“Holy software glut, Batman!”

Has anyone noticed the plethora of software technologies surrounding Java? I mean, Sun is bad enough:

  • J2SE
  • J2RE
  • J2EE
  • J2ME(with multiple profiles. A few years ago, I couldn’t even figure out which parts to download!)

But now, there are IDEs, and all manner of creations for project building, build management, etc., etc, ad infinitum. On the Apache Jakarta Project’s web site, there are no fewer than 19 projects! Honestly, I can’t really figure out the difference between some of them. I’m evaluating tools for my company’s project, trying to get a feel for what’s out there. There’s a lot. But, can someone tell me what the core difference is between Jakarta Ant and Jakarta Maven? Maven claims to be a project oriented build tool, whereas Ant is a build tool that, uh, well, builds projects (furrows brow, scratches head).

Okay, I know that choice in software is a Good Thing®, but really, as a potential user, it’s nice to be clear on what my choices are. If I can’t figure out what a product is and what it does and why I should use it after reading the homepage (I mean like 5 paragraphs), then I get really frustrated. I’ve had to do this many times with many different products, and quite frankly, I’m sick of it.

Okay, feel better now.

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great quote…

I found this quote in several places, and I think it’s great. So often, as developers, we try to be clever. I think we should focus on correctness and reducing errors.

“Debugging is twice as hard as writing the code in the first place. Therefore, if you write the code as cleverly as possible, you are, by definition, not smart enough to debug it.”

-Brian Kernighan

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strange feeling

So, we finally got the development kit for the system I’m working on at work. Previously, I was coding in Windows. Now, since the compiler only runs on one machine (thanks to a stupid dongle), we have the compiler on the test box (a Windows PC), and run a VNC server.

The upside is now that the Win32-only compiler is isolated to one machine, we can access that machine via any platform that has a VNC client. Like, say, oh, I dunno, my PowerBook. Haha! It’s the weirdest thing seeing the Windows desktop on my PB. There are a few drawbacks however.

“Chicken of the VNC”, the VNC client I’m using, logs out the current user on the remote machine if you quit it. Odd. This isn’t a problem for our setup, though.

It’s really nice. I can use XCode, which is pretty handy, though I haven’t found all the features I need, or gvim on my Mac to edit the code via a samba share. I then run the DOS command line version of the compiler on the build/test machine, and away I go. *sigh* this is the life.

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forced to move?

According to several sources, the first one I saw being the drunken blog, Yellow Dog Linux (YDL) will no longer support “old world” Macs. Hmmm, while I understand that they need to have a viable business without stretching themselves too thin,this saddens me.

I have been running YDL on an old Power Computing Power Tower Pro 200. This is one of the Mac clones from the late 90’s. It’s a sweet little computer that I bought from a graphic designer for $200 a few years back. The thing has been running non-stop as my mail server. There were 2 times it was down. Once, after uptime of nearly 300 days, I was rooting around in my closet (server room) and kicked the plug. had to reboot. The second time was when I moved to my new place. Never had to touch it since. The thing just runs, and relatively quietly, too.

Anyway, the “new world” macs have different firmware, and thus makes the older macs obsolete. There is hope, however. I recently got NetBSD running on an old 5500. The 5500 is also an old world system. So, when YDL no longer supports my version (2.3) of linux, then I’ll wipe the box and run NetBSD.

It’s strange, but more and more of my computers are running *BSD. It’s as though these PCs are born with and grow up running Windows®, Linux is the Ferrari of their mid-life crises, and when they get long in the tooth and want to settle down, they run *BSD.

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what a long, strange trip it’s been…

Whew! I finally got a bootable OpenBSD image on the Soekris Net4801. After many hours of looking at several how-to’s and adapting them to my specific setup, I finally got something working. The next step is to configure the services I need as well as properly configure all the onboard hardware.

The little Soekris boxes are really nicely made, and are made specifically for Open Source operating systems. I’ve ditched my old Pentium-166MHz box and am currently just using a cheap-o (i paid $10 after MIR) residential “router” that has really basic functionality.

The new box has 3 NICs, so I’ll be able to segregate my network traffic and filter out traffic to my internal network pretty nicely.

Omanomanoman, can’t wait to get this thing up! Of course, I’ll detail my steps once I get the thing finished.

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“his name is Robert Paulsen…”

Don’t know what got me thinking about this… There are so many technologies and products that buzz in and out of our collective conscience that it often feels like they don’t even have a name. They’re just faceless entities that served their time, perhaps not even a true role. Then, as quickly as they appeared, vanished.

My BeDev ID is 8837. I signed up to be a Be developer way back in 1997. The benefits were that you got a copy of the latest developer release of the OS, discounts on PowerPC hardware, and several newsletters. Those were the halcyon days at Be.

