Capn's Blog

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Passed my Chinese course


Just got my results for 2nd year Chinese, which I've been studying this year. 1st term: HD (High Distinction), 2nd term: DI (Distinction).

Happy now.

Of course, I don't think it really means anything. I struggle in both listening and speaking and that's what really counts.

I just don't know if I can handle the pace of this year's course again. I've got enough time to cram in the new words, but really no time to actually use it or do the exercises.

I'm hearing talk that next year the course will be limited to 8 chapters instead of the 15 we did this year. And that we'll spend a lot more time on verbal exercises (which I think would be really good). On that basis, I think I could do it.

The problem is, can the Uni do that? Just arbitrarily decide to halve the course content? How can it still award a certificate at the end of the year? And won't that devalue the certificates of the previous years?

I don't understand. Scared. Confused.

High School reunion

My high school had its 50 year reunion last weekend and I took the family. Wow, some people have changed, some stay the same!

You can see the photos here:

(If there are particular ones you like, let me know. The Yahoo ones have been cut down a lot)

The reunion was great. I felt very awkward at the start but then it started to be fun. I'm really glad I went.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Missing In Action

I guess all my ICQ friends have been wondering where I've been!

All this week, I haven't been able to get into my home machine from work. Since that's how I run ICQ, it means I haven't been on ICQ.

As it turns out, after five years of telling people they can't run servers at home, my ISP (Optus) finally stopped people from running SSH on their home machines. No SSH, no me go home!

Anyways, I found a way around it; just run SSH on a different port. I'm back in business!

Breathing space

We had a meeting today. Our team's project manager is going (poor guy). So far, no-one else. The only thing we've been told for sure is that there isn't going to be a large-scale layoff.

That's a relief in one way, but it doesn't change anything about why The Job Now Sucks: Complete disfunction everywhere outside of engineering, and our company's willfully illegal intellectual property practices.

Spin City

We all got this mail yesterday:

This is to advise you that the position of Office Administrator held by Kerryn has been declared redundant. Kerryn has taken the option to leave the Company immediately and departs with our best wishes for the future.

aka "The company wishes her a speedy recovery from her knife wound".

And further:
The Directors have requested that costs be reduced and given that people are our major cost that means a reduction in headcount. Costs will continue to be reviewed.

Which reminds me of that old saying, "sackings will continue until morale improves".

I love this place.

Shit happening

Yesterday the office administrator went to the printer and found an employee termination notice. With her name on it. Yucks!

We've had a lot of problems with this new building. Stuff just not being up to scratch, such a lifts, toilets, security, air conditioning, etc. It was the administrator's job to work with the building management guy to get this all fixed. Important stuff.

Unfortunately, the building management guy is by all accounts a sexist pig who complained to our management about our administrator being "on his back all the time". And even worse, instead of backing her up, our management gave her a serious telling-off.

And I've heard this was pretty indicative of how our administrator was being treated.

Anyway, she's taken her payout and walked.

One think I really don't like is when people are treated shabbily. I hope she will do better elsewhere, and given her talent, I don't think that'll be in doubt.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Natural Wonder II

The other day I asked the question, "does something have to be fantasy to be fantastic?" and put forward the notion that there are many things in nature that are even more fantastic in real life than fantasy.

Another example is the life cycle of caterpillars and butterflies.

A caterpillar is hatched with all the cells it'll ever have. The cells aren't capable of dividing, they just get bigger and bigger. The body is also seeded with inactive areas of undifferentiated cells.

When the caterpillar forms into a pupa, the body cells break down into a soup, and the undifferentiated cells wake up and take over, using the soup to form all the parts of the adult butterfly.

It's true recycling in a way we can never imagine. Out of the ashes of the old organism comes another. To me, this is a pretty awesome feat.

Monday, November 14, 2005

I went hiking this weekend to Wilson's Promontory ("The Prom").

The two guys I went with were Fubin, my good friend from Beijing and his friend Zhuzun. Neither of them had been camping before, and it was my first time in several years.

You can see some good pictures of the area here: (look for Sealer's Cove)

The walk there is about 10km but it feels a lot longer, especially when you're carrying a lot of stuff. Our tent was way too big for the three of us, and I really felt the weight.

The beach there is 2-3km long and absolutely pristine. The weather conditions this time meant the waves broke very quietly and gently, not crashing surf. It's hard to imagine a more natural place.

