Red Echo

May 31, 2011

I spent the weekend in Portland with Ava, visiting a couple of her friends who recently moved over from Melbourne. We roamed around downtown, stopped in at a coffee shop so snobbish it was positively entertaining, wandered through the Saturday Market, visited the Multnomah County Fair… We tried to go look at the waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge, but hundreds of other people had the same idea so there was nowhere to park. Oh, well – some other time I’ll go back on a motorcycle, since that windy little road looks like great fun. We were more successful with a trip to the Acropolis Steakhouse… and while we only managed to visit about half the rooms at Powell’s, we stumbled out, eyes glazed over, with a dozen new books between us. Yay, Portland.

May 27, 2011

I got the official, on-paper, signed-by-the-VP offer letter yesterday, and gave my notice today, so it’s official: I’m going to go work at Google, over in the Fremont office. I won’t start on til the end of July, so I’ll have plenty of time to finish up my project at Synapse, and to get a couple of weeks of high-Sierra backpacking in. I don’t know what project I’ll be working on yet, but I am angling for something to do with language tools, or some other kind of system software.

I’m excited! I know a bunch of smart, interesting people over there and met a few more during the interviews, so I have hopes that this will go well. Google is a big company but still seems to have its engineer-friendly charm, so I’m hoping it will be a place I can spend a few years learning and growing and tackling big, hairy, fascinating problems.

Hobbyist hacker builds his own parallel computer system using an array of Parallax Propeller chips, each of which has 8 processor cores.

May 19, 2011

TermKit is a novel, interesting design for a terminal architecture, based on mime-typed data streams. The designer’s explanation of the system is clear, readable, and well thought out. The idea of a terminal-style computer interface which actually takes advantage of modern datatypes and graphics hardware looks really appealing through his point of view, and there are lots of screen shots.

In the meantime, we’ve gotten a lot better at displaying information. We’ve also learned a lot of lessons through the web about data interchange, network transparency, API design, and more. We know better how small tweaks in an implementation can make a world of difference in usability.

And yet the world of Unix is rife with jargon, invisible processes, traps and legacy bits. Every new adept has to pass a constant trial by fire, of not destroying their system at every opportunity it gives them.

So while I agree that having a flexible toolbox is great, in my opinion, those pieces could be built a lot better. I don’t want the computer equivalent of a screwdriver and a hammer, I want a tricorder and a laser saw. TermKit is my attempt at making these better tools and addresses a couple of major pain points.

In my ongoing imaginations about the operating system I would design if I were to build everything from scratch, I’ve toyed with the idea of some kind of hybrid command line / graphics interface, some kind of new terminal which is aware that it is operating on a bitmapped display… this TermKit project looks like someone had a similar idea and then actually did the work of figuring out how to make it practical. Now I want to play with it and see how it feels in practice.

It’s been sunny this week in Seattle, and I’ve been taking advantage by hopping on the new bike and going for a spin after work. Even just a little breeze around the neighborhood fills me with delight – I’ve missed riding, the way I feel when I’m on a bike, the mix of peace and excitement, the combination of in-the-moment focus and mind-wide-open rumination. I’m planning to take the bike down the Oregon coast when I go to Mike and Alissa’s wedding – it’s a twelve-hour ride but I can’t wait to

I spent a couple hours working in the shop last night. The new apartment’s kitchen lacks for counter space, so I bought a little wooden cutting board at Ikea and cut it down to fit in a gap between the edge of the counter and the refrigerator. The gap is only about sixteen inches wide, but we only have about three linear feet of counter space to begin with, so that’s a significant improvement. I glued on some wooden mounting rails; Ava is going to oil the wood tonight, and we’ll install it this weekend some time.

I also worked on the couch project some more. After sitting on the not-yet-upholstered platform a while and observing the way it flexes, I decided to add some more support underneath, and to build up more substantial sockets for the four thinner legs. It’s going to be a fair bit heavier this way but I think it’s worth the effort.

May 16, 2011

I sold the last of my three motorcycles Friday night – the ’86 Intruder. I had intended to fix this one up and ride it, after selling the other two, but the mechanic’s verdict wasn’t good. It has an oil leak in the #2 cylinder somewhere, and it’d cost more than the bike was worth to have the mechanic fix it. I don’t have time or inclination to do it myself so I posted it on Craigslist. I put the ad up around 8 PM, thinking people would make arrangements to come look at the bike on Saturday – but three hours later I was standing on the sidewalk with cash in my hand, watching a guy who had driven down from Monroe load the bike onto his truck. So, that went well.

Saturday I test-rode Nika’s bike, a ’95 Honda Nighthawk 750. She’s pregnant and thus not going to be riding for a couple of years, so she decided to sell her bike rather than let it molder in the driveway. Its paint needs some work but it is in solid mechanical condition, so after a spin around the lake I decided to buy it. Amazing how quickly that old feeling of balance and exhilaration comes back! I’ve missed this.

May 5, 2011

Argument that programming is more like gardening than engineering:

If you were building a bridge or a skyscraper and you told me, before you began, that you knew exactly how it would look when it was finished – I would believe you. If you told me that you knew to some insane degree of accuracy how long it would take to get to ‘finished’ – I would believe you again. That’s how Engineers roll. Tell me the same thing about your garden and I’m gonna call bullshit. Tell me you are going to make it grow faster by hiring more gardeners and I’m gonna laugh at you.

May 4, 2011

This hybrid PWM / resistor DAC scheme combines two 8-bit PWM outputs with a resistor divider to create a composite 16-bit DAC.

Ava and I spent the weekend out in Eastern Washington at a fabulous, low-key, all-night-and-the-next-day dance party called Prosperity. We rode out with Jeff & Nika and camped with them and a handful of their friends. I didn’t actually dance til dawn this time; I hit a wall somewhere around 3 AM, and woke up in time for the sunrise set. Sunday was a lazy, sunny day listening to music, drinking whiskey, and talking with friends. Altogether a thoroughly worthwhile weekend.

Last night Ava and I spent a couple of hours working on our couch project. We finished up the carpentry and now have a bare wooden platform sitting in our living room. It’s a curved, L-shaped structure designed to seat two or three people in an otherwise unusable corner, low enough to work with our floor cushions and coffee table. Next step is to cut some high-density foam to shape and glue it on to the plywood surface; then we’ll upholster it, leaving only the finished legs showing.

I also did some work on the rhythm robot last night. I finished desoldering all the high-torque encoders I ordered by mistake and replacing them with a more finger-pleasing model. Removing parts is hard work! Once finished, I fitted up the faceplate, installed the knobs, and test fit the assembly in the box. It looks so sharp! I’m looking forward to actually using it… though I’m sure it will take more months of work before I actually get any sound out.

I briefly considered leaving the metal box unfinished, or possibly just giving it a clearcoat, but the aluminum is too bright and cheap-looking against the polished wood. I’ll stick with my original plan and have the box powdercoated.