Content from 2009-10

Miracle Day
posted on 2009-10-29 00:55:19
Ever since I blogged about good things happening to me last week, I've been slipping into depression. And the descent became rapid. The last three days were the worst of it. I had almost completely lost my ability to function. Just getting on the bus and making it to class, that was pretty good. That was an accomplishment. There were a variety of reasons for this but certainly one of the most prominent was how overwhelmed I felt by my Algorithms class. The first test had decimated most of the class (a handful of people got better than a 60) and the second one was today. Thankfully, it was a much gentler test than the first.

It's the teacher's first semester at my school and if my sources are accurate one of the reasons the second test was so much easier is that he has received enough complaints to be on some sort of probation. Whether or not that's warranted or not I can't say. What I can say is that I came into this semester drained. Partly due to prior semesters and a bit of academic exhaustion, partly due to Dad's recent death. I was hoping my courses would re-energize me this Fall. I found that all my courses drained me. It was terrible. Thankfully, I started working on some Open Source Software and that has been a real boon to me. Being able to share my enjoyment of programming and feel productive with somebody else helped give me a boost that I really needed. It kept me afloat. That said, if I had bombed the test today I don't know if I would've been able to handle it well.

I was concerned that if I bombed the test (which seemed probable) I would be so defeated that I'd have a hard time picking myself up and making a good effort on my other courses. Bombing the second test would have meant near certain failure in the class and I wasn't in a good position to take that blow. Thankfully, I'm still in college and I caught a break. A lot of people complained and the second test was a good bit easier. Whether that's fair or not is out of my hands. In the real world, I won't get many breaks or second chances. I'll just be required to meet the bar. Period. And sooner or later I'll miss it. I will fail. At which point, I'll just have to pick myself up. But not today. Today I'm going to keep trying to float and start working on finding my optimism.

Here's a pros and cons analysis and some oddly well timed material I stumbled on today.

He's easing up on us. We already weren't understanding the material well. Now he's easing up on us.

I am not going to fail the damn class.
I can study CLRS and Kleinberg-Tardos and Levitin (all Algorithms books) at home to my heart's content, this semester and/or after. I've always vastly preferred self-study and learning by experimentation anyway. :)

Tasty links that might also cheer you up:
High Anxiety - Raganwald's new github-thing
Optimism - Also Raganwald's new github-thing

A song I've been enjoying:
Two Door Cinema Club - Something Good Can Work
Found at
Git For Dummies...
posted on 2009-10-22 19:53:02
A friend asked me for a simple tutorial. So here one is. Also, just because I can:

My workflow roughly looks like:

Start or clone git repository: [git clone $URL] OR [mkdir project; cd project; git init]
Make some changes: HACK HACK HACK, ensure the files are tracked: [git add $FILES]
Review my changes: [git status], [git diff]
Uh oh, a choice!: if (I like these changes)
then [git commit] // ideally, your $EDITOR environment variable is set to the editor you like.
else [git checkout -- $FILES] // yes, the dashes should literally be there. this reverts the files to the last commit's state.

I didn't cover pushing and pulling (collaborating) or branching above (working on separate features simultaneously).
Let's do that now:

Get a list of branches and show the current branch: [git branch]
Start a new branch to work on: [git branch $NAME]
Switch to a different branch: [git checkout $NAME]
Delete a branch you don't want anymore or are finished with: [git branch -d $NAME]
Merge changes from one branch into another branch: [git merge $SENDER $RECIPIENT] // Branch recipient gets senders changes.
List tracked repos (online, github, etc): [git remote]
Track a friends repo (or one online, github, etc): [git remote add $URL]
Send your changes to a repo you have write access to: [git push $REMOTE $NAME] /* remote can be a url or one of your remotes.
name is a branch on your machine. note that master is a branch. */
Retrieve and merge in a friends changes: [git pull $REMOTE $NAME]

There are a bunch of blog tutorials. The best way to find them is to go to and search for "git tutorial" or "git intro".

Other than that, there are two free git books I know of:
Pro Git -
The Git Community Book -
The Good Things
posted on 2009-10-22 15:54:41
This is a test of something a little different. This will be a personal post detailing some good things that happened to me yesterday. Ya know, because that perspective is good.

