the further adventures of

Mike Pirnat

a leaf on the wind

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66/365: Victory Not Vengeance

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I cut short my PyCon travel by a day so that I could see VNV Nation in concert before getting on a plane the next morning. While this proved to be a stark reminder that I'm not as young as I was when I discovered them, the show was epic and I had a fantastic time, and I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.

Also, achievement unlocked--I'm posting this from the sky thanks to Delta's onboard wi-fi. It's totally the future, you guys!

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Reflections on CodeMash 2011

I spent most of last week at CodeMash in Sandusky, Ohio. I felt a little foolhardy setting out on the drive during the worst part of a snowstorm, but there was no way I wanted to be late and miss out on anything.

Now in its fifth year, CodeMash is a language-agnostic, polyglot-friendly software development conference that aims to expand participants' minds by opening them to new platforms and technologies that they hadn't been exposed to. There's a lot of .NET and Java, a fair amount of Ruby, a mix of web and desktop and mobile (iOS, Android, and even Windows Phone 7 were well-represented), and if you look hard enough there are even some Python talks. There seemed to be a lot of interest in Scala as well. All are welcome--the official anti-discrimination statement even covers your choice OS and text editor!

CodeMash features a "Precompiler" day much like the PyCon tutorial days, with four-hour sessions that allow deep dives and intense focus.

In the morning, I attended the introductory iOS development session, a fast-paced "type-along" that walks through the creation of a simple iPhone app and some basic tricks. I've been a Mac user for years, but since I'm mostly focused on Python and the web, I've never even cracked open Xcode, nor really spent more than a few moments glancing at Objective C code, so this was a pretty rewarding experience for me. I will say, however, that spending four hours in Objective C makes me really appreciate exactly how much Python has spoiled me--Python is so clean and readable, and Objective C is a twisted nightmare by comparison. (You have to wrap square brackets around method calls? Seriously??) But the session was fun, so I had a great time and learned a lot.

I spent the afternoon in Jim Weirich's excellent "Git Immersion" session. The first hour was a Powerpoint-driven thought experiment that began with the question, "How would you build a version control system?" Starting with the idea of taking a snapshot/backup of the codebase, Jim carefully layered on one concept after another, gradually and organically building up the pieces until we had arrived at a beautiful, powerful, and elegant system, and suddenly we understood git, in a natural, logical, "of course that's how it should be" way. Really a profound moment. Even rebase made sense! The next portion of the class was a self-paced series of exercises that I enjoyed working through, occasionally sharing my lightbulb moments with my neighbors. Lots of "aha!" and "oh, that's cool" murmurs. The session wrapped up with a quick discussion of some of the more advanced features like bisect and reflog, and I walked out feeling great, really turned on and excited to use this powerful tool.

The next couple of days were, quite honestly, a little bit of a letdown after the engrossing Precompiler activities. I got the feeling that there was the same content-to-talk ratio regardless of the length of the talk. Then again, it's possible that I just picked a bunch of losers, which seems consistent with my experiences picking checkout lines. The keynotes were kind of lackluster as well, though apparently I missed the good one while escaping the long lunch line for other arrangements.

The stand-out talks that I attended were Jon Stahl's "Agile From the Top Down" (about how your senior management should be doing Agile too), Joe Nuxoll's "Rules for Good UX Design" (which ought to be required if you're building, well, anything), Richard Harding's "Celery: Harnessing the Power of RabbitMQ" (a welcome burst of manic energy and humor at the end of a draining three days of learning), and Gary Bernhardt's "A Modern Open Source Development Environment" (Gary's talks are always a treat).

The "Mobile Smackdown" session was a fun idea as well; three devs--representing iPhone, Windows Phone 7, and Android--gave competetive walkthroughs of building a basic Twitter client in 15 minutes. While the iPhone's Objective C code was clearly the ugliest looking code, I noted with some interest that it looked like the Windows Phone 7 dev hardcoded some things that the iPhone didn't, and that the Android guy didn't quite get done in time. (In fairness to the iPhone, The giant pile of Windows Phone 7 XML also made me want to puke pretty badly.) Plans are already afoot for holding a three-way simultaneous coding duel in the plenary space next year.

