads over problems which will just sort themselves out in the long run. As a society, we've become greedy and impatient, and that's the root of the problem, bad mortgages aside.

The vogue thing to do in political circles these days seems to be promising relief for "Main Street" as well as Wall Street. And usually when politicians presidential candidates make those promises, they tend to focus on people who are in the midst of losing their homes. "These are good people," we hear, "who just can't afford to make the payments anymore." While I can't vouch for the character of the individuals involved, I can sympathize with not having enough money to buy something I want. When that happens, though, I don't run to the bank (or the government!) and ask for money. Instead, I go without.

The relief being promised to delinquent home owners varies, but it usually involves having the taxpayers buy the mortgage, and then renegotiate the terms taking into account the decreased value of the home. There are a number of problems with schemes like this, but the question I haven't yet heard addressed is this: What happens with the homeowner sells the home in a few years?

Only two people should care what the "value" of a home is: a potential buyer, and the county tax assessor. The "value" of a home is only what somebody else is willing to buy it for, and that only happens when the owner looks to sell. The fact that somebody may be "underwater" in their mortgage isn't worth a hill of beans, unless they try to sell the home. The flaw in the proposed rescue plans is that they look at home values right now in a depressed market. What happens when the government writes down the values of these homes, renegotiates the mortgage, and then the homeowner sells for a nice profit down the line? He gets a nice chunk of change, but the taxpayers end up footing the bill.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all in favor of helping the innocent victims, but I think they number far fewer than we think. Instead of decreasing the mortgage amount, why don't we just subsidize the loss somebody takes when he sells his home? It wouldn't "bail out" people who can't make their current payments, but it would help them—by forcing them to either live within their means or find a way to make that payment. It may be tough love, but hopefully this approach will introduce some accountability back into the system.

In either case, though, I'm not too worried about a Main Street rescue happening: it's just a campaign promise, after all.