Good Things that happened to me today:
My algorithms test got pushed to next Wednesday. Two days is time for me to learn more.
I setup plans to see Where the Wild Things Are with Max (possibly others...) this weekend.
I got to listen to a lot of good music: Bill Evans Trio, Bibio, Four Tet, Memory Tapes, Deerhunter, Two Door Cinema Club, French Kicks...
I wrote a simple wrapper macro on with-interrupts for ECL<->SBCL portability.
I just enjoyed seeing people: Alisa, Bansri, Christian, Elisha, Kelly, Trevis, Professor Snook, Professor Brown, pretty much everybody.
Don Gerz made a funny post on my wall.
I enjoyed reading some news on reddit and hackernews. I also enjoyed Chris Cole week at the berrics.
My financial aid finally came in. I need to check up on that Friday.
I got warned about a quiz on Friday. Always better to know in advance.
A bug I found in ECL got confirmed by Juan Jose Garcia-Ripoll. Might not get fixed right away but hey, that's something.
I defeated some (but not all) of my Algorithms homework. It's progress.
I felt attractive.
Teresa felt like making a grocery run. There was Sorbet for dessert.
Since Last Time
posted on 2009-10-19 23:04:56
Well, it seems a lot has happened since last time. An additional lisp library for concurrency called Calispel has been released and is up on Cliki. Unfortunately, it depends on cl-jpl-utils which in turn depends on cl-rsm-queue, neither of which are on Cliki. Such is life. There are good things though, a release candidate for CCL 1.4 has been put out. I've also started a branch porting Paktahn to Embedded Common Lisp. It didn't wind up being as tricky as I thought. Hopefully, I'll have something I can merge to master in a week or two. Of course, I wouldn't have gotten anywhere without Leslie. Geez, that guy is patient. Anyway, what about non-lisp news? The ACM Reflections conference is over and hopefully videos will be posted soon. Additionally, there's been some discussion about whether or not it's time for Factor 1.0. There's still really great work being done on the language implementation. I would like a proper book for it and binaries to be available in my linux distro but I can wait.

There's also been a good discussion on what math programmers need to know on reddit recently. The outstanding comments (IMO) are here, here, here and here. Similarly, there was a good thread a few weeks back titled "What do you wish you knew when you started programming?".  A few of my favorite comments are here, here, here and here. More importantly, there was a very enjoyable article and followup about Office Politics as interpreted by Hugh MacLeod and The Office. As some folks in the hackernews thread mention, the model isn't universally applicable. Yep, that's right. It's a model. Go figure.

Well, it's been a very hard week. Mostly because I just hate my Algorithms class. I don't hate algortihms just the way it's being presented and taught. I'm pretty sure I can overcome the obstacles involved, I'm just much less motivated to do so than I would like. The last two semesters I really had a fire under my butt about school for some reason. Maybe not but when I had to rise to the challenge, it was relatively easy to do so and I was kind of proud of that since it was a divergence from my past. This semester the fight just isn't in me and I have next to no pride in what I'm doing in school. I'm sort of coasting and I'm finding it hard to break out of that. Of course, I'm learning the material and I'm doing extracurricular things to improve my knowledge, joy and understanding because I care about programming. Whether that's stupid or not is another question but also kind of irrelevant, I didn't choose to be fascinated by this stuff. I just can't help it. So I'm not doing what I love, I'm doing what I can't help but do. It's gonna be a long road.

I've still been getting a few things done. I've written a few quick hackish, sbcl-dependent scripts. Maybe I'll post some of the code for them soon. I started working on Redlinux again. The last release I made was back in May and a lot has changed since then, more about my approach than about Redlinux. I'm hoping to make a new release by the end of November. So far the big change is my build process. As in, now there actually is one. It should be trivial to rebuild from scratch in the future. See what a non-distribution it is? The upcoming release should have a nice proper script for creating a new user and doing a little initial setup. Above and beyond that, I'm hoping to work on the documentation some. If anything, the real problem is it may not fit on a single CD with all the programming software I've bundled in.

A while back I wrote a post on getting an undergraduate CS education for under $1,000. It was mostly focused on which books and resources were ideal for self-study. I reworked said list and posted it on Amazon over the weekend. A lot of my decisions about what's worthwhile for self-study has changed (since I've actually read more). My motivation stems largely from the fact that I prefer self-study to school. Finally, there are two slightly older articles of mine that linked to a bunch of really interesting articles that are still among my favorite blog posts I've stumbled upon since trolling the internet for programming stuff. I'm hoping to do a real writeup on a number of these articles and add in a few of my own ideas in the near future. And since I'm calling it "the near future" you know advance I'll never get around to it. Well, hopefully not. :)

That's all for now. Back to homework guys.
Just a Feeling
posted on 2009-10-13 23:33:16
Last time I blogged, I was midway through midterms and just starting to work on some lisp projects. It's hard to imagine that was only a week ago. Since then, midterms are over, I've realized my only difficult class is Algorithm Analysis (the nature of whose difficulty I've blogged about before) and become an official Open Source contributor. Admittedly, it's on a small scale but when I was just getting interested in open source a few years ago I never would've figured this would happen so soon. It's been a great learning experience so far and incredibly fun. I still need to get started working on adding libvorbisfile bindings to Andy Hefner's Mixalot but today I'm going to try to dump some links out of my browser, get some thoughts down and do some Algo homework.