CodeMash also seems to be a pretty swell place for social interaction--open spaces were buzzing, folks were meeting, and (I hear) that parties were pretty crazy. I had great fun playing mini-golf and Guitar Hero with coworkers. I mostly stayed away from the late-night party scene, opting on Tuesday night to write show notes for From Python Import Podcast and on Wednesday and Thursday to take in the band and awesome jam session. We were graced by the awesome presence of The Womack Family Band, who did a phenomenal job of not only kicking ass, but incorporating musically-oriented conferencegoers into the act--witness Matt "Snowdog" Gibberman playing drums on "Back in the USSR"! I was pretty happy to pick up their CD and get autographs.

Overall, CodeMash was great, well worth the treacherous, snowy drive, and though I wish I could have done even more Precompiler sessions, I'm already looking forward to next year.

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Potter-Related Setbacks; 24 Hours With Apple TV; Shutterfly Freebies

I'm really excited by the amount of progress I've made over the last couple of weekends, hacking away at what for now is known as Shindig, a group management blog/calendar app written against TurboGears. Its primary purpose is to be something easier and faster for me to maintain than ClePy's current Plone site. I'm sure much of what it solves has already been done, but I want something exactly tuned to giving me the most streamlined workflow possible, and, let's face it, it's just plain fun to write code.

So ordinarily, I'd be psyched about how much I'd be able to get done this weekend... Except that the stupid Harry Potter book is showing up in the mail tomorrow, and that basically means that it will consume every waking, lighted hour until it's done. I love the books, I really do, but it's really putting a crimp on my Python geek-out sessions. But I have to be done reading by Monday, that's for sure, or else I will have to gouge my eyes out to avoid spoilers. My predictions: Snape dies (he's obviously been set up for a hard-core double-agent redemption arc, so he'll probably save the day somehow), Harry lives (and will be the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher ever), and Ron and Hermione will finally succumb to the powerful call of teenage hormones and romantic comedy conventions and hook up in a major way.

Oh, yes, and I'm going to see Howard Shore conducting the Cleveland Orchestra in performance of his Lord of the Rings Symphony tomorrow night, so that knocks out a couple more hours of potential coding time. Which I guess I can live with; enjoying some of my favorite music, conducted by its composer, performed by one of the world's foremost orchestras, under the night sky, with a picnic and a nice glass of wine... Should be a real treat.

...

Tonight marks 24 hours since the arrival of the Apple TV. So far, I'm very, very impressed. I have modest needs, primarily to replace an aging SlimP3 that's prone to chronic buffer under-runs ever since I replaced my dying firewall, and it solves all of my most common use cases with total aplomb. I've been delightfully impressed by its streaming performance, which, even with an 802.11b/g setup, is nothing short of freaking amazing. I'm also very satisfied with the image quality out of the component video cables (chosen since our altar to the television gods predates HDMI by a generation or so). My advice so far, to any prospective owners, boils down to two points:

  1. Don't do your initial sync over wireless if you don't have 802.11n hardware. Wired ethernet is your friend by orders of magnitude.
  2. Its case serves as its heat sink, which is to say it gets hot like you wouldn't believe. Don't set it on top of your DVD player or other hardware (unless you want to cook your gear), and make sure that it gets plenty of airflow. Honestly, I used oven mitts to bring it upstairs to wire it into my switch to finish the initial sync. Yikes!

Beware of the YouTube integration; Liz and I must have spent an hour tonight watching videos of cats doing stupidly cute things. It is a powerful and addictive time-sink.

...

Finally, I'm happy to report that the first of two freebie poster-size prints from Shutterfly arrived today and it looks great. I picked up a 50mm prime lens for my Canon (Digital Rebel XT) recently, and the folks at Amazon threw in a coupon for one free 11x14 and 16x20 print. The 16x20 (which I expect sometime Saturday or Monday) will probably end up framed and in our dining room, next to some other wine-related art, and the 11x14 (which showed up today) will probably find a home in our living room. I'm really quite tickled--I've never printed any of my work larger than 5x7 before--but I fear that I could start going poor making prints of my better photos. Oh well; Liz said I should find a hobby.... ;-)

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Being Uncle Mike

My recent vacation photos hiatus is in part due to spending last weekend being all responsible and grown-up and stuff--Laura, one of my nieces, came to visit us for the weekend. Note the use of the word "my," a big step for me, as for most of the past seven years, the girls have been "Liz's nieces." Maybe they're just growing up to the point at which I can relate to them, but they're really, finally feeling like family.