I feel absolutely wrecked today. I'm walking like a penguin and I have a splitting headache which is only just being controlled with strong painkillers. Might go home early today.

All in all, a most wonderful weekend.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Job Now Sucks[tm], starting today

After the dramas I had in 2001 of being owed a shedload of money, and being out of work for nearly a year, I developed a metric of how well I'm going in a particular job.

In essence, the first day you start, you should be able to say "The Job Doesn't Suck Yet". And hopefully, that will continue each day thereafter. If you can't say it, it's time to start thinking about your options.

In part it borrows from a theory someone (Ken) told me at HP: When you start a job, you get an imaginary jar of jellybeans. The jar can't be refilled, and every time something crap happens, you take out a jellybean. When the jar is empty, your time in that job is over.

I guess both "Doesn't Suck Yet" and "can't be refilled" are acknowledgements that there's a use-by date on every job. Jobs for life are gone forever, and the biggest non-financial difference between a contract position and a permanent one is that you know the end date on a contract ahead of time.

The previous job, I could honestly say it Didn't Suck Yet until that fateful day when the axings happened. Hmm, not a bad way to go.

This job? Well then. Until yesterday, I could say it Didn't Suck Yet. Starting from now on, I'm fairly sure we've reached that watershed moment when the job sucks.

I was hired not just as a software engineer, but as an expert in open source and free software. At the time, the phrase on the lips of management was that we would "establish an Open Source Centre of Excellence". Linux was seen as suitable software for our products, we'd use it to make a platform others would want to do value-adds for, and we'd get cred for being a savvy company.

At every step of the way, I have tried to clue management into what OS&F software means: It's not just software falling free out of the sky, but a legal obligation to pass it on. If you can wear that, fine. If not, don't use it!!

Well, now we have software products in the market that mgmt has known since the beginning has open source software inside it. And that source hasn't been published, nor have we made an offer to make it available on request.

Up until now, I have been more or less happy to continue on the basis of:

  • Management can't be expected to make good decisions with bad information, and
  • We've been too busy to look at compliance so far.

Well now the time has come. And mgmt have been told what they have to do (it's not that hard). But after hearing it, mgmt have said "we're not going to do it, we'll hide behind lawyers".


The GPL works on copyright. Not complying is a clear breach of copyright laws. What that means is that this company's business model is (in terms of IP) no different to a bunch of guys who illegally copy DVDs to sell at the market.

How dodgy is that!

If I wanted to work for a company that was unethical, I could have gone to work for Tattersalls. Lucky me, now I get to work for a company that is knowingly doing things both unethical and illegal.

One thing I've really enjoyed is working as part of a first rate team. My three colleagues simply excel. And mgmt knows it. We're their darlings because we just get on with it and deliver.
And we're being given more and more responsibility outside of development as a tacit admission that the other sections of the company are disfunctional and unfixable. Hah, easier just to shove stuff off to those trojans in the embedded team!

So, the frightening developments in IP and the increasingly disfunctional nature of the organisation means that The Job Now Sucks[tm].


Thursday, November 10, 2005

Natural Wonder I

I saw a rainbow this morning.

Makes me remember the other day that my kids told me that "at the end of the rainbow you can find treasure". I don't know who told them that, but it's nice to know that someone's passing on the same cultural heritage I got when I was little.

Such things are wondrous to kids. As adults, we've "grown up" and we're not so easily moved by such notions of fantasy.
Here's a web page where you can play with a raindrop:

But does something have to be fantasy to be fantastic? Whenever I see a rainbow, I think of the light and it's journey, and while I'm no longer blown away by the notion of a pot of gold, I don't need to be, because the notion of what the light is doing to make that rainbow is (for me) even more fantastic than fantasy.

Coming back to Earth a little, in 1991 I saw a coloured cloud. Not slightly coloured, I mean a cloud fully decked out in rainbow colours. It was about 1pm on a bright summer's day. Not a cloud in the sky, except for this one. I think it was something like this:
But the cloud was much more compact, and the colours more vivid.
I think I will remember that cloud for a long time.

(Found one the same: here

First post!

Well I gone and done it.

Yeah just like everyone else, I have a blog.

No idea what I'll put here (which is why it's a bit hard to name) but let's see what happens.