I mentioned recently that I've been wanting to write a lisp post but been unsure what to focus on. I've wanted to respond to posts made by others in various places over the last few months asking about the liveliness or validity of lisp as well as whether the language is still changing or whether the departures of prominent Common Lisp users matters (search for the second occurrence of "norvig"). Experienced lispers might just ignore that question at this point, I don't know. It does come up far too often. For my part though I want to try and address this because I know the more attention I've paid to the lisp community, the more I've seen how active, alive and, most importantly, friendly it is. It's been a little surprising in some ways compared to the false preconceptions one can get from blog and reddit chatter. Now, it may be undermanned. There's certainly more work to go around than people to do it but that's true of many places. Anyway, I simply have to get some of this out of my system. Here are a few thoughts...and links.

First of all, just this morning I poked around for libraries on concurrency and parallelism and found the following: erlisp, erlang-in-lisp (which may become active again, who knows), cl-future, csp, pcall, eager-future, cl-muproc, cl-stm, chanl, patron, philip-jose, cl-mpi, cl-cluster and, of course, the distributed schemes Termite and Gerbil. Poking around for GUI libraries I quickly found: cl-gtk2, ltk, mcclim, commonqt, celtk, cells-gtk3, cl-smoke, cello, wxCL, cells-gtk, lisp-tk, clg, and cl-ncurses. Even cl-ncurses has seen some recent activity! :)

Now I grant some of these libraries are unmaintained and others are code stubs that never quite got off the ground. But 6 of the concurrency libs were started this year and of those 6, 3 have seen code updates in the past 3 weeks. Of the GUI libs, the CommonQT and CL-GTK2 bindings have both seen commits in the last month. Sadly, the libraries are spread out all over everywhere from Cliki to Github to random repositories dotting the cyber landscape. There are many reasons the library situation isn't perfect but it isn't dead either. Just look at all the projects and work-in-progress-projects in clbuild! Moreover, there are discussions about what Lisp needs to move forward. Some of them involve CLtL3, a new standardization effort, and others involve infrastructure improvements, a central package respository for example. The talk is out there. Books are still being written, people are still working on the implementations and making releases, low level experiments are still being done even though the lisp machines are gone...well, mostly.

But mostly I just wanted to put this all out there for now. To celebrate the tremendous, if seemingly fractured, development and FUN people are having with this language. Because that's what I'm having. Fun. You want in on it? Then get ready to get your hands dirty.
Keep It Together
posted on 2009-10-06 15:25:26
So, the last time I really posted a personal update I didn't have many good things to say. I was a bit depressed. But I seem to have climbed out of that hole. Midterms are mostly over and I have a much better feel for my classes with them behind me. The only one I haven't taken is the American Government midterm which I'll take tomorrow at 3pm. A decent amount of stress is off now that they're out of the way. I'm still a bit overextended. I'm pulled in many directions by a desire to do many things but I might as well be honest. I like it that way.

Particularly, I'm trying to contribute to two different pieces of Open Source Software. One is Mixalot, a suite of Common Lisp libraries for interfacing with Linux's ALSA sound sytem and playback of MP3 files. The other is Paktahn, a package management wrapper for Arch Linux which is meant to replace Yaourt. Paktahn is also written in Common Lisp. Notice a trend? I want to use Mixalot to work with Ogg Vorbis (*.ogg) files which it doesn't support. I told Andy Hefner I'd like to try and contribute some libvorbisfile bindings which would let Mixalot work with that file format. Unfortunately, that involves interfacing with C code which I don't know much about. It's definitely an order of magnitude harder than most things I've worked on before. Plus I've had I haven't gotten much done on that front yet. Leslie Polzer is writing Paktahn and he pointed me in the direction of a fairly straightforward, well-defined problem that needed solving. I got around to working on that and have made pretty good progress. With a little more work it may even make it upstream for the next release. That's wicked fun!

I've wanted to write a blog post on Lisp for a little while but couldn't narrow down what about Lisp to focus on. Lately I had been looking at mailing lists, documentation and source code repos for a lot of Common Lisp libraries. Perhaps what shocked me most was the realization that Lisp has plenty of work to go around for silly noobs like myself. There are all sorts of trivial little tasks all over the place that maintainers are too busy solving real problems to fix. And that's awesome! I can be very helpful probably to a wide number of different projects. Now, I don't know a lot and I don't have time to "help" near as much as I'd like...but I can still learn something and be of use. And I'm pretty happy about that. So Common Lisp: Have fun on the fringe, benefit from learning a non-standard language with some awesome features, be useful and get mentored by some smart folks. What's not to love? I'll try to post something more thoughtful about this later. But for now, all I have to say is that this is a really good thing and I can't wait to see where it takes me.

For now though, it's back to studying.

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