So! Laura braved the increased airport security, water bottle fascism and all, and arrived last Friday. Liz picked her up, and after getting settled in at the house, took us all out to lunch at Phnom Penh; to my amazement, Laura loved her loath chha! That evening we hit our local Winking Lizard and then went out to Will Farrell NASCAR movie (hilarious, recommended), got ice cream on the way home, and stayed up far too late playing Munchkin. Saturday we caught up on "Monk" and "Psych", then went out to friends' for their Wild Game BBQ, where there was much delicious food, frosty beverage, and wacky croquet fun, then zipped down to Blossom to chill out under the stars and experience the Cleveland Orchestra playing the scores to Bugs Bunny cartoons (and incidentally seeing a lot of folks that we don't always bump into). Sunday we had brunch downtown, spent a few hours at the science center (note to self: don't try the "virtual hang-glider" right after eating...), tried to get Laura hooked on "Firefly", and played a lot more Munchkin and Apples to Apples.

Laura was up and out the door early on Monday to get to her flight on time; by all accounts she made it back home safely. I'm still trying to wrap my head around her pronouncement that I'm "an awesome uncle," but for the most part I guess that's pretty cool. The entire experience has left me a lot more optimistic about the idea of being a parent, a mental paradigm shift that is simultaneously comforting and scary as hell.

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Better Days

Luckily, fortunately, thankfully, I've had a string of pretty good days lately.

Liz had to work for most of Saturday, so I used the time to knock a bunch of things off my to-do list, including a trip to the library to refresh my influx of new music, and a half-day of being able to work in peace in the office. Saturday night, she took me to Grovewood Tavern for dinner, which was utterly fabulous (I had the "Quackitori", seared duck breast yakitori style, and I highly recommend it, especially paired with the Parallel 45 Cotes du Rhone). After dinner, we hit the Velvet Tango Room for post-dinner cocktails, where I was introduced to the shimmering delight that is the French 75. I totally dig VTR's vibe, and I got an especially geeky thrill from recognizing Winchester '73 playing on the TV by the bar. VTR is a bit pricey, but the experience--especially on the weekend, where your lady friend gets a perfect rose--is worth it.

On Sunday I managed to get more stuff on my list done, and then we hit the local movie theatre for a matinee of Thank You For Smoking, a cheerfully subversive little movie that anyone with two brain cells and a sense of humor should see as soon as possible. Seriously--run, don't walk; it's that good. My only issue was with the quality of the audience, as we seemed to be seated directly in front of, next to, and behind people who insisted on sharing their running commentary, explaining jokes to each other, and so forth. Sorry, folks, but if I wanted the commentary track, I'd buy the DVD, and you wouldn't be part of it. Though it was almost worth it to hear the person next to me try to explain a joke and then, verbally, loudly, not get it... (Seriously, she didn't understand why it might be funny that the firearms lobbyist set off the metal detector at a security checkpoint. "Must be something metal," my next-door Ebert observed.)

Monday marked a return to workplace madness, but it ended early as Liz and I had picked up tickets to see K.T. Tunstall at the House of Blues. It was a pretty much spur-of-the-moment decision a couple of weeks ago when I realized that she was in town. I admit, I'm a total poseur, and it took her solo appearance on NBC's "Today" show for her to arrive on my musical radar... I wasn't sure what to expect from seeing her live, but I figured I wouldn't be disappointed, and the ticket price was pretty fair, so I figured there were worse ways to spend a Monday night. We had a nice dinner at the HOB (assisted in part by a small parade of happy-hour mixed drinks), and then proceeded to be completely blown away by her live performance. She's touring with a band to back her up, which helps fill out her sound nicely, and there were particularly nice bits featuring various band members soloing on drums, keyboards, trumpet, guitars, and cello. Mellower tracks had a nice dash of psychadelia that reminded me of early Pink Floyd, while the more raucus, upbeat numbers struck me as the perfect soundtrack for blasting down a desert highway, windows down and stereo cranked. In short, even if she's getting mainstream radio (and worse, grocery store!) airplay, K.T. is the real deal, and you should check her out, especially live. Seriously good times.

