Thursday, February 28, 2008

Trip planning made easy

Joel Spolsky recently mentioned on his blog, and since we're going to be doing a lot of traveling this summer, I figured I'd give it whirl. I've been thoroughly impressed. I'll refer the reader to Joel's post for the gory details, but suffice it to say that a good interface, nice integration with other sites, and a handful of useful tools make TripIt a winner.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Morning with Bill Gates

One of the advantages of going to a largish university is the opportunity to have interesting events on campus, and to occasionally attend these events. Due to the highly publicized Clinton-Obama debate tomorrow evening on the University campus, today's lecture by Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, was largely overlooked by all but the more technical students. The announcement went out on Friday, Monday morning I got a wristband for the talk, and this morning I had the chance to listen to Mr. Gates in person. In spite of whatever ideological and technological differences we may have, it is hardly debatable that he has had a tremendous influence in the area of computer technology over the past 30 years. Listening to him in person was a rare opportunity.

The talk itself wasn't earth-shattering or groundbreaking in any way, rather it was a forward-looking view on what Gates believes the future of computing, and specifically software, to be. He talked about changing the way we interact with the PC, such as 3-D input devices and more intelligent displays. He also expressed a belief that software will be the tool to solve much of the complex research problems of the future: "Just as mathematics was the handmaiden of the sciences during the 19th century, software will be the handmaiden during the 21st." I'm still deciding if I like being a handmaiden or not.

Gates also spoke a lot about the Gates Foundation and some of the work going on with it. He talked especially about the ways that software will be used to combat some of the problems facing the third world, and the unique challenges relating to that environment.

The interesting part of the lecture was the question and answer section, with unscreened questions. I was not impressed with the caliber of the questions. There was everything from gift offers and invitations to visit to asking for a letters of reference and recommending the suffering children in Palestine for Foundation aid. I wasn't impressed, especially since it left so little time for serious questions and responses.

The good questions, and the ones which I take the most issue with were regarding Microsoft, and its place in the marketplace. One person asked about open source and Microsoft's response to it. Gates deftly dodged the question, and specifically called out the GPL as being anti-economic, invasive, and freedom limiting. Such a viewpoint is understandable from his perspective, but it can hardly be argued that open source doesn't create jobs. Giving such a response does little to dispel the notion that Microsoft actively spreads FUD against the open source community.

The other question was about the proposed Microsoft buyout of Yahoo!, which Gates euphemistically called a "merger". (I somehow doubt the folks at Yahoo! are thinking that.) He mentioned that the search and advertising market is currently dominated by one company, and that MicroHoo! would increase competition in that space. (Funny, I thought that 3 choices is more than 2.) Gates also mentioned that search is the only market where the user doesn't receive a benefit from viewing ads, unlike television or newspapers. (That's right, the search results aren't particularly beneficial to the person using the search engine.) Finally, I loved the statement that "we have lots of ideas that make today's search look terrible." And Windows Live is one of them.

Overall, it was an interesting experience, which helped both to reinforce some long-held beliefs and give me a bit of personal insight into Mr. Bill Gates.

Fun bits:

  • He showed the CES video about Gates' last day at Microsoft, as well as bloopers from the filming of the video.

  • At one point during the question about the Yahoo! bid, Gates kept referring to an unnamed "current leader in search," without mentioning Google by name. At one point he slipped, and referred "the merger with Googl---er, Yahoo!"

  • One of the questioners described a problem he was having with his XP-based machine in which whenever he booted the machine, Windows Media Player would open with a bunch of errors. He asked Gates whether an upgrade to Vista would make the errors go away, and Gates responded, "no, you'll just get different errors!"

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Stomping through Victorian England

When I was in high school, my brother got the complete Sherlock Holmes stories for Christmas one year, all 4 novels and 56 short stories. While I never read them, I often wanted to. After some recent reading, I decided to go for something a bit lighter, and picked up my own copy of the Sherlock Holmes Collection, by Arthur Conan Doyle. It made for good reading over the holidays, and took me about 2.5 months to get through all 1800 pages of the work.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Conan Doyle does a great job of painting the late Victorian era of British life, complete with the famous detective and his sidekick. I was unfamiliar with many of the stories, and while some were a bit too brief, most were engaging and interesting. I often myself trying to solve the mystery given the clues as described by Watson, and even came out right a couple of times. (In all fairness, Holmes often uses knowledge with which the reader is generally unfamiliar with, which makes such armchair sleuthing a bit difficult.) Some of the stories seem quite similar, though I account that to my reading them in a condensed time period, and volume, not in their original serial format.

If anyone ever longs for a good mystery and some fun mental stimulation, I heartily recommend the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Subversion 1.5 branched

For those who don't know, we've been in the process of developing the next release of the Subversion version control system for almost 2 years. During that time, lots of new features, including the primary feature of merge tracking, have gone into trunk. Two weeks ago, the development team created the 1.5.x release branch, to begin stabilization for a 1.5.0 release. The branch is considered "feature complete", and we'll soon start cutting release candidates from it.

Until the time we cut the first release candidate, people eager to test 1.5 can check out the nightlies page, where they can download the latest and greatest code from the 1.5.x release branch. Of course, the code is completely untested and not formally released, so please, please don't use it on data you can't afford to lose. As always, bug reports and comments should be submitted on the Subversion homepage.