June 16th, 2003


The sweat smell of philosophy

I had a really nice walk to work this morning -- maybe it was theweekend, maybe it was the trip back to Bville, or maybe the recentweather did it, but the trail smelled really fresh and floral. Iwasn't yucky at all when I arrived at work, which is nice.

On the way to work, I was thinking about two ideas people gave me,at different times. My first boss McLeod once explained somethingto me. Financially, I've always had the aim of minimizing debt --I don't like owing money to people, and I ideally want to be payingas close to zero (dollars, not percent) interest as possible. However,businesses don't work this way -- for them, debt is natural, and it'snot even a bad thing, because they're based on the idea that they earnmore on their capital (at least in the long run) than however much onecould get with a 'safe' investment. For companies where that's not true,it's best not to invest in them at all, instead doing that safe investment.It's thus best, according to this idea, for those companies to borrow asmuch as they can at rates under what they think they can earn, using thatcashflow to improve their effectiveness at pulling in cash.

The other idea was from my friend Tim, who suggested to me that the nationaldebt is not something we should be worried about at all -- the governmentshould consider it a plus that that money is available to it because it usesit (presumably) to keep itself and the economy flowing smoothly, and thatincreases the tax revenue it gets.

So, I was thinking on the way to work today, is this stuff right? Well, Iwas starting to chew on the second one, and I realized that I was lookingfor a different sort of answer than what was driving me to say 'no', soI stopped. No doubt I could find some kind of economic or commonsenseargument against the second, but it wouldn't really be honest -- the problemis that I think government should be simple, that it shouldn't be a moneymakingopportunity for investors, and that unneeded entanglement with investorsexposes it to vulnerability. There may be other reasons, but they're nottouching on what's important to me on this issue.

As for the first, it's probably true, and I'm just too risk-averse to beentirely comfortable with it. I do wonder though -- there may be levels ofinvestment where additional money has a sharp decline in usefulness to thesmall company -- if you need an engineer to do research for a year on aproduct before it comes to fruit, or any other case where more money won'thelp much, then the company would probably be better off not taking theVC funds (beyond perhaps a certain cushion), as it does mean a certain lossof control.

On the trip home, I grabbed a lot more of my stuff I left at home last time.I'm still missing some stuff though.. *sigh*On that note, I've found that I still have some of Debb's stuff thatshould go back to her. I'll probably stick it in a box on her car or somethingone of these nights when I'm relatively certain it won't be raining. Hmm..I probably should wrap it in Saran anyhow.

Oh, as you might've guessed by this, I have my netdiary back in one pieceagain now, thanks to the USB disk I got the other day. This does NOT meanthat I have good, healthy access to my email again. That's still a mess.Gonna call Verizon and nag them again today.

I should probably get to work improving my netdiary code again.


Splitting the beat

Oh, some other things I jotted down on the trip home..(yes, writing while driving is dangerous. I probably should'verepeated it like a mantra until I reached a rest stop, or used atape recorder. Oh well)

I was listening to my mix of CDs on the way back, and was pulled backinto an observation I have on music -- it's possible to percieve abeat starting at an arbitrary point, and makes a big differenceperceptually when you do so. To illustrate, look at the following sequence:


You can see it as a sequence of ABBA, or perhaps of BBAA. Both are correct,and yet it makes a difference in how we see the sequence, even moreso inmusic. I can't really say anything more on it that's descriptive, so Ijust encourage you to try it. Like pulling the individual instruments outof a song that's playing, and listening only to them, it's an interestingthing to try with almost any piece of music.

I've been trying on a principle for programming -- keep abstractions asthin as possible. It's actually something I've been doing in practicefor some time -- my email program, usenet moderation software, and thisnetdiary program all share the philosophy. It's the exact opposite philosophyof most modern software, especially on windows. There, software appears tobe as 'rich' as possible, hiding all the intimate details from you on what'sgoing on. There's a big problem with that plan, as illustrated by a conversationbetween my father and grandfather this weekend -- my grandfather got a newdigital camera, and was looking for photo manipulation software, especiallyone that would handle the collections of photos that my dad has, splittingthings up by date and topic. My dad said that the software he suggested wouldn'tdo it, but that it was unneeded because he maintained all that stuff himself.The key difference is that DOS is still fresh in my Dad's mind, and in DOS,you gave the computer a lot of structure by your organization methods. That'snot true in windows, which makes a lot of suggestions on how to do things, somany that you're not encouraged to give things your own structure. A computeris an expressive medium, and, like a house, users should be very active in howthings are shaped and done. We don't expect notches in the floor telling uswhere to put tables -- people are capable of decorating their house on theirown. The same goes with computers. Back to software, it should be thin becausethin software lets in other tools that can twist the data in useful ways.I use this all the time with my netdiary and email programs -- standard Unixutilities all chain together, manipulating each entry/email, all of whichlive in their own files. All that would be a lot uglier if my emails werestored in mbox format or some database. I lose out on some stuff, sure, butI get more than I lose.

Finally, I noticed on the toll roads between Bville and Pittsburgh, when oneapproaches a toll station, the lanes go away and the highway widens quite alot. It's really a change of pace to be driving with other cars without lanes.It almost makes one see one's car in a different way -- no longer as beinglike a train on rails.



Vorteil: I've improved my netdiary software. It uses tables now to holdentries, can customize the background for each entry, and otherfun fancy stuff. It now also explicitly recognizes entry titles.

Nachteil: Apparently, I didn't actually manage to grab all of my entriesfrom my home system. This is because of one of three reasons:

  • I made a mistake in copying the entries, and wiped out most of them
  • I made a mistake in copying the entries, and they just didn't end up where they should've
  • The USB thingy had a hiccup. It did hang my computer yesterday, after all. I just partitioned it and made a new filesystem on it. Hopefully that'll eliminate this source of problems
Oh well, I guess I'll know when I get home later today.

Weight and Levity

I just called to make hotel reservations for the ORA Conference.The preferred location, the Portland Mariott, was full. I wasbeginning to get bummed, but they provided links to nearbyhotels. Aha! A Days Inn. Even at this late date, I got areservation, and for a little under half the cost. Yeah!

On the downside, Verizon doesn't have their stuff together.I called to nag about the DSL, and they didn't even know thatI ordered it. So I ordered it again, and the first person Italked to wanted to send me a new DSLmodem. I called someonein the other department (3 departments I get to deal with), andgot them to cancel sending another one. It'll be about a week untilI have DSL again. Good going, Verizon. On the slight upside, one ofthe people I spoke with said they could put my local phone (which Idon't directly use, but need for DSL), DSL, and wireless chargesall onto one bill. That's nice.

The book Unbearable Lightness of Being is an incredible book.It's all about the characters -- Unlike a lot of books and movies,the characters in this are perhaps a little 'more real', or at leastmore detailed, than real people. The main character reminds me a bitof one of the most nuanced people I know.