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Of Rings and Regular Expressions

Keeping busy. More than a little stressed. The next couple of days are (as usual) critical. So far so good, though...

I've graduated from being assigned weird shifts for monitoring the farm during Val to being on call 24x7 for the duration; I'm not sure if this is an improvement or not, but it allowed me to attend the Lord of the Rings symphony on Saturday night. Liz and I met up with friends for dinner at the Severance Hall restaurant (tasty, though I had the world's dullest steak knife) and then marvelled at how tight the symphony had gotten since we'd first heard it. The Cleveland Orchestra brought their "A game" and really rocked my socks; I got all weepy-eyed in all the right places. Beautiful, and a great early Valentine's gift to ourselves!

I spent a bit of time today fixing up some geeky things that have been bothering me. I twiddled pirnat.com's CSS a bit to be better behaved in IE, moved my IE-specifc hacks into a separate stylesheet to help get me ready for IE 7. And I finally managed to hunt down the bug in feedparser.py that was causing it to mangle content so badly (any "<br />" ended up getting doubled twice by its "cleanup" routines, and some bits of nearby text and other tags would get similarly repeated). I filed a bug with a very simple patch, so hopefully it'll get folded into the main release at some point, so no one else will have to suffer. It's amazing how different <(\S+?)\s*?/> (bad) and <([^\s>]+?)\s*?/> (good) can be.

Other than that, nothing exciting (other than watching the Canadian women's hockey team annihilate pretty much everything in their path). At this point, I'm just hoping to survive the next two days!

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Pink Floyd @ Live8

Just got done watching the webcast of Pink Floyd's set for Live8... WOW. It's really amazing to see the originals all back together again; as one hand-made sign read "Pink Floyd Reunited: Pigs Have Flown!" It stuns me how a tiny little WMV stream can bring me right back to seeing them in Denver in 1993, and the raw, overwhelming joy of the experience.

The setlist:

  • "Breathe" (including the verse from the reprise at the end of "Time")
  • "Money"
  • "Wish You Were Here" (beautiful, heartwrenching, perfect performance)
  • "Comfortably Numb" (absolutely scorching, fantastic)

While I was delighted to hear anything performed at all, I was a bit disappointed by the absence of some would-be uncannily appropriate songs, such as "On the Turning Away", "High Hopes", or Roger Waters' "The Tide Is Turning (After Live Aid)". Of course, all of these songs were written after Waters had split from the band, so the setlist definitely reflects an attempt to minimize conflict between band members. And of course any of those would have been dead giveaways and possibly bordering on cheese. But still.

I would have preferred a longer set as well, but you can't have everything, now can you? I guess I'll just have to pray my heart out for a reunion tour.

...

I never watched any of the original Live Aid concerts when I was a child, and now I feel a strange mix of hope and cynicism. The blue state dreamer in me hopes that this mass of humanity coming together through music has some positive effect on the upcoming G8 summit, but the jaded cynic thinks that the most powerful leaders of the world don't really give a rat's ass about a bunch of people putting on a big concert.

Still, it's a good cause, and I hope something will come of it all.

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Curiosa Reflections

Had a relatively great time at the Curiosa festival yesterday with [info]aquamindy, [info]cynic51, and eventually [info]mokatz and [info]grimkitten_. Our seats in Section 13 were toward the Section 14 side, in the third row behind the pit wall. So with the pit, we were probably about 8 or 10 rows back overall. All in all, fairly excellent, certainly enough so for my needs.

The bands on the secondary stage were not bad, but not good enough to stand around and listen to for more than a song or two. But walking from the pavilion to the second stage in Lot A at least gave me a nice chance to stretch legs, enjoy the cool evening weather, and enjoy the buzz of the place.