For the uninitiated, BeOS was the “pervasively multi-tasking”, Media OS for digital content creators. It had amazingly low latency for applications like audio and video editing. There were realtime VST plugins that could be used simultaneously. The basic video editor could do all its transitions in realtime on relatively meager hardware (although I had a dual PII-233MHz – which at the time was pretty hefty)

Its roots lie with Apple. Jean-Louis Gassee, ex-Apple VP, decided that he’d go out on his own to develop a next-generation operating system. The result was amazing. Micro-kernel-based, and lean, the OS could handle just about anything you could throw at it… at once. No exaggeration, I once had 9 copies of Doom running, and none of them seemed to be dropping frames. 1997. Pentium IIs. B’lie’ dat. There was also an OpenGL demo that ran really well. It was a software implementation, as they had no OpenGL hardware drivers at the time. It was amazing. You could also play multiple streams of video, audio, and have MP3 encoding all going on at once, too. I tried doing the same thing on Macs of the time, as well as NT4 on the same hardware, and, well… uh, they didn’t come near what BeOS could pull off.

One of the coolest aspects of BeOS was, of course, the community surrounding it. In those days, there were lots of developers who hung out on comp.sys.be.* You could follow discussions about kernel threading, fragile base classes in C++, and just about anything your geeky mind could think of. Not only that, but the developers would answer questions, too! 🙂

The biggest problem at the time was what the community referred to as “tractor apps”, apps that would draw people to use the OS. There were fledgling applications for audio and video, and even productivity, but there was nothing there that was really killer, that made someone say, “wow, I gotta gets me mines”. The biggest hook they had going was the “wow” factor in the media area.

What helped in my mind was that most of the GNU and other FOSS out there was ported to the platform. I remember playing MAME on BeOS, as well as using Perl, bash, gcc, LAME, and just about anything else imaginable.

I started a project! I hooked up with a developer in Madagascar and we designed a Windows ® Explorer-like file manager. I think we called it Marco Polo or something like that. BeOS didn’t have a tree view in it’s GUI, and that was something that took a lot of getting used to. However, there were several advantages that it did have in its UI. For instance, right-clicking a folder allowed you to navigate it’s entire sub-tree without opening a folder. You could also move or copy files in this fashion. Very nice. Anyway, after learning a lot about how the OS was put together, and running out of spare time, we dropped the project. It was fun, though! It was from programming for BeOS that one understands the simplicity and elegance of the system. The whole thing was truly object-oriented, which made programming a *lot* easier for beginners. The biggest complication in my mind was the POSIX layer that somewhat broke the OO model of the OS, but it was exactly this layer that allowed so much FOSS to be ported so quickly.

Life was good, and for once I had a computer that could keep up with my fragmented, scattered, everything-at-once approach to computing. Then, the meteor hit. Be announced that they would be “changing focus” – read: “uh, our market is starting to be addressed by our competitors(Microsoft), so we need to get into another market.” They moved to the internet appliance market. “What’s that?”, you say? “Never heard of that!”. That’s right. Because the IA market is the market that never was. BeIA (as the embedded BeOS was dubbed) found itself strewn among the carnage that included the 3Com Audrey and the NetWinder . BeIA saw limited use in a few products. There was the failed Sony appliance, the e-Villa, and the IZ RADAR 24. Shortly after the failure of the e-Villa, Be was bought by Palm. Everyone had high hopes of hearing the great news that the next big version of PalmOS would take advantage of the BeOS’ great realtime and media features. We’re still waiting (Cups hand to ear. hears crickets chirping, hard drive grinding).

As bleak as all this sounds, you may be asking, “what ever happened to BeOS?”. The answer is that it didn’t die. It kinda morphed into something(s) else. Yellowtab bought the rights to the source code, and have created Zeta, the next release of BeOS. On the FOSS front, there have been many activities, but the most interesting one is OpenBeos, recently reborn as Haiku. It looks fairly promising, as development has evolved over the years. There are other projects as well, but I won’t get into them.

These days, I have a PII-333MHz running BeOS, serving up MP3s. It doesn’t crash 🙂

So, there you have it. The story of yet another one of those technologies that came and went like a leaf on the ocean.

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getting tired of /.

I started reading slashdot back in ’97. In those days, it was *the* source for tech news. Most of the articles posted were of a really techie nature, and the discussion threads almost always had some nice tidbits to pick up. These days, it’s pretty much flamewars and lame comments.

Feeling the need to better fuel my geek obsessions, I’ve been looking for new places to hang out and get my news. The first place that shows promise is Kuro5hin.org. Apparently it’s run by former /. readers and tries to keep the spirit of what /. used to be about. It is more literate, and the posts are fun again.

Then, this morning, my friend sends me a link to engadget.com. It’s exactly the sort of thing that appeals to me, and just what I needed at this point in my geekiness 🙂

Anyway, life with a little less /. should be good, right?

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low-level fun…

Man, this is great! I’ve started writing some programs for an embedded microcontroller at work. It has a row of 8 LEDs, so of course, I had to make them light up in the fashion of KITT from Knight Rider. Proving once again that Germans love David Hasselhoff. Man, this is so cool! Haha! A coworker just reminded me: it looks like a Cylon‘s eye, too!
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waiting in vain

D’oh! Due to a minor error on the part of the sender, my Soekris box has not arrived yet. The flach card and PCMCIA – CF adapter arrived today, but they’re useless without the box. Well, actually, I can create my OpenBSD distribution so it’s ready when the box does arrive. Well, it’s home I go, then!

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