The bands on the main stage were all pretty good. I'll admit up front that ever since I left WRUW, I've been really out of touch with most music, and I had pretty much never heard of any of the opening bands before. So, Curiosa gave me a nice chance to hear totally new music, by totally new (to me) bands, live and direct. Can't complain about that.

It rained for most of Mogwai's set, weather which really lent itself nicely to their sound, which is sort of instrumental rock for rainy days. I don't know that I'd go see them live, but I could certainly pick up and enjoy their CD's. They are also incomprehensibly Scottish, so I have no idea what the hell they said between songs.

The Rapture was pretty fun, very upbeat and crazy. Their best stuff, I thought, was their opening song, which had some sort of modern-disco-ish keyboard stuff going on. But they get props for weird sax twiddling that reminded me a lot of some material from The Top-era Cure.

Interpol was also pretty enjoyable, seemed very polished as a group, and musically solid. Unfortunately almost all of their songs sounded identical, but that could just be an artifact of having never heard them before. [info]cynic51 and I tried to pin down their sound, and I think the consensus was "AC/DC gone emo."

The Cure... were amazing, though a touch off on a couple songs early in their set. But once they got the sound a bit more under control, it was pretty tight and overall excellent. The new material, for the most part, is not as strong as the classic stuff, but this year's new material is, for the most part, much stronger than Wild Mood Swings or Bloodflowers.

The setlist, however... was not what I (or a lot of people, apparently) expected. It bothered me a little bit, because there were some of my favorites that I had really wanted to hear ("Just Like Heaven," "Play For Today," "A Forest," "Disintegration", "A Night Like This") that weren't performed. But a casual listener who only knew the radio-friendly hits (such as my wife) would have been totally lost (as she was). Not only has she not listened to the new album (thus not knowing a big chunk of what was played), she didn't have the advantage of being obsessed with collecting and memorizing the Cure's back catalogue during college. So where I was stunned and amazed to hear a lot of great older material that almost never gets played, she (and others) were not having such a great time with it. It was also very solidly on the gloomy side--with the rain and it being Thursday's last night with the tour, I suspect Robert wasn't in the poppiest of moods.

Things which were stunningly good to hear:

  • "Like Cockatoos" -- One of my absolute favorite Cure tracks, the sound of it is just amazing...
  • "Siamese Twins" -- My biggest complaint about the Denver '96 show was that there wasn't enough material from Pornography played... so w00t for this classic!
  • "A Strange Day" -- Wow! More stuff from Pornography!
  • "From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea" -- Yes, played regularly, but by far one of the best, most solid things from the post-Disintegration albums. Epic, emotional, wrenching...
  • "100 Years" -- A starkly grim song paired with equally disturbing projected images of war and destruction. Extremely powerful. (And another from Pornography; Robert must really not have been in a good mood!)
  • "Faith" -- A rarity when played in Denver in '96, it seems like it's a little more common now, but still beautiful.

Things which did not delight me:

  • "Lost" -- This opener from the new album just seems weak. Give me "Tape/Open" from the Wish tour, or "Want" from the Wild Mood Swings tour any day!!
  • "Shake Dog Shake" immediately after "Lost" -- a 1984-era opener, which by itself is a nice thing to hear, but two slow openers in a row just hurts, especially when they have many better things that could be played.
  • "The Drowning Man" -- Probably my least favorite track from Faith, I would have much rather heard "All Cats Are Grey" or "Primary".

Of course, the major complaint about the Cincinatti show was that there was too much of the poppy stuff in the setlist. In my opinion, the ideal Cure show would have been a synthesis of the Cincinatti show and the Cleveland show (minus duplicated things, of course, and minus the things I didn't care for). Alas, it was not meant to be. Such is the peril of going to see a band that has 90+ songs practiced and ready to go for a concert--the setlist will always find ways to disappoint and amaze.

Still, all that aside, I'm damn glad that we went. I'm even happier that for once in my life I had earplugs; maybe I have finally learned my lesson.

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